By: Oma Akatugba
The most striking thing about the city of Dortmund is its football culture. While I’ve been to a good number of cities in my German sojourn so far, Dortmund was special. The feeling was majestic- pacing a step every time, yet so fast. Dortmund is where football lives and the club truly embodies the Bundesliga catchword “Football as it is meant to be.”
A group of journalist from other African countries and I visited Dortmund during “The Bundesliga Media Visit,” sponsored by StarTimes, the official broadcast partner of the Bundesliga in sub-Saharan Africa. In a chat with the marketing director of the club, Carsten Cramer, he took us on an impressive rundown of the city, its football culture, Borussia Dortmund, the people (its most important asset) and their approach to the business of the game.
Cramer said while giving a brief introduction of the ”Yellow and Black”, ”Fairytale BVB started one hundred and ten years ago and is now a global spectacle people yearn to see from South and Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Borussia Dortmund was founded in 1909 by 18 people from Dortmund and laid great credence to its respect of the roots. While the club does not boast of the wealth of some of Europe’s biggest teams, it has a great fanbase that is one of the most electric seen anywhere in world football and prides itself as the most supported football club in Germany, more than the giants Bayern Munich despite their financial power.
We (Dortmund) are always ”happy to welcome guests from countries and territories where positive experiences are made.” Kramer says.
He talks about the Africans who have starred for the team and mentions former Super Eagles captain and midfield anchorman, Sunday Oliseh as one of them. Gabonese international, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and others.
He added that Swiss international, Manuel Akanji ‘who knows his roots are not only Swiss’ also has a Nigerian heritage. Another African who represented BVB was Patrick Owomoyela, a former German international, born to a Nigerian father and German mother.
In his chat, he showers praises on the craziness of Africans for football and says Africans’ view of the game is in resonance with BVB’s. He points to; Craziness, Intensity and the undying passion for football as the similarities that unite the club and Africa.
Signal Iduna Park: An Electric Home Of Football And the Yellow Wall
An entrance to the stadium premises shows you everything you read or hear. It is not just any other football ground. There are lots of activities going on at a time, and the fans are as ready and willing to stand behind the team.
”BVB games are always sold out by 81,000 fans on a matchday. But it shows the celebration of football. It is a religion and substitute for some other issues. It is the glue of the society, and it is why there are 25,000 standing areas in the stadium — the biggest standing terrace in Europe and European football. In Dortmund, we have one of the lowest match day tickets in Europe at €11 per game. The low ticket prices explain why football fans travel from England to Dortmund, enjoy a game at the Signal Iduna Park and then go back to England. One of such fans spoke with me outside the stadium right before Dortmund faces VFL Wolfsburg (See video)
Matchday Revenues & Competition With European Giants
BVB’s Matchday Revenues are lower compared to German rivals, Bayern Munich and English giants, Arsenal.
The club said it makes €40million which is not commensurate with the massive crowd in the stadium. According to Sports Institute Business, Bayern Munich earn up to €100m on a matchday.
Indeed, the BVB official rightly asserted the position of the club in its financial comparison with some of Europe’s most significant. He said the club’s matchday revenue is ”maybe 1/4th or 1/8th of Emirates, Etihad, Allianz Arena or Old Trafford. It is not impossible to increase the prices because it means the crowd at the stadium will be lesser and that does not depict the club’s true goals and image. He said in a heartfelt and deep manner that, ”emotions of the people are the asset of BVB.
Emotions of the club’s fans are the USP of BVB. He added that unlike what’s obtainable in most of the European teams today, ”ambition and winning, and are more than a football club.”
BVB: A Club Not Obligated To Win
Football in Dortmund is played for the people. From the old to the young, its attraction is deep and unquestionable and the club represents the actual image of the game.
While the club vies for trophies every year, its structure makes it less pressuring to win. It has no investors breathing down the neck of the club to bring in the cups, or they take their millions away. For the BVB, it is just about the passion for the game and the connection of the people with the club.
We have people we help to make good decisions. We are not a buying club, and as such, we build players who go on to impress and increase the club’s stocks.
”In the case of Dembele, we helped him move to a bigger club. Our players don’t move to Bayern Munich again. We have rebranded, we have better power and have improved. We have made the next step.
”I’ve represented BVB for eight years, and I think black and yellow are the most attractive colours. White is no colour.
Black and Yellow represent what we stand for; they show intensity and passion,” he said.
The connection between the local economy and football
A matchday is a bank holiday. There is a lot of interdependence between BVB and its local dwellers. Hotels get booked and are sold out on match days, and that’s a big advantage for the city of Dortmund. Football and a home game is the people’s livewire in Dortmund. Every matchday is essential.”
What Stickers Mean In Dortmund
”It means enthusiasm- the people who use the stickers love the club. Everyone who supports feels he could work for the club.
It’s not a condition to becoming a supporter, but you won’t work here without becoming a supporter.”
Managing Expectations With The Club’s Ambition
While the club does not stand primarily for profit-making, it has shown ambition and is vying for titles.
”Our people show enthusiasm. The level of passion is different. People stayed in the stadium even after it was clear we had lost to Tottenham. This wasn’t the same with Schalke and Bayern Munich. Fans always support. We are a very authentic club, and the supporters trust us because we never promise more than we can give.
At the beginning of the season, we pushed the reset button. We said it would take two years before we start competing, and now, we are here competing.
We carry our fans along and are honest. We don’t talk too much to create expectations.
We are humble and down to earth. We know when you disappoint people, there’s a higher probability that you might lose them.
We have meetings with supporters and show them new managers for questions and answers.”
As our chat continued, I asked how Bundesliga clubs, and especially Dortmund are trying to create a balance between success in the bank and progress on the pitch as it seems the level of competition by German clubs in European tournaments keeps dropping yearly. He said: ”We run our race. We try to be competitive but not self-mutilating. We respect our brand and our club stance. If you have your own identity, you never do things to differentiate yourself from others. You don’t dress up in the morning because you may guess what your colleague is wearing. Wear the stuff you want to wear to feel comfortable. So we try to be pleased with ourselves, and it is more fun when we rise a bit faster, but Dortmund may not be able to compete on the long run with Real Madrid and Barça, so we have to define our way. And I think people estimate the value. This club is run and financed by the people. We do not belong to any country, we do not belong to any Russian investor, Arabian government, we belong to the people, and that means the more the people are connected to us, the more they will accept this club would have problems if it tries to compete with the bigger teams who have sponsors.
We have to push FIFA and UEFA to control the business because the more the sponsors are in, the more the people get disconnected with their clubs, and we will lose the people and interest. And then, the beginning of the end,” he said in a very detailed response.
The Yellow Wall & Hooliganism
The Yellow Wall stands for the 25,000 standing spectators capacity made for fans of the BVB. There, you see the intense show of passion, a banner depicting the club’s logo and the identity of the club behind it- the fans.
”We have a good relationship with the standing fans (the yellow wall). You have to be outside the stadium 15 minutes before kick off because you have to feel the atmosphere. It’s an area of freedom. There is no intolerance, no racism, just a crowd of people willing to watch football. We try to avoid fights especially playing against a team like Wolfsburg who you can’t identify their supporters because it’s a small group.”
Who Made The Decision On The Yellow Wall considering Policies in Europe?
The decision made itself. We had an immense crowd of people. We extended our stadium for the 2006 World Cup Semifinal. If we knew we would lose against Italy, we might not have extended it. (laughter)
We may still need to increase the capacity by 10,000-15,000because of high demands for tickets. These fans love football and the club.
We invited them for a farewell game for Weidenfeller, and we had 75,000 attendance on a Saturday afternoon. It was unbelievable. We also asked our supporters to sing Xmas songs, and we had 50,000 plus audience. People love their stadium, the club. The bigger the stadium, the better it is for us.”
On Having More Language Channels
”We are working to ensure communication in more languages. We will make it earlier than we have done it. We are only trying to avoid people from getting exhausted from foreign languages.”
The Spirit of Dortmund
The spirit of football is the spirit of Dortmund. The city loves football. It was crystal clear from the moment I stepped my feet into that stadium.
The official said; ”The people love Dortmund. The younger generation gets tickets from their fathers. The club is the lighting house of the people. At 6,7, you come to the stadium.
Whatever you do must influence people in the area. They have no alternative than supporting Dortmund. We treat them as supporters and not as clients.
We won’t copy Amazon as a football club. We shouldn’t be too commercial in approach.
From loving the club to spending money, we accept attitudes and behaviours. We have fans and not clients.”
How BVB Influences People Against Racism And Semitism
Considering the high number of immigrants in Germany and the presence of racism in some areas of the country, the club said; ”We have the power to influence the people. We are not the issue for racism, but we have the German Nationalist Party with two seats in the city. We have to take responsibility. We have started a new movement against racism and intolerance. We have it under control in the stadium. We have to develop tools that people think about.
Our youth players go on educational tours, and they learn more racist and Semitic talks. We have to stress that intolerance is not connected with us.”
How BVB Spots Talents
Some of the game’s finest exports have been seen in BVB. Mario Goetze was a club’s favourite at the height of his career. Other notable players churned out in the decade are Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa, Matts Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, Lucas Barrios and others.
”We have good eyes, many open eyes, organised scouting network to spot and identify good talents. These guys are former talents as well. We have a network of scouts around the world who watch players in 12, 13 years. We help players develop. We can’t buy the stars, and we have to make them,” the club said.
BVB On Its Way To Being An International Brand
The club is building an international reputation. But ”Bread and butter will first be served in Germany and says its success on the pitch, playing champions league football as successfully as possible and as often as possible because it is the competition fans want to see internationally.”
”We have opened offices in China and Singapore, and have target markets in Asia, North America and South East Asia.
”We send our teams on summer tours. Our primary approach is the grassroots approach. We are sending scouts to get young kids from different parts of the world to look for partnerships with local football clubs for a better connection.
Kagawa was a door opener to the Asian market. Pulisic was a door opener to the American market. Aubameyang was able to increase our following in Africa, and when we have players like this, we want to use them well. We have former legends and ambassadors who market the clubs abroad and have academies to bring in young kids, and we share a good relationship with the media.”
Why Dortmund Does Not Have A Women’s Team
Being one of Germany’s top teams, it is surprising that BVB does not have a football team considering the quality of female football in the country. The art of learning to cut one’s coat according to size was given as the primary reason Borussia Dortmund does not have a female team. Kramer explained: ”Fifteen years ago, we went bankrupt. We went to the stock market to get more money. We owned hotels, and we owned a kit brand to vie with Nike and others. We tried to open our brands to other target groups, and the key was to focus. Women’s football won’t work because men focus on men’s football. I’d always suggest bringing sports like women’s football, handball to other places, instead of a place where male football is very successful, and I’m sure we don’t have the potential to support a women’s team on a men’s level. If we build one, they’ll have to be competitive. We don’t want to buy. We must have young kids, female players to build a successful team. This doesn’t fit our ambition.
It’s why we have a basketball department. Bayern had theirs six years ago. We may have an EA Sports team soon. We have a female handball team which has always been part of the tradition.
We have to put it into consideration.”
How BVB Found Itself In Financial Crisis
”We made a big mistake. We tried to overtake Bayern Munich.
We did bridge financing to recover. The people had to show their level of tolerance regarding the performance in sports.”
Possible partnerships in Africa
People from Africa have not settled for a spot. There are too many countries to consider, and this is BVB’s biggest issue.
”African guys recommend different countries, and we can’t be in every country of the world. We have to make it step by step.
We went to South Africa when the PSL was on, and it was difficult to get games.
If I have a guaranty, I’ll do it. We plan to play a legend game in South Africa or Zimbabwe. I spoke to Sunday Oliseh about doing something like this. We will do something with Aubameyang definitely when he retires.
We observe Africa, but we don’t know the right strategy to use. We are frugal with our spendings. We will take our opportunities.”
On Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp represented BVB’s electric affairs with pride and enthusiasm. He was the club’s entire identity. He brought the eccentricity of the average BVB fan to the forefront and will always be remembered for the right reasons.
Klopp is a ”unique character in the dressing room.
The fighting spirit he showed, the promise and offer to the people.
Klopp was down to earth and emotional, and he loved Dortmund.
He was the perfect man for us, the one who opened the club to the people. He made people love Dortmund.”
I have to say that meeting and having such an insightful conversation with Carsten Kramer would take a premium place whenever I talk about the highpoints of the whole Bundesliga experience for me, as it gave me a deeper insight into the foundation and history of a club I have admired for a long time.