Red Bull have a sprawling empire of sports teams and events Getty Images Perhaps best known for their achievements with their Formula One teams an
Perhaps best known for their achievements with their Formula One teams and football clubs, Red Bull has become a name synonymous with a number of sports and extreme sports events.
The energy drink only hit the shelves in Austrian supermarkets in 1987, and the story since has been one of persistent and targeted expansion to the upper echelons of global sports.
They first hit on the idea of sports sponsorship during the 1990s. Initially, much of their activities were focused on the extreme sports sector, from cliff diving to BMXing, skiing, flying and skateboarding.
Notably, they were an early sponsor of Atlanta 1996 single scull gold medalist Xeno Muller, of Switzerland, but had little impact on mainstream sports.
Soon, though, the company sought to make an impact beyond just sponsorship and started their own events. These have spanned everything from the Red Bull Soap Box Race to the record-breaking Red Bull Stratos programme.
Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner broke three world records when jumping from a height of 24 miles in October 2012. That, however, has not proved by any stretch to be the pinnacle for Red Bull.
Founder Dietrich Mateschitz has also indulged his love of aircraft, partnering with pilot Sigi Angerer to build a fleet of planes in the 1980s before the network was officially incorporated as the Flying Bulls in 1999 and now perform acrobatic aeronautical displays across the world. Many aircraft and vehicles are now housed at Hangar 7 in Salzburg.
There has, naturally, been pushback from the sporting world about the speed at which Red Bull has become a serious operator.
The football teams they own and sponsor – specifically the major three of New York Red Bulls, RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg – have all been heavily criticised and targeted for protests over their commercialisation.
They have, however, achieved success. Both Salzburg, in Austria, and Leipzig, who climbed from the fifth division to the Bundesliga in Germany, are now Champions League regulars and have produced a string of world-class footballers.
David Rettenbacher, co-founder of phoenix club SV Austria Salzburg felt the original ethos had been stripped away completely when the initial purchase was completed in 2005. Red Bull are now only the club’s principal sponsor to comply with UEFA rules.
Rettenbacher said: “At the beginning, we were pretty happy. We thought it was just a new kit sponsor. We had no idea they wanted to start a new club in the top flight.
“They changed the colours, the name, the badge – and started with the slogan: ‘This is a new club, there is no history’.
‘For all real fans, this was the final sign – this club has nothing to do with SV Austria Salzburg.”
Still, the high-profile names keep signing up to the energy drink empire.
Neymar Jr, one of their most high-profile partners, is the headline name on Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Fives, a new twist on the traditional five-a-side.
Aimed at players aged between 16-25, teams are allowed two ‘veterans’, while matches are 10 minutes long with each team losing one player when they concede a goal – meaning if they ship five it is game over.
Since its launch in 2015, the tournament has seen more than 400,000 players from 75 countries and six continents participate. Combining the star power of one of sport’s most marketable stars and the financial clout of one of sport’s most marketable brands has, unsurprisingly, been a huge success.
Building upon this success, Red Bull are keen on expanding its presence outside football. England rugby star Jack Nowell is also a partner, with plans to add more names to the roster.
Newly-crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year Ben Stokes also emobodies the image Red Bull wants to embrace.
There are also two Formula One teams in the roster; senior outfit Red Bull and feeder side Toro Rosso.
Formed in 2005, Red Bull Racing won four consecutive Drivers’ Championships with Sebastian Vettell between 2010 and 2013. While they haven’t won since, 22-year-old Max Verstappen is their bright hope to end that barren spell shortly.
In recent years, beyond mere marketing exercises, there has been great focus on pushing the boundaries of elite sport.
Based in an unassuming farmhouse on the edge of Salzburg is one of the world’s leading sports facilities, built and redeveloped by Red Bull and available to any elite athlete.
The Athlete Performance Centre, on the outskirts of Salzburg, offers coaches, experts and medical stuff who work in the fields of strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, mental performance, nutrition, research and development and environmental consulting.
There are four physiotherapists on site, alongside facilities for complete physiological evaluations, 3D movements analysis, sleep consultations and emntal performance assessment.
Athletes, whether sponsored by Red Bull or not, can book in to receive support from a host of experts in their field.
Salzburg is also home to the Red Bull Academy, which nurtures young talents from the ages of eight to 18 in both football and ice hockey with the hope they will one day represent one of Red Bull’s constituent teams.
Built in 2014 across 99.98 square metres, the facility features six outside pitches and one indoor football hall for the 200 football prospects who currently attend.
There are a further 200 ice hockey players, who have access to a state-of-the-art gym constructed in 2018 for the 200 football alongside two ice rinks, a shooting area and two skate mills.
These players are attended to by a legion of administrative staff, physiotherapists, analysts and coaches throughout their time in the academy.
This, then, feels like the future. Having been an earlier driver of viral videos and adrenaline-fuelled sports action, Red Bull has now set its sights on transforming sports from a performance perspective.