Terrance F Ross: Europes top leagues envy the Premier Leagues impressive stateside inroads, but the Bundesliga offers a mutually beneficial opportunity for US players abroad
If a player from the United States would come here and rating each week, told Michael Schade, CEO of Bayer Leverkusen, one of the biggest clubs in the history of German football, it would be a dreaming come true.
Its a jarringly direct quote and one that shocked me and other international reporters in the Leverkusen boardroom a month ago. But as Schade, formerly an executive of Bayer AG, the pharmaceutical company that sponsors the club, made it clear that he wasnt being coy. I think that America is not only a fantastic country, its a growing marketplace for soccer. Its also a growing marketplace for marketing activities for European football clubs, but we have to show up.
We have to show up, its a clear statement, one thats laced with both guilt for the past and pragmatism for the future. The German Bundesliga has been one of Europes top leagues stretching back to the dawn of European football but its a league that in 2015 has struggled to capture the attention of the global football marketplace. The reasoning is twofold. On one hand the dominance of Bayern Munich, winners of the last four league titles, has somewhat soured the reputation of the league outside its borders from a competitive standpoint. This is especially pronounced in America where parity is seen as an essential ingredient for sporting activities. Bayern operating ramshod over their opponents is somewhat Un-American. Additionally, Germanys justified( but instead prideful) feelings towards their own football domestically has in turn hampered their global impact, or at the least facilitated their protracted international efforts.
America is, like it has been throughout history from a more social and political perspective, the new frontier. Its the new world again, but this time for the beautiful game. From convoluted ideas like The Americas Champions League to NBCs impressive coverage of the Premier League, the potential gains from investing in the fanatic and lucrative American sports marketplace, is no secret.
The Bundesliga is no different, the league has been ramping up its efforts stateside in recent years. Some moves may have appeared subtle in a vacuum but upon closer inspection appear to be part of a more substantial strategy. Bayern Munich opened offices in New York City, a new English-language YouTube channel was made, and other clubs even started their own American-focused entities, Twitter channels and club stores that are distinctly different to their English equivalents. This is all in an attempt to compete with the Premier League, a league thats marketed itself stateside as the preeminent football rivalry in the world, even supplanting the Uefa Champions League in importance, at the least to American fans.
Maybe in the past we made a few blunders because the Premier League started 10 years earlier with internationalization. And that was very helpful[ to EPL squads] as far as I know. Most of the teams are playing overseas in the summer breaking, told Schade.
Schades business background tends to shine in these dialogues. He doesnt mince words and hes very direct. His club is also adopting his directness in their strategies. In less than a months time both Leverkusen, Schalke 04 and Ukraines Shakhtar Donestk will be in Florida for the second-annual Florida Cup. There the European club will take on the local Fort Lauderdale Strikers as well as squads from Brazil and Colombia. Its designed as a training camp for the players during the course of its Bundesligas winter break, but the Florida sun and relaxed atmosphere aside, for the clubs themselves its marketing crunch time.
The massive amounts of foreign TV money being pumped into the Premier League has read like a code-red for their competitors: Serie A, La Liga and of course the Bundesliga. European football has always been this broad singular entity, in fact that was the appeal, with so many leagues on showcase a fan has a wide palette from which to choose from. But by venturing abroad early, and with such a focused strategy, the Premier League has positioned itself smartly stateside, taking full advantage of Americas penchant for the solitary athletic league( NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL ). Now everyone is trying to play catch up.
The USA is a very important marketplace for the Bundesliga and patently also for our club Schalke 04, and thats why after having our wintertime training camps in many other countries we selected the USA as the host, told Alexander Jobst, head of marketing for Schalke 04. We expect wonderful educate conditions, good weather conditions and of course a challenging tournament which will help expand our brand also in US for the future.
The Germans are very direct but this isnt just some ham-fisted approach to delve into the American marketplace either; there are roots here. The German-American connection dates to the annals of the modern US mens national team in the early 90 s, when the likes of the German-born Thomas Dooley donned the stars and stripes for the 1994 World Cup. Today its a connection that imbues all facets of US soccer, perhaps even too much according to some.
Still, tapping into this marketplace is a tricky undertaking, which is likely why Schade was so blatant about the desire for a successful American player at the club. If you know anyone he joked to the room.
But what would this even look like? This mythical American striker that would bang in the goals in Germany? How would he affect video games on and off the pitch? Thankfully, this isnt even solely theoretical, theres actually a real-life example though we have to go south of the border.
Javier Chicharito Hernandez, the Mexican forward who has plied his trade for Manchester United and Real Madrid in recent years, has in no uncertain terms become a behemoth for Bayer Leverkusen. On the pitch the Mexican has been in fine sort, hes scored 17 aims in his last 14 matches and hes become the clubs talisman winning the Bundesliga Player of the Month award in November. But despite his exploits on the pitch they largely pale in comparison to what hes done for the club off of it.
20% of the clubs 1.8 m Facebook followesr from Bayer 04 Leverkusen are located in Mexico. Thats more than 300,000 fans in total.
Bayers Facebook page also has the highest percentage growth among the top European clubs after starting to produce and share content especially tailored for Mexico.