Indianapolis Colts have beaten the New England Patriots 10-6 to wrap up the second of two NFL games at Eintracht Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank Park. The two NFL games in Germany this season are part of a wider-reaching cooperation between the governing body of the Bundesliga, the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL), and the National Football League.
Both entities hope that the cooperation between the two leagues will help to grow in the other’s respective market. The cooperation, however, goes beyond the governing bodies of the respective leagues. Two Bundesliga clubs, Bayern Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt, also have partnership agreements in place with individual teams in the NFL. Bayern Munich cooperates with the Kansas City Chiefs, who were one of the four teams to play in Germany this season, and Eintracht Frankfurt has a partnership in place with the Carolina Panthers.
The relationship between Bayern and the Chiefs has its origin in Major League Soccer. Until this year, when Bayern launched a new project with Los Angeles FC, the Rekordmeister had a loose cooperation with FC Dallas, who, through the Hunt Family, have the same ownership group as the Chiefs. “So, the relationship actually starts through soccer,” Kansas City Chiefs chief marketing officer & executive vice president of marketing Lara Krug said as part of a roundtable ahead of her club’s game against the Miami Dolphins one week ago.
“From there, we created a common relationship and partnership in terms of learning from each other both in terms of players training but also media opportunities,” Krug said. “That was also a big factor as we considered which of the markets we wanted to enter into for commercial opportunities.” NFL teams had to bid ahead of time for the markets they wanted to enter, and the Chiefs managed to secure Germany and Mexico.
Even after Bayern exited the relationship with FC Dallas, the relationship with the Chiefs has been deepened. In fact, executive board member Andreas Jung represents Bayern as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs board of advisors. “We meet quarterly and certainly talk quite often,” Krug said when asked about Jung’s role on the board of both clubs.
But how can Bayern help the Kansas City Chiefs grow in Germany, and vice versa how can the Chiefs help Bayern in America? “I think the amount of access that social media and digital media has given to all types of fans has been able to grow all sports really quickly, but certainly American football where in the past, perhaps there wasn’t as much of an ability to get into a market like Germany,” Krug said when asked that question. “But I think with channels like that and those types of relationships, that certainly been an accelerator.”
In other words, both clubs hope that jumping on the back of an already established brand inside a key market can accelerate organic growth that would otherwise take years to foster. Indeed, Bayern, with its long title run, and the Chiefs as the recent Super Bowl winner and with superstars like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, bring the necessary star power for either brand to be successful in one another’s market.
The Bundesliga has noted that Bayern received a significant bump in popularity after hosting last season’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A bump that has also been felt for Eintracht Frankfurt, who hosted both NFL Germany games this season.
“Hosting the NFL in Frankfurt has a magnificent impact on our internationalization strategy,” Eintracht Frankfurt director of media Jan Martin Strasheim said. “Approximately ten million people in the US watched the first match between Dolphins and Chiefs and were familiarized with Frankfurt, our stadium, and our football club Eintracht.”
Overall, it was a huge marketing success for a club that is trying to make headways in a key market like the United States. “The US sports market is the strongest in the world,” CEO Axel Hellmann said. “A top league like the Bundesliga must show a strong presence there. Three weeks ago, we sent a delegation to the US and, in conversations on location, once again recognized that the Bundesliga is seen as an attractive league. That’s partly due to the many American players in the league but also our high standard of media production.”
Like Bayern, Frankfurt also hopes to use the NFL to grow in popularity in the United States, and the club now cooperates with the Carolina Panthers and the MLS team Charlotte FC. “Frankfurt and Charlotte have many things in common,” Eintracht’s director of internationalization, Samy Hamama, said. “Both are important banking cities, have very good infrastructure, and are sports cities. The combination of football and soccer in Charlotte is a great fit.”
Although it is financially lucrative to host games, Strasheim was quick to point out that for Frankfurt, the main focus of the partnership with the NFL isn’t necessarily short-term financial gain but long-term recognition in a key market. “Our target was to get in touch with the people,” Strasheim said. “Therefore, we’ve organized an event for opening that fantastic NFL week together with the city of Frankfurt. From our perspective, it was really important to show our attitude of being a good host who is interested in the holistic strategy of NFL, the clubs, and who is identifying with that project.”
Bayern and Frankfurt are leading the way, but will other teams in the Bundesliga follow? Borussia Dortmund, for example, hosted a delegation from the Seattle Seahawks for the Klassiker against Bayern Munich last weekend.
“We were hosted by the Seahawks when we stayed in Seattle and played the Sounders for a friendly game in 2019,” Dortmund CEO Carsten Cramer said as part of a roundtable. “But I try to be as frank as possible, and I will have to say there is no collaboration planned. Yet! Of course, we are looking for some touch points in American sports. I am convinced that from the experience we collected in Southeast Asia, it might be sensible to work together with some sports institutions in the market we are interested in. But the decision, which territory of the US, which state, which club, and which city might be the right one, that decision hasn’t been made yet.”
Dortmund, unlike Frankfurt and Bayern Munich, is also for now reluctant to open the 81,365-seat SIGNAL IDUNA Park for NFL games. “It is a soccer stadium, and we would never host a music concert or any other sport,” Cramer said. “Maybe in five or ten years, when you ask me the question again, I might answer it differently. But coming from a Dortmund perspective, a city that has no connection with American football, it doesn’t make sense. I have my doubts that a club like Dortmund will benefit from an NFL club and that an NFL club will benefit from Dortmund.”
Cramer also pointed out that even if Dortmund wanted to host games, the size of the pitch and, more importantly, the dressing rooms would make it almost impossible for the NFL to play a game at the SIGNAL IDUNA Park. But at the same time, the impact of the NFL in Frankfurt and Munich has been noted in Dortmund, too. “Whatever helps to increase the attention of the Bundesliga is also helpful for Borussia Dortmund,” Cramer said.
Although Dortmund might still show some reluctance, the bottom line is that both Bundesliga clubs and the NFL see each other not as competitors but as door openers in their respective markets. “I think if we try to compete, the products simply are just too different the sport is different, and the experience is different,” Lara Krug said. “So, I think to compete would be naive. I see it much more as working with the Bundesliga and German soccer in general versus trying to fight against a very dominant player in the market. I think there’s space for both.”
Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth and on Threads: @manuveth