FC Bayern Munich Prioritizing Fan-First Approach to Internationalization

Among FC Bayern Munich’s values which include tradition, respect and financial responsibility is a very important one: club.

“FC Bayern is a company, but in the first instance it is a club with the membership at its core.”

The Bavarian soccer giants prioritize its more than 290,000 members first and foremost. Three-quarters of its stockholders are from this base, with adidas, Audi and Allianz comprising the other 25% at 8.33% apiece.

It is this fan-first prioritization that is at the forefront of Bayern Munich’s internationalization, particularly in the United States.

“When you look at all the clubs, everyone has their own strategy,” said Rudolf Vidal, Bayern Munich president of the Americas. “Our strategy is literally working on the B2C (business-to-consumer) level, growing the fan bases. For us that’s very, very important.”

Since opening its first international office in New York City in 2014, Bayern Munich’s brand has grown exponentially in the United States. Its following has almost tripled from 13 million to 32 million, eight North American fan clubs have increased to 148 and the club can proudly say it has supporters in all 50 states.

“I think these are tremendous numbers and they show the growth with our brand over the last five years,” said Bayern Munich executive board member Jörg Wacker. “We are looking forward to the next couple of years to get a better positioning of our brand. The stronger the brand—it’s no secret—the better the revenues and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

FC Bayern Munich has had little trouble making money. The fourth most-valuable soccer franchise in the world at $3.063 billion according to Forbes, has made a profit each of the past 27 seasons and has no debt. Since the establishment of FC Bayern Munchen AG, the club’s professional soccer section, in 2002, revenue has increased by 355% from $199 million to $704 million in 2017/18.

Vidal and Wacker have been instrumental in Bayern’s internationalization. Vidal was appointed managing director of the Americas when the U.S. office opened in 2014 and became president of the Americas two years later as the German giants expanded their operations into Central and South America. He has spearheaded global partnerships including Beats by Dre, EA Sports and Apple, and youth and coaching development partnerships with FC Dallas (MLS) and the University of Denver. The partnership with FC Dallas is already paying dividends; Bayern Munich signed FC Dallas and USMNT center back prospect Chris Richards through June 2023.

Wacker, who sits on the executive board alongside the likes of CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and president Uli Hoeness, set up the NYC office and later the club’s Shanghai office in 2017. Not only is Wacker in charge of internationalization and strategy, he is responsible for Bayern’s merchandising and licensing.

Wacker said he utilized the experiences of the club’s presence into the U.S. market as a basis for expansion into China three years later, though many differences exist. In North America, much of the digital content is consumed via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google, while in China, the likes of WeChat, Sina Weibo and Tencent reign supreme. He also said the audience is more visually driven in China, so Bayern Munich’s 10-person Shanghai team caters content accordingly.

“If you want to go into a market, you have to be in that market,” Wacker said. “You can’t coordinate this from your headquarters because you have to understand the people, you have to understand the culture. It’s a different language, it’s a different time zone, so you have to go into the market.”

The club has no plans to open another international office in the near future, according to Wacker, rather focusing on the relationships and partnerships developed over the past five years since officially rooting their brand in foreign soil for the first time.

FC Bayern Munich will return to the United States this summer as part of the 2019 International Champions Cup, playing Arsenal on July 17 in Los Angeles, Real Madrid on July 20 in Houston and AC Milan on July 23 in Kansas City. Prior to coming to America, the 28-time German league champions will also play the Chinese national team in an exhibition on May 29 in Beijing.

“It’s great to see how we’re growing and growing,” Vidal said. “Of course when you have something like the (summer) tour, that’s the best thing that can happen. Everything we do here in the United States culminates with that event. We can be happy with our development, but there’s still lots of things to do. When we opened the office, we said we’ve come here to stay, to build relationships and we’re the extended arm of Bayern Munich in the Americas.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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