Stefan Mennerich has been FC Bayern München’s attorney and Director of Media, Digital, and Communication since July 1, and is directly tied to Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Under his direction, new services are arising that focus on better reaching fans worldwide.
In an interview with ISPO.com, Stefan Mennerich explains why FC Bayern is operating its own editorial offices overseas and in the Far East, why FC Bayern also operates a Bavarian website, why its own data center has appeared in the Allianz Arena, and what the soccer industry leader can learn from start-ups.
Mr. Mennerich, you’ll be making an appearance at the ISPO panel at the founder’s fair Bits and Pretzels . What can the big, strong FC Bayern learn from little start-ups?
Stefan Mennerich: We can learn a lot about technology from start-ups, how digital markets work, and when digital applications become successful. Being in dialogue with start-ups is as if you’re putting your ear to the tracks and listening to what’s coming. Not every idea may work, but some will become relevant and come out on top. We can learn a lot from this innovative energy. Also when it comes to agility, flexibility, and fault tolerance. You have to be allowed to make mistakes; otherwise, you won’t make any progress. We can learn that from start-ups too, and much of that has also been incorporated into our new digital strategy 4.0.
What’s behind FC Bayern 4.0?
FC Bayern Digital 4.0 is the name of our digital transformation. In terms of digital and IT infrastructure, we’ve turned FC Bayern completely inside out in the past 18 months. The objective was to smooth out our entire IT system over the entire club, so that we’d no longer operate with 54 incompatible systems like we did in the past, but rather work in a homogenized manner on one platform, that being SAP. To that end, we even built our own data center in the Allianz Arena, together with our main sponsor, Deutsche Telekom.
How big can we picture that to be?
It’s a separate building with its own cooling system, its own power supply, its own emergency power, and its own back-up supply. This data center hosts all software and front-ends, from the entire website, to mobile apps, all the way up to the e-commerce store, as well as all of FC Bayern’s business systems. We’ve completely rebuilt the digital FC Bayern, with the goal of being in control of our own direction, having all of our user data with us, having all of our applications with us, being completely independent from third parties.
At the very least, that is going to cost the salary of a seasoned player.
(chuckles) Our partners, Telekom for the data center and SAP for the overall software infrastructure, have helped us a lot. But yes, for the front-ends and the web applications, we took the money in hand – because we think that it is essential for our future. An investment in the future.
And will you have to recoup this money quickly?
No, that isn’t the first priority. We’ve invested because we know that digitalization is the best opportunity to digitally transport FC Bayern, which is located in Bavaria with local roots, into the rest of the world. Thus, we can offer our fans the best user experience possible and transport our brand globally. That way, we can win over even more fans worldwide and keep them for the long term. That is why digitalization is all or nothing. In the second step, we will then hopefully benefit financially, as well: the more fans we have worldwide, and the stronger they become linked to FC Bayern, the stronger merchandising will benefit, the better sponsorship will succeed worldwide, and sales of media rights will participated – but like I said: that’s only the second step.
The return on investment doesn’t have an yearly plan?
Definitely not. Sure, the alternative would be not having a functioning website, not having a digital strategy. And since that isn’t an alternative, we took this step gladly and consistently.
Nevertheless, we do want to talk about expectations, about the proceeds.
What I can say is: 30 to 40 percent of our current sponsorship revenue already comes via Digital. And 50 percent of our end customer revenue in merchandising comes via Digital. All of that has grown tremendously already in the past few years, and will continue to grow heavily – but: it has to be state of the art to do so. Bayern fans, like other users, expect a high level of quality in the digital sector, and we have to manage that. I like to call it digital Darwinism: The antelope has to get up early and run! And if it doesn’t, it gets caught and eaten. FC Bayern has to run every day – otherwise, one day you might not be in the picture anymore.
We’ve come to your digital services. It is incredible how differently things are running for FC Bayern on the website and in networks. You recently accounted for 6.5 million unique visits to fcbayern.com , primarily from Germany.
80 percent from Germany.
That’s diametrically opposed to your Facebook presence: 39 million fans worldwide, only three and a half come from Germany.
Yes, but for us that means that we can achieve a much higher reach worldwide through an even better international web presence. Of course, it makes sense not just to have fans on foreign platforms, but also on our own website – because we can also apply our partners much better, and can better integrate our own merchandising products. But that, too, is only the second step.
And the first?
We have to pay attention authentic content worldwide. Our website now appears in eight different languages. After German, Bavarian is the most important for me, since that’s where our loyal fans are. We have our roots here, and we can never, ever lose sight of that. Nevertheless, internationalization is also important for FC Bayern. That’s why we now have, after the Chinese site , sites in Japanese, Russian, and Arabic as well. And we quickly realized how important it is to proceed very authentically in the respective distribution area.
The content has to fit with the culture and the fans in the respective country – and to that end, it also has to be produced there, on site. If you just make a translated website, it’s not the same as, like us, you have your own editorial offices in Shanghai, in the USA, and now in Arabia, too. Then your reach goes up by leaps and bounds – because we can better fulfill user expectations, and the corresponding look and feel is better tailored to the respective region. The content a Chinese person gets on their computer in the morning has to be completely different than the content an American sees midday on their smartphone.
How big are these editorial offices, and where you do get the employees from?
We have five of our own editorial offices in Shanghai, three in the USA, and three in Arabia. These editorial offices also take care of their respective media channels – there are different ones in China anyway – their own networks. Different from many other large clubs, which often work with agencies, it’s also important to us that the editorial offices in China, the USA, and Arabia are also Bayern fans. That’s even a job requirement. Only then can you convey the lifeblood, the emotion for FC Bayern that is so important to us and our fans. We picked out the editorial offices ourselves, so they weren’t occupied via recruitment agencies. They come from local fan clubs, or we found them via our social media channels.
The USA and China are your most important markets – in which order?
There isn’t a difference there. You’ll also see that in the training facilities in the summer, that changes. The first year we were in the USA, then in China, and recently back in the USA. But new markets are interesting as well. We’ve just extended our contract with our US chief executive, Rudolf Vidal, who will also be working more on Central and South America, in addition to the USA.
What are you expecting right now for the more and more difficult market in China? Sponsors from the Far East, as well?
It applies here, too: only in the second step. It's about setting up the fan base. The more fans you have there, the more likely it also is that we’ll find new partners; naturally, our existing partners will the ones to benefit the most from this. What we’re expecting is constant growth, like the other large European clubs. In the last three so-called Red Card studies – which compile which soccer clubs have the best digital presence in China – we’ve won twice, and were second place once. That shows that we are very good in China, in industry comparison. We’ve since left Manchester United, Real Madrid, and even Barcelona behind.
It’s not just about reach?
It’s about the total follower count, too, but also about whether you have your own app and website built there, whether you have an editorial office on site, and above all about involvement: how much contact do you have daily with your users, how much are you discussed in third party networks.
Involvement is the most important parameter?
Yes. Take Facebook for example: there, we have 39 million fans. Real and Barca have over 90 million, Manchester United has over 70, and Chelsea is just ahead of us. But that includes many fans from past years who aren’t even active anymore. What counts is the involvement: how many people are you reaching on a daily basis with your content, how intensively are they communicating with you – and in that respect, we’re Number Two worldwide, behind Barcelona.
Do you have an example for good involvement?
Let’s look at Snapchat. We were the first club to have a Snapchat Live Story. Bayern vs. Dortmund, last year, broadcast in the USA on Fox, where 100,000 people tuned in. But two million people watched our Snapchat Live Story, just in the USA! And six million worldwide.
Which platforms are you focusing on? Are you everywhere – and always immediately?
No. We were the first on Snapchat, but are otherwise first followers. And we don’t do everything, either: We aren’t on Tumblr, aren’t on Pinterest, since we consider the cost-benefit factor to be too low. We have to look at where our target groups are primarily. Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter... Users are “at home” on various platforms. For that reason, we can’t make the mistake of posting our content on just one certain platform and assuming that people will come there. That’s the old way of thinking – but that’s not the way it goes anymore. People are in their pedestrian zones where they likewise walk around. And we have to precisely there with our business, to where they are. We can’t be so arrogant as to believe that they’ll come to us themselves. No, we have to go to them with our content.
Doesn’t this content have to be exclusive?
Not necessarily. I’ve learned extensively that digitalization, in part, means the end of exclusivity. Sure, it’s good if I alone have certain things. But I am firmly convinced: the higher the buzz is, the higher the hype around the brand, around the club, the better FC Bayern will also perform on our own platforms in the end. We have to shift all of the controls up, everywhere – only then will the users find the content. Then it’s a matter of as many people coming into contact with our brand, with our content as possible. And then in the second step, we can take it to our own platforms – and consider how it can be monetized. That’s why we finalized several media collaborations in China and the USA. That way, our content will become known.
What still isn’t working over here is the integration of live coverage into the networks.
Not at official matches, yes. There have yet to be any rights awarded to online providers, because there weren’t any adequate offers.
And because the opinion is more and more prevalent, TV rights were cannibalized? It’s still going on in the USA.
In a way yes, I did have a look at that. Take the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, for instance. A digital role model. When Stephen Curry makes a dunk, five seconds later you see a ten-second clip of that dunk on every network. And the TV ratings go up immediately. In America, the TV broadcasters themselves make it so that they can play short highlight segments via digital platforms, and some impressive figures prove that the ratings go up immediately afterward. That means: digital and TV aren’t enemies. This way of thinking still has yet to win through in Europe.
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