What: FC Bayern is looking to the U.S. and potentially Latin America for growing its brand.
Why it matters: The interest FCB has cultivated in the U.S. is one that has Latino legs, and is certainly something to watch as the Americas head towards World Cup and a renewed and expanded interest in all things soccer.
When European soccer clubs look across the Atlantic they see one of the two most engaged and fastest growing business markets for soccer expanding every day. The United States, as well as China, continues to be an expansion areas not for professional play (it is hard to see the Bundesliga (@Bundesliga_EN) or Serie A (@SerieA_TIM) putting up franchises in Chicago or New York or Beijing right now) but for media, marketing, and perhaps most importantly, for cultivation of fans and a vibrant future talent pool.
While Major League Soccer (@MLS) continues to expand its professional footprint and USA Soccer resets its course with a new head and new board members, the elite clubs of the world continue to press ahead, with the help of engaged media companies like Fox and NBC, and soon Turner and the always-trying-to-expand BeIN SPORTS and others.
One of the clubs that certainly has set the bar is FC Bayern Munich (@FCBayern). A few years ago the club was one of the first to set up shop in the U.S., opening an office in New York not just for sales, but for expansion and engagement at all levels, especially in the digital space. The club did have an upcoming U.S. tour to market and eager brands that were familiar to the U.S. consumer like Audi, T Mobile, Allianz and Adidas, but that was not enough. Under the leadership of Rudolf Vidal, FCB built an amazing grassroots following, engaging fans in all 50 States, and they formed over 100 supporter clubs and have grown their U.S. specific following on a social platform like Twitter to over 130,000 engaged followers. They constantly stay in contact with their clubs through social, and have set a very high bar for engagement as other elite clubs look to expand their casual fan base in the United States.
According to Benno Ruwe, Head of Partnerships for FC Bayern Munich US, the next expansion of the brand and its partners could be south.
That social following has been a boom not just for the Bayern brand, but for its partners as well, who have been able to take the elite club and create a whole host of experiences for consumers who are now able to follow the club and its Bundesliga opponents throughout the season on FOX Sports as well as with the engaged social communities that Bayern has created in the United States. Also don’t forget all of this has happened without Bayern having a marketable rising American star regularly in its lineup, something that some of its rivals have had.
So as FCB continues its solid American work, what’s next? According to Benno Ruwe, Head of Partnerships for FC Bayern Munich US, the next expansion of the brand and its partners could be south. “We have enjoyed great success building here in the States in a marketplace that is still growing, and we are going to look to other areas in the near future to replicate that success, and Central and South America seem to be a place we will look,” he said recently during a leadership program at Columbia University. The engagement into Central and South America makes great sense for Bayern, as they have key members of their first team in Rafinha (Brazil), James Rodriguez (Colombia) and Arturo Vidal (Chile), giving them star power into markets that did not exist in the United States.
All those markets are obviously soccer strongholds so the “education process” will not be as vast, but cutting through the loyalties of local clubs could present a bigger challenge. The biggest opportunity according to Ruwe, will be with the seamless integration of Bayern’s elite brand partners into the mix.
“Our partners are very interested in activating in markets throughout Latin America, including Mexico, and we are very interested in that area as a key part of growth for our sport and for the FC Bayern Munich brand,” he added. “We also see a great opportunity to engage with new partners who have an affinity for both elite soccer and the Latino audience, and we believe we have a great chance to again expand our footprint beyond the traditional.”
While Ruwe was careful to point out that no formal plan for expansion deep into the Latino market has been announced, it is clear that the opportunity, and the basic model, FCB has cultivated in the U.S. is one that has Latino legs, and is certainly something to watch as the Americas head towards World Cup and a renewed and expanded interest in all things about “The Beautiful Game.”