Mainz has emerged as one of few clubs capable of selling their stars while still staying highly competitive and they have done this through thorough scouting of key areas of European football. They have managed to sell their players for large sums while signing replacements for much smaller ones. This is the way forward for these clubs, something GGFN has explored before. However, what are the limitations of this tactic and how does a club break free from the potent shackles of selling their stars? We investigate.
We have many a club like Mainz in Bundesliga. These clubs haven’t got the same economic opportunities as some of their league rivals and have therefore been forced to act in a clever and smart way on the transfer market by signing unknown talents and selling their stars for larger sums. Mainz is one, SC Freiburg and Hertha Berlin are two others. But there are examples of clubs that have broken free from these shackles, clubs that are now on the verge of becoming economical powers themselves. Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach are examples of this, football clubs that have formerly had to rely on their excellent scouting, but that have now found themselves in more favourable positions in the transfer market. These two clubs have the appeal and the financial status to either keep their stars or to buy replacements good enough to secure their already attained league status. So, what have these two clubs done that Mainz, Freiburg and Hertha haven’t? Where have their tactics differed in the market?
There are a few factors that seem to be playing a rather grand role. The difference in appeal and fiscal results between Eintracht Frankfurt and Mainz in the last few years have been tangible, but it has also been rather recent. Borussia Mönchengladbach have always had a different level of national appeal but have now been able to attain an international appeal that has allowed them to lure bigger and better names to their shores.
Now, before we get into it, I would like to define a few terms that will be used frequently in this article. Firstly, appeal will be used to describe the international and national status of the clubs and how interesting they might be to potential investors, new fans or players of different levels. A higher appeal, national and international, provides a much broader platform for investors to work on. A higher appeal does also make it exponentially easier for a club to lure better players as well as new groups of fans. With economical status we mean these clubs ability to sign good replacements for their departing stars or even their ability to keep these stars due to a good fiscal return in the last few years. The returns make it possible for these clubs to retain the status of these stars, something that is of obvious importance to the stabilisation in new realms of the Bundesliga table.
Transiting from relying on scouting to being able to retain key aspects of your squad can never be an easy task to complete, but Borussia and Eintracht have done extremely well in this transition and we aim to explore why. Eintracht Frankfurt’s last few years have been successful. They have been able to go from economical minnows to a financially stable football club with a good flow of money every year. They’ve attracted new investors and new sponsors every year and keep on improving their international status and appeal by using old, popular and internationally famous players as ambassadors for the club on a global scale. Just last week, six new ambassadors of the Eintracht values and brand were unveiled and among those were Anthony Yeboah, Jay-Jay Okocha and Jan-Aage Fjörtoft, three players that left a big mark on the club, its fans, but also on a more global public.
This is a good example of how Eintracht have been able to go from economical minnows to a financially strong club. They have used their name and their status as well as the status of former players to build a brand that can be a guiding light for lost football fans around the globe, in search for a new club to passionately follow. The success on the field that has been amassed by Niko Kovac and his players can not in any way be underestimated either, as it has had an obvious and lasting impact on what the club has to offer its new supporters and investors around the globe. Eintracht Frankfurt is an example of a club that has acted well. They played their role as a scouting team when there were no other options available, they perfected it and managed to gain success through their meticulous scouting of different parts of the world. Then they managed to expand on a commercial scale while keeping their brand and the values they stand for intact. It’s been a terrific journey that exemplifies the need for scouting and thought-through strategies on a bigger scale.
Borussia Mönchengladbach have always had some appeal, at least nationally. Since winning the title three times in row during their glory days in the seventies, they have always had a solid following in Germany. The small city of Mönchengladbach has been able to build and fill a stadium half its size by utilising their national appeal and their past success. They’ve built a brand in Germany, a brand with values and strength, something that must not be underestimated. However, they have never had much power on a global scale. Their international appeal has always been less than their national and while still being a big club, their financial status has often been a faltering flame. They’ve dropped divisions and have struggled to get back, but with Lucien Favre and Marco Reus it all changed. They began to win again, they began to play spectacular football that screamed “Germany!” and they managed to capitalise on this by selling their key player and putting that money into a few new talents and players, as well as into upgrading their scouting network. Borussia have since then become a force to be reckoned with on a global scale. They have seen social media for what it is – a certainly potent platform – and have used it to their extreme advantage. They’ve acquired a rather fine following in different countries around the globe and now stand as one of the most popular German clubs in the world.
Borussia Mönchengladbach have built their new empire on metavalues more than anything else. By developing their brand by using feelings and emotions connected to different catchphrases, the values of the club have been connoted to the brand itself, thus creating a stable and astute following that does not follow the club because of its sporting success. This must be crucial to the club’s development as it has gone from being close to oblivion to being one of the most popular teams in Germany. Their fierce stance against racism and other atrocities has made them more than a firm bystander and their quirky account on Twitter has brought them huge commercial success in terms of brand development abroad. They have been smart and clever in their approach to new fans and this has been more than key for them in their pursuit for success in a more and more chaotic media sphere.
These clubs have managed to go from minnows to majors by using their strengths to their advantage. Eintracht have used both their very international history – being the one team with the most foreign players ever in Bundesliga certainly helps – and their current success in order to expand their following and their appeal to investors. Borussia Mönchengladbach have used metavalues and social media to promote what is already a very nationally successful club, albeit in need of fresh air.
So, what do Mainz, Hertha and Freiburg have to do to raise their game? It’s difficult, but Eintracht and Gladbach do have a few answers to tell. These clubs need to become much more available to a broader public. Hertha Berlin has the perfect opportunity, better than Eintracht’s or Gladbach’s, in that they’re located in the capital of Germany, one of the most visited cities in Europe.
However, they need to cater to that public more than they’ve done so far. Mainz and Freiburg have had some success and have managed to reach Europe, but these teams come from places with a few certain peculiarities. Mainz has the carnival every year and is a very old and rich city with lots of history to offer. Freiburg is in the heart of Schwarzwald. These are factors that can and should be used in the marketing of their respective clubs. They’re not just football teams, they’re brands, and brands are there to be used. In some cases, it all boils down to the success on that damned green turf. It might be that simple. They need to win something before they can stabilise themselves on a new level in German football. But in order to win something, you need to improve your appeal and your economical structure.
Mainz were onto something with Christian Heidel but have since lost track and are now lost in the footballing world. Their scouting is excellent, but they truly struggle with keeping their emerging stars for more than one season and the continuity and planning of the club is left hanging in limbo. This can be improved by an advances economical structure and a bigger income, something that can be attained through smart and clever marketing on the right scenes and platforms. Freiburg has the same problem and Berlin shares it too, albeit Berlin’s economical situation is rapidly improving and so is their appeal on a national and international scale. Hertha Berlin is perhaps an example of a team in the middle of the transition. They’ve competed for Europe for some time now and have even reached it, they are building a new stadium and have managed to keep the key features of their squad. Their coach has stayed put and they’re investing in the right markets by trying to cater to both Americans and Asians, as well as Europeans staying in the city.
It has to do with brand development and brand understanding. Some people mean that this kind of commercialism threatens to destroy the traditional values of German football. I instead argue that these clubs can use their traditional values to expand into new areas of the world. German football values are very sought after and this needs to be understood. The traditionalism that many German clubs possess has many key attributes, one of these being that it appeals to those conflicted with the growing commercialism in the footballing world. This is one of the reasons to why many fans of English clubs have looked to German clubs for inspiration and comfort when times have been oblivious and rough. By using traditional values and a closeness to the public, these clubs can build empires anew. The key is in the sheer realisation of the massive potential in these values, something that is continuously underestimated.
It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. If a club like Eintracht can do it, then Hertha Berlin and Mainz can do it too. It’s just a question of will and smartness.
By Axel Falk.