Borussia Dortmund Sees U.S. Growth Ahead, Even Without Pulisic

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Photo Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Pulisic’s swift ascent to stardom introduced Borussia Dortmund to America. But even as the U.S. Men’s National Team star is departing for Chelsea, the Bundesliga club is doubling down on its outreach to the U.S., with an assist from Lagardère Sports.

“It was great to have Christian, and he certainly opened doors and created an interest in the club in the U.S. – we see the door having been pushed wide open,” said Benedikt Scholz, the club’s head of international and new business. “But that door is still open, and our task is now to keep it open.”

Those efforts will continue this summer, with the club’s second straight U.S. trip. On the docket in 2019 is a six-day training camp that includes friendlies with the Seattle Sounders and Liverpool FC – the latter being the first international soccer match held in South Bend.

Dortmund, founded in 1909 and calling Germany’s eighth-largest city home, has become known across Europe as one of the best-performing clubs in the Bundesliga outside of powerhouse Bayern Munich. The club has also gained recognition for its ability to develop young stars like Pulisic and for the atmosphere at its home matches at Westfalenstadion, where it has posted the largest average home attendance across European soccer at more than 81,000 fans per game.

But due to a financial crisis that plagued the club in the early 2000s, little effort was put into growing its business beyond Germany. That changed in 2010, when Dortmund won the first of two straight Bundesliga titles, and once again competed in European competitions.

Now the club wants to share the characteristics that make Borussia Dortmund distinct with the world – that win or lose, it will never go down without a fight.

“That ambition, that passion with our supporters, the authenticity and being humble and direct – these are all things that shape our general approach, whether we are in Germany, the U.S. or China,” said Scholz. “But we also know there are cultural differences and that there is less awareness of the club for people who have not grown up with it, so we need to speak to that fanbase a little different.”

That’s where Lagardère Sports has stepped in. As the exclusive marketing agent for Borussia Dortmund since 1999, the global sports marketing agency is responsible for the Bundesliga club’s national and international sponsorship, marketing, media and hospitality rights. 

In 2018, Lagardère Sports’ U.S. Commercial Division was selected by BVB to help grow the team’s social media following in America by launching dedicated English-language channels, helping to build the clubs brand and increase awareness and reach.

Marc Riccio, executive vice president of U.S. commercial for Lagardère Sports, said the agency’s approach has been straightforward: provide a new tone to the already strong and established social media product, with the goal of highlighting the team’s brand values while also further developing the club’s digital content – something that fans in both the U.S. and other English-speaking markets around the world specifically look for.

“For a European soccer club to build a brand in the U.S., it needs to be here consistently – you can’t expect to just come in and come out and then expect American fans to latch onto that,” Riccio said. “While it’s great to have friendlies, host local camps or meet with business leaders, the most consistent and feasible way is by developing strong digital and social platforms to help create and foster that connection.”

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Riccio said Lagardère Sports worked closely with the club’s executive staff to determine the best course of action, as well as distilling the club’s ethos so that those key tenants of authenticity, ambition and intensity guided its social media voice.

That also meant stepping away from some of the things that the club does in German with its social accounts, and making it more in-line with what American fans look for, which is not only more compelling, behind-the-scenes content, but also doing things around other cultural moments.

“American fans really respond to personality and creative approaches, so instead of just doing a traditional lineup card, how about we theme it to Game Of Thrones or the latest Marvel movie?,” Riccio said. “There are some other areas we are seeing ourselves leaning into, such as club history or statistics – American fans are drawn into stats much more than European fans are.”

So far, the results have borne fruit. Although the club just launched its English language platform less than a year ago, its Twitter account has continuously outperformed all Bundesliga English-speaking accounts over the past five months in terms of engagement, impressions and follower growth. The club has also jumped to second place in terms of most followed accounts after Bayern Munich U.S., which launched its channels in 2015.

According to Lagardère Sports, the club has seen its U.S. social media following increase from 33,800 in November 2018 to 157,00 in June, an increase of 310%. It has seen more than 700,000 engagements with its accounts per month, including a record of more than 1.3 million engagements in May – which Lagardère Sports says ranks it ahead of many other European clubs in the U.S..

With the team in the U.S. for a week as well, there will also be on-the ground activations this summer. Rooftop2 Productions, the NYC-based activation agency that is part of Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, will be activating on behalf of Dortmund for the team’s games at CenturyLink Field and Notre Dame Stadium. Before each game, the Rooftop2 team will be signing fans up for the chance to win a trip to Dortmund to experience the atmosphere of a home match. They will also have brand ambassadors on site who will be handing out BVB-branded items for fans to show their support for the club at the matches. In addition, Lagardere Sports will assist BVB with facilitating activation by team and U.S. tour sponsors such as Puma and Topps, capturing content for partners’ social and digital media channels, and facilitating various marketing and PR opportunities on site.

Scholz said that thus far, the club has found its messaging and brand has connected well with U.S. fans, especially younger ones – 50% of fans who say they have an interest in the club are under the age of 29, he said. 

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But as Dortmund looks to convert those casual fans into diehard ones, they’ll have to do it without Pulisic.

“Christian was not only a great player on the pitch, but had a story that fit 100% with Borussia Dortmund – he came here at 16 and worked hard for his success and did it all on his own,” Scholz said. “But we have always said that we will never make ourselves dependant on single player, and we have to be ready for a time after – we believe we have a big chance in America of sharing our story that while sometimes we may win, sometimes we may lose, but we will never give up.”