If you aim to outline a list of the most successful football teams in European football, a good place to start could be the UEFA Champions League past winners list. The most wanted trophy at club level in Europe has its select spot in the cabinet of Borussia Dortmund, the German giant crowned European Champion in 1997 at the biggest success in club’s history. Later on, the same year they won the Intercontinental Cup becoming the second German club to win this trophy after Bayern Munich in 1976.
Innovation and Dortmund went along several times in their history. A significant example is the club’s listing on the German stock exchange, becoming the first club from Germany publicly traded. However despite their success, BVB faced massive financial problems in early 2000s when the value of its shares dropped by over 80% on Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The collapse was overcame in 2005/06 when the club recorded profits once again, mostly thanks to the sales of David Odonkor to Betis and Thomas Rosicky to Arsenal. Subsequently, glory was once again reached with a new Bundesliga title in 2011, the first double in club’s history in 2012 and a new Champions League Final in 2013.
Dortmund’s history looks a lot like sine and cosine functions’ graphs with several ups and downs. However, there is something that continuously backed the club and provided a valuable support at its toughest times. An astonishing fan base, very faithful and commited. How have the black and yellows managed to keep and develop ‘the Yellow Wall’?
All starts with ‘Echte Liebe’. In German, it means pure love, not dependent upon anything. Unconditional, natural and true. That’s the promise made on one hand by Borussia to its fans and on the other hand by the supporters to the club. And this makes sense considering the very tumultuous past of the club, even in recent years. The club doesn’t target its fan base for money, which is just the result of a trustworthy relationship. BVB doesn’t try to prove its fans what, but how! And this is one of the key elements of a successful strategy.
Is this rapport having any symbol? Of course, because the administration of BVB leaves nothing to chance. Therefore, “the Yellow Wall” became emblem of this trustful relationship. It is also the name of the largest free-standing stand in European football. Its reputation stands for being always full and the confirmation comes with the highest number of season tickets sold in Bundesliga (55.000 have been issued for the following campaign). As a result of the high demand, there is also a waiting list for them. The average attendance is also an interesting fact: highest in Europe in 2015, followed by Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
How is the administrative team at BVB trying to make the brand even more valuable, season after season? They aim to place it in the hearts and minds of people and to attract as many of them as possible near the team in the most individual and passionate way. Thereby, they have fans’ representatives, who are the first point of contact for any fan-related topics.
Club partnerships link the club with multiple companies with very different profiles: Opel (car manufacturer), Eurowings (airline), Brinkhoff’s (beer), Sparda-Bank (bank), Huawei (telecommunications equipment company), Signal Iduna (financial services. Company also gives the name of the stadium) or Unitymedia (telecommunications and television company). These all offer fans exclusive benefits that make them take advantage of supporting the club.
For example, the partnership with Huawai concretized through the installation of a WLAN infrastructure at Signal Iduna Park. This enabled spectators to use social media, post pictures and videos from the stadium, send messages and locate their friends in the stadium. All these for 80.000 people. And they also engage people who are not at the stadium! Therefore the matchday experience is one of the most important things at BVB.
The digital solutions proposed to the fans are also very unique and offering. Club’s app is optimized for Android and iOS. It offers news about team, information about future fixtures, tickets, a feed with club’s posts on social media, access to fan shop, information about players, pictures, videos. The app is also designed for different users with different needs. As a result it has multiple modes. ‘Stadium’ provides you with traffic information during matchdays and during the match you won’t receive any notifications as you need to focus on players and their game. This goes along with the fast Wi-Fi, which is slowed down during the 90 minutes of football, making the fans to focus on the game, rather than on their smartphones. ‘Holiday’ mode was conceived for those who can’t be on Signal Iduna Park during matchday, but they still want to feel as they support Borussia from ‘The Yellow Wall’. It gives useful information before, during and after the match.
Another interesting feature offered by the digital department is the Dortmund’s very own Fantasy Manager. It allows you to compete against your friends and other users by managing the team of your dreams. The software is developed by From The Bench, creator of other similar popular apps in the USA, such as: NBA General Manager, Football Bros, Baseball General Manager and Football Franchise.
Briefly Borussia Dortmund’s strategy summarizes at the following objectives:
The fantastic customer relationship management strategy at Dortmund can be split up in more environments:
- The stadium (stadium magazine, pannels, media partners, stadium announcer, publications, fan tv)
- Media coverage (press coverage, external media, TV, online channel)
- Own digital channels
The brand identity is built based on the rich tradition of the club, founded in 1909, backed by one of the most important values praised by the club: solidarity. A massive part of what Borussia means is ‘the 12th man’ who made ‘the yellow wall’ become like a myth for the club bringing the success story of Dortmund to the hearts of all the members of a wide community that shares the same passion and the love for the beautiful game.
I learnt a lot about BVB’s strategy during a webinar organised by SBI Barcelona with the Head of New Media and Customer Relationship Management at the club, David Görges, in a very interesting session about the black and yellows and about what I called the strongest club-fans relationship in European football.