The head of a German media conglomerate used his tabloids to slam Adidas for not paying rent during the pandemic — without informing readers that he was one of the sporting goods giant’s landlords, according to a report.
Mathias Döpfner is the CEO of Axel Springer, a Berlin-based company whose holdings include Politico, Insider and the German tabloid newspaper Bild.
According to the Financial Times, Bild published more than 20 stories critical of Adidas for not paying rent during the pandemic-induced lockdowns in Germany.
Adidas wasn’t the only major retailer to announce a rent freeze. Other companies including H&M, Puma, and Ceconomy also declined to pay rent, but Bild devoted a disproportionate amount of coverage to Adidas, the report said.
Public opinion turned against Adidas to the point where politicians called for boycotts. One lawmaker in the German Bundestag posted a video on social media showing him setting an Adidas shirt on fire.
But Bild failed to disclose that Adidas was a tenant that was renting space from the CEO of the tabloid’s parent company, Döpfner.
Döpfner, who caused a stir in the US after it was recently revealed that he sent an email to colleagues “praying” for Donald Trump’s re-election, is co-owner of Münzstrasse, a historic building in Berlin, according to records cited by FT.
Adidas rents a two-floor space in the building where it operates a storefront, the FT reported.
When Adidas informed its landlord that it would not be paying rent, Döpfner was furious, according to FT.
Döpfner then reportedly ordered Bild’s chief editor at the time, Julian Reichelt, to wage a campaign against Adidas.
The goal of the editorial campaign was to whip up outrage against a multibillion-dollar brand name that was refusing to pay rent, but the newspaper never disclosed to readers that the source of its story was Döpfner himself, the FT reported.
Bild published stories accusing Adidas of “breaking a taboo” and behaving “ruthlessly” while tarnishing the legacy of its founder, the German entrepreneur Adi Dassler.
Adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted was portrayed by Bild as a greedy capitalist, according to FT.
A spokesperson for Axel Springer told The Post: “The allegations are completely absurd.”
“It would have been a scandal if Mathias Döpfner, seeing the overriding public interest of the topic, would have held back this information,” a company rep told The Post.
“We are proud to have a CEO who understands journalism.”
Axel Springer told FT that the notion there was a conflict of interest was “absurd” and that Döpfner passed on the information to Bild because he “immediately knew this was a matter of overriding public interest.”
“This is the job of a publisher. From today’s perspective he would and will exactly do the same,” the company told FT.
The Post has sought comment from Adidas.
Adidas, like most other retailers, suffered substantial losses during the pandemic as governments imposed lockdowns in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Last year, Axel Springer ousted Reichelt from his editor post at Bild after the New York Times reported that he had an affair with a subordinate whom he later promoted to a high-ranking job.
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