Frankfurt/Main - Steadily growing attendances at home, a boom in interest from abroad and occupying an increasingly significant role in society as a whole: the past few years have encompassed many a change across the board for Germany's Bundesliga clubs.
Far Eastern interest
Eintracht Frankfurt are no exception, as the Eagles' head of marketing Jutta Kamolz, and other key back office figures at the club, explained to bundesliga.com when we met up with them.
"We basically started from scratch in 1996," Kamolz explained. "It was pretty much pioneering work at the time.” That's less than 20 years ago, but in footballing terms it represents another era - for Eintracht Frankfurt, the Bundesliga, and international football in general. As the German top flight's global audience continues to expand, so too does the international remit for the clubs and their various individual sub-departments. “There's definitely been an increase in enquiries from abroad,” said press officer Ruth Wagner. “All the more so if you have any Far Eastern players in the squad. Then, it's just incredible.”
Japan international midfielder has been on the books for the past two years now and as of next season, he will be joined by compatriot Makoto Hasebe. The Japanese media are out in force at every Eintracht home game and, Wagner explained, “they're very demanding, they put on quite a show. The players are more than happy to go along with it, it's good for their own market value as well.”
Football bumped up the cultural agenda
The director of the club's museum, Matthias Thoma, confirmed that “we've seen a considerable increase in Japanese visitors over the past couple of years, but then plenty of people from China and South Korea have been here as well. It's become as much a part of the programme as visiting the cathedral or the Römer (city hall). The cultural perception of football has changed.” Where possible, Thoma conducts made-to-measure tours of the premises he has overseen since its opening in 2005: “I've got a few stories about Bum-Kun Cha for South Korean travel groups, or I'll try and make some other national connection where possible. The Argentinians and English are particularly well prepared, they'll have a stadium tour of the whole of Germany planned out.”
An English-speaking stadium and museum guide and specialists catering for other visiting nationalities are now available as well. The team's progress in the UEFA Europa League in the season just ended meanwhile meant more work for the museum director and his colleagues, as “we got an incredible number of queries about Eintracht Frankfurt from foreign broadcasters and newspapers, requiring specific information in the context of the respective opponents.”
Increased international interest
The press office had its work cut out as well, with Wagner happy to report that, “in terms of media exposure it was a great season for us, both on a national and international level. We were in the news a lot, which is good for the image and the market value of Eintracht Frankfurt.” European excursions quite aside however, “football in general has become the subject of increased media attention, and virtually non-stop coverage.” Accordingly, the club is immersing itself in new social media platforms and last year became the latest in the Bundesliga to launch its own TV channel, Eintracht TV. Some 8,000 people have subscribed to it already.
Inevitably, the internet has a vital role to play in the club's marketing. “It offers us the opportunity to work with agencies on the development of completely new methods of capitalisation for our partners,” explained Kamolz. Sponsoring accounts for around a third of Eintracht Frankfurt AG's total turnover and in that context, “the construction of the Commerzbank Arena was a huge step forward for us. It gave us more advertising space, more private boxes and a new business area,” said Kamolz, who also knows well the value of long-term partnerships: “Continuity's important to help absorb, say, relegation to the Bundesliga 2. We're looking to work together through good times and bad.”
Pivotal role of DFL
For the club, and the German professional game as a whole, the former have considerably outweighed the latter of late. “The Bundesliga's in very healthy shape and the overall development is really positive,” said Kamolz. “The DFL is playing a pivotal role in that and there's a noticeable process of consolidation ongoing in the league.” To that end, the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH holds regular get-togethers, where club representatives have the opportunity to discuss specific topics of interest among themselves.
“Success out on the pitch is obviously a pillar for successful marketing of the club," Kamolz continued. "But the more general growing acceptance of football in wider society has been another positive factor. One example of that is the fact that 30 percent of all stadium visitors are now female.” The widespread introduction of special family sections and kids' clubs have further helped things along.
For all the increased marketing and professional economic management however, those in charge have not lost sight of the basic football experience: “Our philosophy revolves around giving the fans a fundamental say in the decision-making process," Kamolz concluded. "And the aim is to find an interface of the sponsors' interests and those of the fans, which leaves everyone satisfied. The football itself has to be the focal point throughout – and we need to ensure it remains that way in future as well.”