With an attendance directory that resembles the Who’s Who of international sports visionaries, the Leaders Week 2018 in New York City proved to be the place to be for virtually everyone who is anyone in professional sports last week: 800 executive level attendees representing global sports, media, and sponsor organisations exchanged insights, presented best practices, and shared valuable knowledge. DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga and its clubs garnered a lot of attention and received high praise at the “Bundesliga – Der Klassiker” networking session at Times Square.
Moderated by Fox Sports host and former FC St. Pauli player, Ian Joy, panellists Rudolf Vidal (President Americas, FC Bayern München), Patrick Owomoyela (Ambassador, Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Scholz (Head of Internationalisation & New Business, Borussia Dortmund), and Robert Klein (CEO, Bundesliga International) lively discussed internationalisation strategies of both individual clubs and Bundesliga as a whole, at their forum titled “Drive Passion for the Bundesliga in the United States.”
Expanding fan engagement beyond country borders has been a focal point for the DFL and Bundesliga clubs for years. The most crucial aspect all panel members agreed on: Presence, both physically and virtually. As Rudolf Vidal pointed out, as the first European football club to establish an office in the United States, fan support for Bayern München in the U.S. ballooned from 8 fan clubs to 138 in only three seasons.
Borussia Dortmund Ambassador Patrick Owomoyela, who was a member of the Black-and-Yellow squad that won the German championship in both 2011 and 2012 as well as the German Cup in 2012 and who helped lead the team to the 2013 Champions League final, supported Vidal’s view of the importance of accessibility to the fans. Over 500 fans attended the training session during the recent BVB U.S. Tour, and the excitement is cross-generational. “We’re not only seeing kids, but adults are taking up playing football in the U.S. as well,” noted Owomoyela.
“For continued positive development in the US market, the key is to develop and grow the Bundesliga brand, and the base for that is broadcasting,” shared Robert Klein, CEO Bundesliga International, who also referred to the sportstech fair SportsInnovation 2018 that gathered global visionaries and tech innovators in Düsseldorf, Germany, in May. “Bundesliga has great content to offer, both on our own and operated digital platforms, and it’s important to tell localised stories.”
One of those localised storylines that hit home in the U.S. revolves around Christian Pulisic. The charismatic teenager is a Pennsylvania native, and his increasing contributions to Borussia Dortmund’s 2017/2018 Bundesliga campaign haven’t gone unnoticed in the States. “Christian opens doors,” observed BVB’s Benedikt Scholz, just like Japan’s Shinji Kagawa has created awareness for the league and his club in the Japanese market since his arrival in Dortmund in 2010, and the local link provides an organic tie-in. “Both the Bundesliga story and the BVB story allow for an authentic and fruitful partnership with FOX Univision. Owned media is great, but we also aim to work with partners to deliver the stories we do have.”
Close cooperation of league and clubs has also helped bring the Bundesliga experience to life abroad. Moderator Ian Joy, who spent 5 years with FC St. Pauli, expressed the uniquely intoxicating German football spirit vividly: “Bundesliga is the most energetic league, with an unbelievable atmosphere. The Game Day experience was terrific. I have always wanted to go back; I had an amazing time as a player,” said Joy. “Now working in media, I appreciate the Bundesliga product as always brilliant: fantastic league, most goals, full stadiums.”