Ich bin nun wahrlich kein Bayern Fan. Ich freue mich viel mehr gerade darüber, dass Borussia Dortmund gerade in der Champions-League gegen Lissabon gewonnen hat. Von daher war es ein etwas komisches Gefühl, als ich für meinen zweiten englischen Artikel den FC Bayern München Fanclub in Washington (oder viel mehr in Arlington) besucht habe. Aber ich habe selten in entspannterer Atmosphäre Fußball geguckt als in der „Summers Restaurant“ Sportsbar, umgeben von vielen Menschen in roten Trikots. Was genau ich dort erlebt habe und was es mit den „Satelliten Fans“ so auf sich hat, könnt ihr hier in meinem Lifestyle-Feature für die Uni nachlesen.
A new kind of long-distance relationship
There are times you would suspect sport fans at a place like the “Summers Restaurant”, a plain American diner and sports bar in Arlington. 9:30 am on a Saturday morning isn’t one of those times. Yet, some thirty man, woman and children have gathered in the bar. They are looking at TV-screens that cover most of the wall behind the counter. They see people wearing almost the same outfit as they do, a red jersey with the label of the most succesfull soccer club of Germany. They all belong to the “FC Bayern München Fan Club Washington”.
“TOOOOOOR FÜR DEN FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN,” roars Michael Fähnle-Hedge, his hands around his mouth to enhance his German goal celebration, acting like a stadium announcer, “DURCH DEN SPIELER MIT DER NUMMER NEUN – ROBERT!“ „LEWANDOWSKI!” answers the crowd around him, shouting the surname of the goalscorer. “ROBERT!” “LEWANDOWSKI!” “ROBERT!” “LEWANDOWSKI!” They are celebrating a man who has just scored the 1-1 equalizer for Bayern against Ingolstadt in a Bundesliga match. A goal that was scored 4.236 miles away.
Satellite Fans – a new kind of fans
The supporters in the diner are a perfect example for a phenomenon called “Satellite Fans”. As globalization and digital advancement continue to change the world, more and more fans around the world support soccer clubs from foreign countries. In the US, 29 million people are interested in FC Bayern, according to the club. The way “Satellite Fans” experience the game might be different from those fans who live in close proximity of the club. However, their feelings and bond towards the club are quite similar. And that is a huge potential for the big European soccer clubs. One that they start to exploit – even at the risk of losing some of their local supporters.
„Well, this is fun!“
The atmosphere in the “Summers Restaurant” is relaxed, despite the fact that Munich conceded an early and surprising goal against the underdog. But Lewandowskis goal just minutes later put Munich back on track. Bayern has been dominating the Bundesliga the last three seasons and with the confidence that their team will win just another game some supporters enjoy a late breakfast. Toast and scrambled eggs are handed over at the bar, an original Bavarian wheat beer ensures that not just the match and chants are German.
“Joining the fan club here, the atmosphere was such entertaining and infectious that it was like ‘Well, this is fun!’”, says Luke Hendriks, 33, remembering how he became a Bayern fan. “Bayern doing well hasn’t hurt as well and the other thing was that the others have been so welcoming and willing to share with a newbie.“ Hendriks got a head start – he played soccer during his youth and didn’t need explanation on how the game is played. But he had to learn what it means being a Bayern fan. Seeing him in the red jersey and chanting along with the others, it seems like he succeed. And he was not the only one who had a warm welcome to the fan club.
Japanes Anime as a way to become a fan
“The first moment I walked in felt like getting together with a bunch of old friends,” recalls Angelo Guerrero, 29, his first visit to the fan club two years ago. He was born in Peru and has been living in the US since 18 years. His way to Bayern was a strange one. “We have a lot of Japanese anime in Peru”, he adds, “and watching “Captain Tsubasa” [an anime series about a Japanes youth soccer team] was the first exposure I had to Bayern. Even though it was a fictional interpretation of the team they had club legends like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and when I saw that this is beyond anime, that this team really exists, I started staying up late at night trying to get every game I could.”
While it was fiction that got Guerrero interested in Bayern, playing the game itself was the one thing that lead Steve Howard to become a Bayern fan. He started playing soccer in the late seventies, long before soccer was considered a major sport in the US. Therefore, European soccer attracted his attention.
“We got a little bit of proper European soccer news at that time. Bayern was one of the teams that got highlighted a little bit at that time [because they won three European Champion Clubs’ Cups in a row] and so picked it as my team.”
A link to tradition
This kind of exposure through the media is one typicial initial contact that “Satellite Fans” experience, explains Thilo Kunkel. He is an Assistant Professor for Marketing & Sport Management at Temple University in Philadelphia. He grew up and studied Sport Science in Germany before going to the USA. He researches on sports brands and how fans can establish emotional bonds to clubs. But it’s not just the media that could lead to the creation of “Satellite Fans”, Kunkels research shows. “Alternatively, we see that a lot of people who follow German soccer have German roots. Maybe the great-great-grandmother migrated from Germany and now the person wants a link to his or her own history and tradition. And soccer is one of the ways to identify with their own family history, because soccer has such a great cultural significance in Europe.”
How the fanclub started
“TOOOOOR FÜR DEN FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN!” Bayern has scored again against Ingolstadt, Michael Fähnle-Hedge leads the celebration in the pub. He’s an example for continuing German traditions in the US. He grew up in Germany but left the country during his studies. He married and stayed for good, still following Bayern closely in the US.
“I used to watch the matches in the sports bar, often times alone. But sometimes there were other Bayern supporters and at one point I though, that it would be a good idea to start a Fan club.” That was in 2010 and since then the fan club gained over 300 members. Also, it was one of the first fan clubs in the US, but the number has been increasing during the last years.
A growing market
According to Tristan Gottschalk from the Bayern München office in New York, there are now 105 fan clubs in the US. Bayern is the only Bundesliga club that has a bureau in the USA. It’s an important step to compete with other European top clubs which discovered the potential of the American market earlier. “Soccer is the fastest-growing sport in the US with close to 90 million interested in the sport which means it’s a great platform of opportunities to build the FC Bayern brand, grow our fan base and monetize,” writes Gottschalk in an e-mail.
In order to gain more fans, the club uses the whole toolbox of marketing. Bayern has several media partnerships in the US, supports the fan clubs and collaborates with local youth soccer teams. Also, the team of the club conducted a trip to the US during this summer, playing three friendly matches against other European top clubs. Over 100 members of the DC Bayern fan club went to New York to see the match against Real Madrid.
The dreams of Satellite Fans
“Many ‘Satellite Fans’ want to see their teams and they pay a lot of money to be close to the players and to be able to say ‘I’ve seen the team in the stadium, not just on TV’. It’s important for those fans to legitimize themselves as real Bayern fans,” explains sport scientist Kunkel. And this doesn’t just apply to matches in the United States.
“We see that many hardcore fans are planing trips to Germany to go the stadium. So for them Paris or London are not the first choice if they travel to Europe, they go to Munich because that’s where Bayern plays.” Indeed, the scientific findings of Kunkel match the real world. “It is one of my lifelong dreams to see Bayern at the Allianz [-Arena, the homeground of Bayern],” says Angelo Guerrero.
Steve Howard has already fulfilled this dream years ago. “To me [sitting here is] the next best thing to being there. But there is nothing like being in the stadium, with the people from there, the feeling is just exhilaration. The first time I watched a Bayern game in the Stadium, it gave me chills.”
These kind of emotions are one reason why people become sport fans after all. Another big reason according to Kunkel is the need to have a sense of belonging to a group of people. In the case of the DC Bayern fan club it seems like this feeling is even more important than the emotion of the game. Nobody is fully concentrating on the TV-screen, everybody is in some way engaged in a conversation. And these conversation are often not about soccer, but work, the election or vegan shrimps.
But Luke Hendriks emphasises that both sides are equally important. “The game is important! It was the atmosphere of the bigger crowd that drew me in, doing the chants, singing the cheers after every goal. But also that camaraderie around the common theme being Bayern fans has become important. We make friends here, we go out. So there is that family atmosphere. And of course, everytime you meet with family you need to talk, you need to catch up.”
‚Mia san Mia‘ in the USA
This is something that Tristan Gottschalks would like to hear, since according to him “familiarity” is one of the four key elements of the core brand of the FC Bayern. The other three are pride, confidence and heritage, summed up by the Bavarian expression “Mia San Mia”, which is also used as a hashtag by the marketing team.
For big clubs like Bayern it is important to be aware of these values and not to loose them during the expansion. Some long-established German fans fear exactly that, and according to Kunkel, some clubs could indeed face some decisions about their identity that might not favor the traditional understandig of German fandom.
“The clubs have to decide which markets are strategically more sensible. Do I loose five fans in Germany in order to gain 50 fans in China or the USA?” But Kunkel indicates that in the case of Bayern, this might not be a big problem.
“One reason why German soccer is so atractive is the German culture surrounding soccer which is different from the English soccer culture. A lot of American fans have a Bavarian veal sausage during the match. That has a different charm then just sitting in a pub like English fans would do. And that’s why it is easier for Bayern than it is for Manchester United to gain fans, because it is different to follow Bayern.”
The difference between German und American fans
So sticking to its core values would probably even help Bayern to expand without loosing their fans in Germany. But nontheless, there are differences between German fans and American fans which can lead to problems if the clubs communicates with the fans via social media, says Kunkel.
“The German fans are more focused on the game, the American fans more on entertainment. You can still gain sympathy in America with funny or taunting tweets if you loose a game. German fans don’t like that at all.”
But Kunkel also emphasises that this could be because the average American soccer fan is younger than a German fan and therefore more accommodated to the witty sound of social media. Still, Gottschalk and his colleagues are aware of these “cultural sensitivities”, as he calls it.
„You stick with it!“
“TOOOOR FÜR DEN FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN!“ Shortly before the final whistle Michael Fähnle-Hedge roars for the third and last time. Rafinha has scored the 3-1. Like many other players he has a twitter account, and Angelo Guerrero is following him. “It’s very easy to melt with the Bayern family, with the club, the online marketing guys, the guys on Twitter, who are actually very hilarious.” Guerrero is a good example that social media is a very powerful tool to create bonds between clubs, players and fans.
Who know’s, if Twitter had existed in the seventees, maybe goalkeeper Steven Howard would have followed his favourite player, Bayern-goalkeeper Sepp Maier. But nowadays, Howard doesn’t need Twitter to continue his bond.
“Its alwasys been Bayern Munich. You take it, you stick with it, you love it. Through the good times and the bad times. But luckily, its mostly good times.”