To bolster the FC Bayern Munich brand in China, the club has opened an online shop for fan merchandise in the country. Offices are also planned for the near future to help the Bavarians catch up with other top European clubs.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge gave people a glimpse of his old ball skills. The club chairman himself was present at the opening ceremony to showcase FC Bayern Munich. In the battle to attract the millions from sponsors and merchandising in new markets, Bayern has to make its mark on the fans and media in the nation with its population of over 1.3 billion. Asia - China in particular - is becoming increasingly more and more important in determining the club’s international competitiveness.
“We’re late in arriving but we are coming in top gear,” said Rummenigge in Hangzhou on Wednesday (27 Mai) at the official opening of the online shop for Bayern fan merchandise in China. As of immediately, 250 products with the club emblem are available via the Tmall retail platform belonging to the Alibaba IT group. It means orders from China no longer have to be processed via Germany. Instead of the previous one month wait, the Chinese will now receive their goods after only a week or so.
The new service should help Bayern close the gap on the most popular foreign clubs in China. When it comes to the internationalisation of the own brand, Munich are lagging behind other top European clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United. For example Weibo, the popular microblogging service, has two million Bayern subscribers as compared to ManU’s nine million. Whilst other big clubs have had a presence in China since, in some cases, the 1990s, Germany’s record league champions only made their debut in the People’s Republic three years ago. To catch up on lost time, three friendly matches have been arranged for July against Valencia, Inter Milan and China’s serial champions, Guangzhou Evergrande.
Now however Bayern are setting the pace by building up a local e-commerce business via a Chinese retail platform. Bayern’s executive board member responsible for strategy, Jörg Wacker who oversees the internationalisation process, even spoke of an “historical day”. The club is hoping to generate additional revenue totalling 25 million via merchandising in the coming five years.
The intention is to entrench the Bayern Munich brand deeper in the awareness of the Chinese. To do so the Bavarians have entered a co-operation with the state sports channel CCTV5 which, in return for exclusive pictures, has now integrated a weekly Bayern report into its programme. In a few weeks, the club will additionally announce plans to open their own offices in the People’s Republic. It is all designed to attract more Chinese sponsors – best of all financially potent ones like the solar manufacturer Yingli which is already a FIFA partner. The company is happy to pay an annual seven-figure sum to be a platinum Bayern partner. It is money that will strengthen the team and secure future success.
“Footballing success alone is however not enough when we want to position ourselves in China. We have to reach out to the fans far more,” said Wacker. But victories help immensely. Chinese fans often dispense their passion because of the stars they associate with the clubs. Barcelona and Madrid are experiencing an enormous influx of supporters because Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have for years now dominated the vote for the World Player of the Year award. Therefore Germany’s World Cup win in Brazil was worth its weight in gold for Bayern. Six of the seven World Champions are still in the Munich squad. Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer or Bastian Schweinsteiger are now very much on the radar of every Chinese football fan.
That of all things an Alibaba platform is being used to boost merchandising sales is not without irony. Those for example seeking replica Bayern shirts on Taobao, the company’s biggest platform, will have no trouble finding what they want. However all the products are fakes and the club earns absolutely nothing. Munich is now keeping a closer eye on the pirate merchandise and in doing so expects to be supported by Alibaba. The world’s biggest IT group however has been heavily criticised by the Chinese authorities and brand producers for not being serious enough in their efforts to clamp down on piracy.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge admitted that fake products damage every club but assured everyone that fans are “guaranteed” original products if they in future place their orders at Tmall. It is hoped that the range of products will entice many fans to buy the real thing. Prices however are roughly the same as in Germany and could well be an obstacle, especially for young fans, to buying an original. However the Director of Strategy Wacker made it clear, “We will not sell top quality shirts at rock bottom prices.”