It was an incredible summer to be a soccer fan in the US. Not only were we hosting Copa America Centenario, but Euro 2016 was on our television, we had both the Men’s and Women’s Olympic tournaments, the MLS playoff race started heating up, and the International Champions Cup returned to host some of the biggest and most well-known clubs in the world including FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich. It’s the latter that has been dominating headlines in the US, especially for their off the field performances.
Back in May, we came across this article from The Guardian that asked “Can Bayern Munich become America’s favorite soccer team?” and following everything from this summer, we’re starting to think the idea isn’t as farfetched as it initially sounded. We were lucky to be in the crowd of nearly 45,000 in attendance for their ICC match in Chicago versus AC Milan and caught quite a few other events they were doing in the city throughout the week. For days, we spotted dozens of people in jerseys up and down Michigan Avenue, who had come from all across the US to catch a glimpse of their favorite team and players. It felt like a big event and it was a big event.
Bayern is undoubtedly the biggest team in Germany, and according to Forbes, the fourth most-valuable soccer club in the world, behind only Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Manchester United. They also rank 12th on Forbes list of Top 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams. In the last year, they’ve seen their revenue increase 14% and are currently valued at $2.68 billion.
But while other major European clubs are content to come to the US every couple of summers or have their players appear in US endorsement deals from afar, Bayern has taken a unique approach to building its brand in the US. They’re aggressively marketing themselves to US fans – both current and prospective – and have had an US-based office in New York City since 2014. That office has helped the club localize their social media messaging and develop a stronger connection between fans and the club. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of their US marketing efforts so far in 2016:
- Teamed up with YAHOO! Sports to promote content to help position the club against other top European
- Signed a new merchandising deal which adds Bayern merchandise to additional stores within the US retail space and an expansion of their US online store
- Became an official partner with EA Sports ahead of the FIFA ’17 launch
- Looking to form a partnership with a MLS team to support soccer growth within the US by exchanging by soccer and business knowledge
- Leveraging their jersey sponsor T-Mobile to give away free 1-year subscriptions to their Official club TV – FCBtv for US T-Mobile customers
- While in the NYC area for the ICC, they worked with Bleacher Report’s UK arm to film a fun video of Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso playing a match versus 40 kids. The video was released this week ahead of the Bundesliga season kicking off and has been picked up by social and traditional media outlets all over the world.
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) August 24, 2016
Perhaps one of the most striking moves they made was tapping Copa90 hosts Poet and Vuj for a “late night television” style team presentation that was streamed exclusively in English via Facebook Live. That move didn’t exactly sit well with their German fan base, but there was data to support trying something new. Their Facebook page boasts 38 million fans, with 35 million of them outside of Germany. In total, the presentation drew 500,000 viewers on Facebook. For comparison, their title celebrations this year drew 300,000 viewers online. The club has already announced that the format will be back ahead of the 2017-18 season, so expect to see some tweaks to appeal to both their domestic and international fan bases.
To learn more about their US content strategy, we spoke with Cris Nyari, Media Director at FC Bayern US who has been with the club since they opened their NYC office, and Scott Sandalow, the Content Manager at FC Bayern US who joined in July from the New York Red Bulls.
Like many of the large clubs from countries whose primary language isn’t English, Bayern has English-language based social media accounts. What made the club want to create a US-specific account?
Simply put, it was part of our overall media strategy, which is to create US-specific platforms where we can localize and curate content. It’s why we also launched a US-specific website, app, newsletters and online store as well. In the most competitive and saturated sports and media market in the world, it’s important to have the flexibility and autonomy to experiment, adapt to cultural sensitivities and create an authentic voice. Facebook for example is great tool for this because it allows you to segment audiences so we are able to be mindful of important factors like time zones, user behaviors, cultural preferences and trends, and tailor our communications accordingly for our US fans. You need your message to resonate to create sustainable audience development and growth.
Building on that, how have you developed the social voice of the US account? We’ve noticed it’s quite a stark contrast to many of the traditional international “soccer powerhouses” and most similar to MLS teams.
It’s a stark contrast to European accounts but very much in line with what you see and expect from MLS, NBA, NFL, etc. accounts. Our goal with our media strategy, as with our entire US initiative, is to embed ourselves into the US sports fabric and landscape. We see what is happening in US sports, media, tech as the benchmark, and to reach the high standards of US sports fans and consumers you have to be able to match said standards. That means we have to adapt to what fans and users expect and be more engaging with our content. That direct line of communication goes a long way, and our engagement rates and growth are proof positive that our message and “voice” are resonating with fans here.
— FC Bayern US (@FCBayernUS) July 11, 2016
You’ve had a US office since 2014 in New York City and you just moved into new digs. How important has that office and having dedicated staff in the States been to your growth?
It has been absolutely crucial. Having local market expertise has been essential in executing our strategy, particularly from a media perspective as it is the consumer-facing side of the business. You have to understand the environment you’re operating in: the cultural nuances, the industry, user expectations, etc. and then leverage that understanding in the digital environment. Having said that, it has been just as important to remain true to the core values of the club, its roots and the traditions. It’s an important balance to strike.
Bayern recently wrapped up their US tour this summer with three games in the International Champions Cup. How was the fan reception during everything?
It exceeded all our expectations. When you look at the audiences in Chicago and Charlotte for example, the majority were Bayern fans. We held several fan events during the tour from autograph sessions, fan club tournaments, public training sessions, etc. We wanted to bring our fans as close as possible to our players while they were here, and the turnout and response were simply fantastic. We also saw record numbers on our US social platforms during the tour which shows interest beyond just our existing fans. We have certainly come a long way in two years!
With the ICC, the US staff had tons of direct access to the players and staff and created some amazing first-hand content. Now that the team is back in Germany, what’s your plan for social/digital coverage during the season and working with the primary social/digital team in Munich?
Since the office opened we have had a very close relationship with our colleagues in Munich and collaborate closely on content ideas and our overall digital global strategy on a daily and weekly basis. There is a lot we can all learn from each other being in different markets, and that kind of synergy benefits our entire operation. We just recently relaunched our website and app and are always exploring new innovative content and fan engagement ideas together. Being an ocean apart actually lends itself to some interesting creative approaches and problem solving. Sports teams are usually accustomed to having their players and stadium nearby so we have to be extra creative with our ideas and content sitting here in NY. For example: what can we here do with a great platform like Snapchat when our team and stadium is in Munich? Turns out there is quite a lot actually, and that’s the challenge and beauty of an initiative like ours.
Lastly, what was your favorite moment from the ICC and the US tour?
It’s difficult to pick just one, but personally for me it was seeing multiple red jerseys on every block in Charlotte during our time there. It felt very much like a home game because no matter where you looked (restaurants, bars, streets, etc.) there were Bayern fans. That is a great validation of the work we’ve done in the last two years but also a sign of the growth and potential for FC Bayern and German soccer in the US.
— FC Bayern US (@FCBayernUS) July 31, 2016