An executive from a top German soccer club explained why European clubs are so eager to break into the American and Chinese markets

Lintao Zhang/Getty ImagesEvents like the International Champions Cup provide an opportunity for clubs like Arsenal, from England, to build brand awareness in emerging markets such as China.
  • Big European soccer clubs are increasingly trying to build brand awareness and make new fans in the United States and China.
  • A marketing executive from Bayer Leverkusen in Germany explained that this was because it is hard for clubs to gain new fans in places rich with soccer history like Germany.
  • One of the ultimate long-term goals is to find a talented American or Chinese soccer player to bring in new fans from these areas.

At a recent roundtable, Jochen A. Rotthaus, the director of marketing and communications for Bayer Leverkusen, explained why clubs like Bayer are so determined to build up their brand names in emerging markets for soccer such as China and the United States.

In short, in countries long Germany where the game already has such a long history, fan allegiances are all pretty much set, and there are not many new fans to be won over.

“There’s no growth, nothing,” Rotthaus said. A club like Bayer Leverkusen can gain,”Maybe one follower in two months,” in Germany.

China, as well as the United States, are two populous countries where soccer is growing, meaning that there are plenty of potential fans, and thus potential new sources of revenue, to be found.

Large European clubs such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Manchester United have opened up offices in China, according to a report last year in the Financial Times. And European clubs have been regularly holding friendlies in the United States, such as in the International Champions Cup or through participation in the MLS All-Star Game. Bayer Leverkusen even held its winter training camp in Orlando, Florida last year.

That said, nothing would help generate fan interest quite like having an American or Chinese player.

“Our mother company always says, ‘Take a Chinese [player],” said Jonas Boldt, the Sporting Director of Bayer Leverkusen, though he made it clear that the club would never sign a player primarily for marketing reasons. Still, the club has been looking into stepping up its scouting presence in both America and China, to try and unearth some marketable new talent.

“If you would be the first club to hire a Chinese player, but with the quality that he can play in the Bundesliga, not sitting on the bench . . . then you have a big success” said Michael Shade, the Managing Director of Bayer Leverkusen.

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