The birth of the professional basketball adventure at FC Bayern

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The coming 2020/21 season - whenever it begins - will be an anniversary season: The Bavarian basketball team will then be facing their tenth BBL season - and their tenth year in their "living room", the Audi Dome. The success story at the FCB was made possible not only by a few key figures but also by all of the members of the club as in a survey they voted by a large majority for the professionalization of a basketball team - exactly ten years ago. 

The large building complex of FC Bayern at Saebener Strasse was in darkness in the late evening of May 1st, 2010 and only one office on the second floor was still lit. Eight people were sitting around a large table with pizza and beer - and in front of them were thousands of letters. They opened envelope after envelope, keeping tally sheets. Tirelessly. they went on with their work, everything for the idea of basketball at the FCB. However, their handiwork was not decisive for a successful shot, a dribble or a steal - it was about the future of the whole department.

In May of 2010 the team squandered in second league mediocrity. Bayern had just finished the ProA season with 14 wins and 16 losses, meaning an eighth place in the 16-team league. The home games were played in the Municipal Sports Hall at Saebener Strasse, "the Saebener Hell", as Thomas Henkel calls the former home with the charm of a school sports hall.

The now 55-year-old from Graefelfing was one of the few annual ticket holders for the FCB basketball season at the time. "I think a maximum of 500 people were regularly there," he remembers, "those were hardcore basketball fans, people with an extreme interest in basketball." 

Henkel had played basketball himself, "but only minor-league." In the 90s he lived in the USA and regularly attended games of the NBA team, Golden State Warriors. Back in Munich, he wanted to see where the highest class basketball was played. "And that was at FC Bayern, in the ProA, in the Saebener Hell. It was like a mediocre college game then." He said, smiling. "Those were the meagre beginnings."

Title, tradition - and scepticism

One of the people who was often seen at home games at that time was Bernd Rauch. The honorary vice-president of FC Bayern was the 2nd vice-president responsible for all the club's popular sports departments from 2002 to 2012. "When we had 200 or 350 spectators, we were happy," recalls the now 77-year-old.

Bernd Rauch is a man full of energy and enthusiasm for sport. He successfully completed his tasks in construction and commissioning of the Allianz Arena - first as special representative of the clubs, then as spokesman for the management (2004-05).  Then he had a new FCB mission: to make competitive sport possible in a further department alongside football. "It was always clear to me: without competitive sport there is no popular sport, without Schweinsteiger there is no child who wants to emulate him. That's why I said: Let's have a department for top-class sport. Our basketball players seemed to me to be the most suitable for this step.

Basketball at FC Bayern had a tradition of more than 50 years. In 1954 and 1955, the FCB basketball team won back-to-back German championships and then the Cup in 1968. And the two oldest youth teams (U19, U16) both played at Bundesliga level.

Hoeness lets Rauch "beat him up"

The first step was to win Uli Hoeness over in favor of the project. The then club president was a basketball fan, "even as a schoolboy", as he says himself. But Rauch had more than one person to convince. After all, it was all about money and about building up a team ready for the national league. At some point, he "let himself be talked into it", says Hoeness. "I told him: I'll go for it but only if the club members want basketball." Rauch remembers: "Actually, another competitive sport was not wanted at FC Bayern. That is why Hoeness wanted to question the members. We had to discuss it with them."

In 2010 the association had about 160,000 members. Would they support basketball? On the one hand, Rauch was suspicious whether it would work out but on the other hand, when he was building the Allianz Arena he had experienced that a positive vote from the grassroots could give wings to a project. "After the successful stadium referendum, we had no more problems with permits," he says.

Rauch was hoping for such a tailwind for basketball. With the help of TU Braunschweig, five "important questions" were formulated, as the questionnaire said. Because the opinion of the members was "the all-decisive factor" in the decision-making process. The questions were about the general basketball interest of the members; their willingness to attend games and the effects on the image of the club as a whole. Two points formed the core of the survey: "Do you in principle support the idea that FC Bayern should establish a top basketball team in Munich? And: "Would you agree with FC Bayern München e.V. supporting the project with start-up financing to get it off to a successful start?

23,000 questionnairs came back with a good 75 percent approval

The member survey 2010 as a download

The questionnaire, together with a stamped return envelope, was enclosed with the "Bayern-Magazin", which was given to members at the Bundesliga home game against VfL Bochum (May 1st, 2010). Now they had to wait.

"On Monday I called the office to see if anything was already there. No. Nothing on Tuesday either. Nothing on Wednesday," Rauch recalls. Nervousness grew. Too little response would also mean failure. "What I didn't know in those days was that the mail room had collected the letters - and the first envelopes arrived on Friday. The next week boxes and boxes and boxes."

The evaluation began immediately. Days and nights went by and the answer in favor was quickly clear. "It was a rapture of joy, we hugged each other. All the traffic lights were on green," says Rauch. More than 23,000 members took part in the survey, over 75 percent voted for the project. A sensational result! Uli Hoeneß was as relieved as we were. And then he said this sentence, which motivated me tremendously: 'If we're going to do it, let's do it right'. For me and everyone who was involved, it was a huge motivation."

Bauermann, Hamann, Greene, Hall, Nadjfeij and a new hall

Hoeness recalls that he was "surprised by the clear approval". He had expected a close result, because they were a football club. Thomas Henkel also voted for positively for the project of course. "It was clear to me that if you want to do this, you need start-up financing. Helping people to help themselves. And it was also very important that Uli Hoeness and himself activated sponsors for basketball that wouldn't otherwise have joined in.

What now followed was what Rauch had hoped for: the project developed a momentum of its own that could hardly be slowed down. The Bavarians won Dirk Bauermann, then coach of the national team and the most successful German coach ever. He was followed by national players such as Steffen Hamann and Demond Greene, as well as established first division players such as Darius Hall, Artur Kolodziejski and Aleksandar Nadjfeij. And also a new hall - the "Saebener Hell" had finally become too small for club's ambitions and an ice sports hall was found at the oldOlympic grounds which seated around 3,500.

However: It was simply an ice sports hall. "In ice hockey, everyone comes with thick jackets and scarves - not in basketball. We need 16 degrees plus on the floor," says Rauch. "We drilled eight holes in the roof and blew in warm air." There was now no problem that was unsolved.

"Riding like a wave," Rauch recalls, after the following season of advancement. And, most importantly, the fans flocked to the arena. "That wasn't a matter of course," says Thomas Henkel, "500 fans don't turn into 5,000 overnight, especially not in Munich. In cities like Göttingen or Bamberg, basketball is the sporting attraction - in Munich the competition is strong."

But football fans have now discovered basketball for themselves. "They first had to learn the chants and what defense means," Henkel says. Seven days before the end of the season, the promotion into the first league was certain. In the following Bundesliga season (2011/12), then already in the renovated Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle, the development continued. It was "the best time" as a fan at that time, Henkel says, "that time as an underdog, how one fevered and cheered along when we beat someone, even Bamberg or Alba."

Financially on its own feet

With the German Championship 2014, the first after 59 years, a development that had begun only four years earlier with a questionnaire in the "Bayern-Magazin" finally came to a conclusion. Further titles followed. The department has now grown to around 50 employees, plays in the Audi Dome, and in a few years FC Bayern Basketball will enter a whole new dimension at the SAP Garden.

"The foundation" for this huge development is the 2010 member survey, says Marko Pesic, who joined the Bavarians in 2011 as Sports Director and has been Managing Director since 2013. "I remember exactly how I first spoke to Bernd Rauch about the FC Bayern Basketball project. He said two things that are decisive for me and all our work to date: "Our members decide what we do. And, "A department like this has to stand on its own two feet. This is the best way to explain what we are and how we work." 

"Basketball was a great idea"

After the start-up financing, the basketball players achieved financial independence from the entire club in a very short time, which is very important to them. "Many people think that especially in Corona times the AG would surely give us money. But that's not the case," emphasizes Pesic. "The decisions that were made ten years ago still influence us today. And that is a good thing."

When Uli Hoeneß thinks back, he already admits that there was a certain economic risk at the beginning. "It was not to be expected that it would be such a success story."

Isn't it tempting him to take another department to the top level? "No", Hoeneß emphasizes, "Football and basketball - a club like this can't handle more professional sports."

Even today, Bernd Rauch sits in the home hall as often as possible: "When we meet there, we look at each other and smile. Basketball was a great idea."

Author of this story is NIKO HEINDL for the current May issue of the FCB club magazine "51".  

Photo credits: Augenblick/Rauchensteiner, Imago, Camera4, Eirich

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