Soccer: The next casualty of the VW scandal?

Anmar Frangoul | Special to

The fallout from the Volkswagen emissions storm could have a sporting, as well as corporate, impact. The German auto giant – which is accused by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of cheating on air pollution tests – is also the owner of one of the country's top soccer teams, VfL Wolfsburg.

"The enormity of the crisis surrounding Volkswagen means that, almost inevitably, there will be an impact on VfL Wolfsburg," Stephen Morrow, senior lecturer in sport finance at the University of Stirling's School of Sport, told CNBC via email.

"The club is owned by the company and the company part funds the football club," Morrow added.

Tobias Schwarz | AFP | Getty Images

"Hence, in a situation where at the very least the company is facing large fines and compensation claims… inevitably VW will have to consider what at one level could be seen as its discretionary expenditure."

Fines for VW in the U.S. alone could hit $18 billion, according to reports, while Monday saw billions wiped off the company's share price.

Close ties

The link between VW, the club, its fans and players is inextricable. Wolfsburg's stadium is called the Volkswagen Arena; the VW logo is emblazoned across the club's shirts; many of the team's fans are also VW employees.

"We had cars from Volkswagen that were given to us. We had so many things from Volkswagen, so the link is not hidden, it is just there," former Wolfsburg forward Jonathan Akpoborie told the BBC's World Service earlier this week. Akpoborie went on to add that Volkswagen was "the backbone of Wolfsburg."

As well as the potential impacts on Wolfsburg, other teams in the German Bundesliga could also be impacted.

"It is likely that other German clubs will be affected by the scandal also," Tom Markham, head of strategic business development at Sports Interactive, told CNBC over email. "As well as owning VfL Wolfsburg, the group has strategic stakes in Bayern Munich and Ingolstadt," he added.

Bayern Munich is one of Germany's most decorated football clubs and boasts a star-studded side, while in 2015 Ingolstadt were promoted to the Bundesliga – Germany's top division – for the first time in their history. VW has the stakes in the clubs through subsidiary Audi.

Markham explained that Volkswagen also had commercial deals with other German clubs and sponsored Germany's cup competition. "It's difficult to envisage these not being impacted given the financial strain VW will face in the future."


Matthias Hangst | Bongarts | Getty Images

Amid mounting negative headlines, could Wolfsburg face a potential backlash from supporters?

Morrow argued that the reverse was actually more likely. "The identities of the two organisations – and indeed the town and community – are so closely linked that one might well expect supporters to rally around the club rather than indulge in a backlash," he said.

Morrow added that these strong links could be a way for the company to rebuild trust.

"Rather than seeing the football and its community links as discretionary expenditure, it could view these social costs and obligations as a way of demonstrating to society more generally that VW is in fact an organisation which does take social responsibility seriously," he said.

VfL Wolfsburg would not comment on the current situation when approached by CNBC. Volkswagen did not respond to a request for comment at time of going to press.