The latest installment of Der Klassiker between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München is set to electrify fans around the globe. Both teams have a growing number of fans worldwide and in an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com ahead of the game, Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke revealed the strides his club has made internationally and why Germany’s terrace culture makes the Bundesliga such an attractive proposition for fans.
bundesliga.com: Herr Watzke, FC Bayern München are the visitors to the Signal Iduna Park on Saturday. How keenly are you anticipating Der Klassiker?
Hans-Joachim Watzke: There’s no doubt that the match between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München is the biggest in Germany. And of course the general excitement in the build-up has long been evident.
bundesliga.com: It’s not your first game against Bayern as CEO of Borussia Dortmund, but is the tension greater before this game than for the others?
Watzke: No. But I think I’m the only one. I’m just as tense before a match against, say Hoffenheim as I am against Bayern. However, the Bundesliga match between Dortmund and Bayern is perhaps the most important in German football. There’ll be another very special atmosphere at the Signal Iduna Park and you can actually feel it crackling. That only happens twice a year - against Bayern and in the derby against FC Schalke 04.
bundesliga.com: Where can you be found in the 30 minutes before kick off?
Watzke: I’m usually in the dressing room having a last-minute talk to Michael Zorc and our coach. Sometimes I have to go and welcome one of our main sponsors. But then with five or six minutes to go, my ritual is to come out of the players’ tunnel and cross the pitch to my seat on the other side of the stadium.
bundesliga.com: Do you get goosebumps when the teams run out onto the pitch to the roar of the crowd?
Watzke: I leave the tunnel about ten minutes before kick off and sit on our bench for a while to savour the atmosphere before crossing the pitch to my seat. This experience gives me great strength and fills me with energy. It’s a wonderful moment!
bundesliga.com: Just four weeks after the match against Bayern, there’s another real highlight with the Revierderby against Schalke. How important are BVB and Schalke for each other?
Watzke: I don’t think it’s as important as it once was. Football has become more international and there is another extraordinary product alongside the Bundesliga in the shape of the Champions League. The Revierderby between Dortmund and Schalke remains of great national importance while the match against Bayern electrifies the masses on a global scale as well. The Revierderby will always be a very important match for us and our fans. But it is no longer the biggest date in the calendar. And although Schalke have down well in the last five or six years, they have always ended up way below Dortmund, with the exception of last season.
bundesliga.com: What makes the relationship between Borussia Dortmund and their fans so special?
Watzke: 'Real love' (Borussia Dortmund's brand claim) is exactly the way to describe the relationship. We live this ‚Real Love‘ by providing 28,000 standing tickets for example and always playing in black and yellow. When I started here 11 years ago, BVB had around three million fans. Nowadays that figure is around ten million. And I’m certain that the fans feel the authenticity of this special relationship.
bundesliga.com: The Südtribune is the largest standing terrace in Europe. What does terrace culture mean to you?
Watzke: Terrace culture is extremely important for football. We’re demonstrating that football has to remain affordable - as opposed to, say England. A club can show that by offering standing tickets that cost between 11 and 14 euros. I’m not sure how many clubs in Europe offer 28,000 standing tickets, but I’d presume we are the only one. That way we can sharpen our club’s social profile. Of course BVB wants to earn money, but it’s vital that football remains a mass phenomenon.
bundesliga.com: Is there a scientific formula for the contribution the Südtribune makes to BVB’s success?
Watzke: I couldn’t give you a precise one (laughs). But there’s no debate about the fact it does play a role. If I go out onto the pitch during the week and look up at the Südtribune, then I feel very humble. A game needs strong characters to withstand the pressure of 28,000 people sighing after a misplaced pass. On the other hand, when the entire stadium roars the team on, for example as they did in the final quarter of an hour against Hoffenheim, then it creates a unique atmosphere. The Dortmund players at least suddenly feel ten-feet tall (laughs).
bundesliga.com: Dortmund have the biggest stadium in Germany, 133,000 members and are the second major force in German football - is there scope for further development?
Watzke: We have to differentiate between national and international. Internationally, we are among the top ten clubs in Europe, even though we are probably only about 25th financially. In the Bundesliga, the challenge is to leave the clubs in third and below even further behind. We’ll never overtake FC Bayern München, but if we have a good year, we do have the opportunity to catch them in a sporting sense. But that would need Bayern to wobble. The problem is, that hasn’t happened for several years. Should they do so, then BVB wants to be in position.
bundesliga.com: The Borussia Dortmund brand could hardly be better known in Germany. But what potential does it have beyond national borders?
Watzke: Huge potential. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. You can only become a big international brand by playing in the Champions League. We wrote history in that competition in recent years with the final against Bayern in 2013 or the quarter-final in 2014 when we almost knocked out eventual winners Real Madrid. We are going to continue with our strategy and have identified two key markets. The main one at the moment is south-east Asia, but the US market is interesting as well. We will probably return to south-east Asia this summer and in 2017 as well.
bundesliga.com: BVB have a representative office in Singapore. Is one planned for the US?
Watzke: Yes, but not at the moment. It’s important to use our resources effectively, so we are focussing on the south-east Asian market for now and are contemplating doing something in China. When we feel we are positioned well there, we’ll turn our attention to America.
bundesliga.com: Several Bundesliga clubs have an increasing number of foreign fans coming to matches. Do you have figures for BVB?
Watzke: We get about 800 to 1,000 fans from England every home game. The flight and ticket to the match combined are often cheaper than a ticket to a Premier League match. There are also lots of Japanese fans, because of Shinji Kagawa. And Swiss fans also play a big part due to our experience with Swiss players from Stephane Chapuisat to Alex Frei and Roman Bürki.
bundesliga.com: Are English fans only attracted by the price of tickets?
Watzke: It’s not the only factor, but a very strong one. Premier League tickets tend to be very expensive and reserved for sponsors. When they come to us, fans from England experience football in a way they haven’t done for twenty or thirty years.
bundesliga.com: And terrace culture plays a part as well…
Watzke: Of course. But to be honest, fans in England often stand up on their seats (laughs). It is the authentic smell of football that attracts the English fans to us.
Watzke: Definitely. And we are proud to have discovered both of them. That shows we are doing good work in that area. Robert is an extraordinary player and person. One of the best professionals I have every worked with. Pierre-Emerick looks very different but is also extremely focussed. And both are among the best strikers in Europe.
bundesliga.com: Finally, what is your mid- to long-term vision for BVB?
Watzke: We need to be the second major force in German football in the long-term. We’ve come a long way to achieving that and we want to be among the top clubs in Europe as well. That’s not unrealistic, even though it is an ambitious target for a club from a town of only 600,000 people up against teams from the biggest cities in Europe. But we are ambitious!