Local US-based BVB-fan club founder Jason Rose asks questions about Borussia Dortmund’s abroad marketing strategy.
Dismay set in at the local Biergarten as Saturday’s Borussia Dortmund match wore on against what was expected to be an inferior FC Ingolstadt. I sat drinking my Hefeweizen, discussing the lesser points of goal deficit and the left side of the depleted BVB defense with a brand new member of Die Brunnenstadt BVB (our local fan club in Kansas City). Dortmund were running out of minutes with which to level this match and emotions were emanating; an alternating frantic hope for an equalizer and disgust for being in this damn situation.
Soon, Christian Pulisic knocked a rebounded shot into the back of the goal to save his team a point in stoppage time. Chants of “Heja BVB” bellowed through the sparse crowd and high fives danced around the jubilant black and yellow supporters. Relief started to set in and then I noticed something: half of the BVB supporters were wearing Pulisic shirts. When I checked our club’s Facebook group there was a similar theme: a disproportionate number of us have a #22 shirt.
If you’re not an American there is some context I’ll need to provide. We’ve had our fair share of “next great thing(s)” in red, white and blue soccer land. Julian Green isn’t lighting the world on fire in Bavaria, Landon Donovan is arguably our best player ever and the less said about Freddy Adu the better. As a rather optimistic bunch by global standards, we’re pretty willing to ride those sad bandwagons straight into the river of disappointment. If nothing else it’ll help us forget about Jurgen Klinsmann’s repeated insistence that Jermaine Jones is a winger. So you’ll have to forgive our excitement that any American is getting minutes for one of the best teams in Germany, especially when that player is under 20 and that club is Borussia Dortmund.
Despite our growing interest in the sport, spotting a Bundesliga fan in my city is relatively rare in comparison to the number of Chelsea, Real Madrid or Arsenal supporters wandering around. Of those Bundesliga fans a disgustingly high percentage of those are wearing red and blue. For me, this still feels like immense success considering a few years ago I never met anyone who’d even heard of my favorite club much less seen one of their matches. Yes, times are different. A week spent on my college campus typically yields at least one Dortmund shirt sighting.
So where does this leave the United States as a potential market for a high profile club like Borussia Dortmund? Soccer is still seen as a niche sport and the highest attended MLS clubs usually fall laughably short to the crowds in Germany and the game atmosphere leaves no comparison. On the other hand there are over 300 million of us and one-sixth of us claim to have German roots.
Heritage may not be everyone’s top reason to support a soccer club but without those roots I wouldn’t be writing this article. We’re also consistently sports-obsessed and tend to want to see the very best at their sport. I think that’s why the English League draws so many American eyes.
So how do you approach and market a club globally? Ask Borussia Dortmund as their Asia tours have been massive success stories. Especially given the cold hard facts that football clubs are relatively small organizations and marketing abroad is difficult. Ask Bayern Munich, who despite a strong foothold in the United States aren’t finding their American offices to be incredibly efficient. BVB having Pulisic on the roster looks to be a very cost-effective, low maintenance marketing tool to American audiences.
In marketing circles, the term “product life cycle” describes how a product sells and notes phases where the sales and popularity grow and eventually die off. The phases are introduction, growth, maturity (or stabilization) and inevitably, decline. Obviously, a player isn’t a product, but I often wonder how Pulisic’s potential and current marketability will follow such a cycle.
If he should plateau and never grow into a starter at Borussia Dortmund, will this short run of hype fade? In that time will the club have done all it can to capitalize on that hype? Or do you focus precious, limited resources on something too soon and never reap the benefits?
We know Die Schwarzgelben will return to Asia next year and I fully expect more market domination and an ever-defining cornerstone of the global market strategy. It does leave one to wonder, however, as Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle returning to match fitness, have Dortmund missed a golden opportunity to blossom in the United States while Pulisic sees minutes? Certainly, none of us expected this barrage of injuries recently, especially those working for the club who certainly have a steady workload. Plus, what reasonably priced methods could be employed to approach the US fanbase? And is the United States ready?
I’m not certain I know just yet, but in the meantime I’ll hope to see more yellow #22 shirts appearing around the Biergarten. I wonder if we can get Justin Bieber to sing “Ist das Spiel gewonnen, dann kann man es versteh’n”?