The Tigers with the object of their dreams: Swiss champions 1976.
The Tigers with the object of their dreams: Swiss champions 1976. Photo: Hans Wüthrich

How SCL got its tiger

In 1970, SC Langnau revolutionised Switzerland’s sports landscape. With a little sleight of hand, this village club invented jersey advertising.

Marco Oppliger

Marco Oppliger

Marco Oppliger works for the Tamedia sports desk. He regularly reports on the SCL Tigers.

The beards are getting longer, the pace is getting rougher – these are unmistakable signs that the playoffs have begun. The Swiss ice hockey season was heading towards its climax, with the fight for the championship title making for compulsive viewing every other day. But one thing was already certain: yet again, the cup wouldn’t be going to the SCL Tigers Last in 2021, second to last in 2022 – the Emmental team can look back on two abysmal seasons. Based in an economically undeveloped fringe region, the club had been trying for years, with meagre resources, to gain a foothold in the National League. With such a struggle for survival on the sporting stage, it would be easy to forget that SC Langnau – as the club was called until the formation of the limited company in 1999 – was once way ahead of the competition, on and off the ice. Langnau’s logo is the tiger; almost any child knows that. But few people actually know how the club got its heraldic animal. Staying with the ice hockey vocabulary, it was achieved with a Buebetrickli – a bit of a wrap-around shot. In its early days the club, founded in 1946, played with the lettering SCL, Langnau or just an L on team members’ chests.
In the 1960s, the Langnau players, here Gerhard Wittwer (left), still played without a tiger on their chest. Mostly in any case...
In the 1960s, the Langnau players, here Gerhard Wittwer (left), still played without a tiger on their chest. Mostly in any case... SCL Tigers / Jakob Menolfi
That changed in the 1970-1971 season, when a tiger’s head suddenly appeared on the red and yellow jerseys. It was the same logo used by the local company Tiger-Käse AG for its processed cheese products. And, of course, it was no coincidence. The long-established company was keen to sponsor the village club. But because jersey advertising was expressly prohibited in those days, the team couldn’t offer anything in return. So Langnau bosses decided without further ado to incorporate the tiger into the club logo. The ice hockey Federation took prompt action, threatening to exclude them from the championship.
From the 1970s onwards, the tiger was always there on the ice. Even when faced with the wrath of the Federation...
From the 1970s onwards, the tiger was always there on the ice. Even when faced with the wrath of the Federation... Dukas / RDB
But the Federation reckoned without Walter Schwarz, then President of SCL. A fierce advocate of the club, Schwarz stumbled across old photos in the archive showing Langnau players with a tiger on their bibs. The photos dated from 1961, when SCL played in the national A-League for the first time. Schwarz was therefore able to prove that Langnau had already had the tiger for years. The Federation withdrew its threat. What really happened: that logo from 1961 also adorned the products and letterheads of Röthlisberger & Sohn AG, which later became Tiger-Käse AG. How it found its way onto the jerseys back then is unclear. For the club, that was irrelevant. SCL received 40,000 francs a year from the sponsorship – a massive sum for the time.
Letterhead of Roethlisberger & Sohn AG, 1961.
Letterhead of Roethlisberger & Sohn AG, 1961. Photo: Marco Oppliger
Group photo of SC Langnau dating from 1965.
Group photo of SC Langnau dating from 1965. SCL Tigers
A comparison with football shows just how big a coup SC Langnau managed to pull off in 1970. In football too, jersey advertising was strictly prohibited. It wasn’t until six years later that FC Basel became the first Swiss football club to advertise a company. In their case, it was Umberto Guarnaccia’s travel agency. At a formal dinner, Guarnaccia slapped a cheque for 100,000 francs on the table in front of the FCB board, outmanoeuvring big-name competitors (Bankverein, Fiat and Pirelli) which had also applied to sponsor the team. Overnight, his travel agency became the talk of the town. After just one season, Guarnaccia bowed out – he had achieved his aim.
Basel with sponsor on shirt against GC, April 1977.
Basel with sponsor on shirt against GC, April 1977. Keystone / STR
But back to ice hockey: in those days, the clubs were much more dependent on financial support from sponsors than they are today. Charles Frutschi in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Madame Janine Potin in Villars and Willy Gassmann in Biel single-handedly put together champion teams. Decades before exorbitant wages began to be paid, they lured players, who in those days all still held down day jobs, with bonuses or positions in their companies. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Tiger-Käse AG Langnau was able, among other things, to build up a training fund and thus pay its players some kind of wage compensation. A golden era followed. In the summer of 1975, the rink was roofed and became the Ilfis Stadium. In March 1976, SC Langnau celebrated its only championship title to date. It was a triumph of a village club over the wealthy townies from Biel and Bern – the Emmental team’s toughest rivals in those days. Only 4 of the 22 players in the championship team were not from Langnau. The club regularly played for the title up until the early 1980s, when Swiss ice hockey became more professional and Langnau was unable to keep up. A decline followed, culminating in relegation to League 1. It wasn’t until 1998 that SCL returned to the National League. With the exception of two seasons, the team has managed to retain its NLA spot since then.
The Langnau team’s one and only championship title, 1976. SRF
Incidentally, Tiger-Käse AG was taken over by the Emmi food group in 2003. But even in its new form, the company continued as a loyal sponsor of the SCL Tigers until 2010. A bond like this between a company and a club is unparallelled.

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