At the beginning of the 2010/2011 season, Continental teamed up with Schaeffler to sponsor FC Bayern Munich. But just how does one go about becoming a sponsor of the most successful German soccer club? Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, CEO of FC Bayern Munich AG, talked with contisoccerworld about the importance of sponsors for the club's success, the reasons behind his preference for senior managers with an interest in soccer, and why the Bayern players do not drive to training in Chinese cars
Question: Mr. Rummenigge, how many applications do you receive every season from players who want to join FC Bayern Munich?
Rummenigge: It's hard to say; we don't keep count. It usually works the other way around, though. Players don't apply to us. Instead, FC Bayern Munich scouts for new recruits as the need arises. For example, if we're looking for a left back or a central defender, our scouting department gets proactive and searches the market for a suitable player.
Question: Does it work the same way with sponsorships? Do you actively start looking for suitable partners or do companies come to you if they're interested?
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, CEO of FC Bayern Munich AG
Rummenigge: It works both ways, but once again, most of the time we're proactive. We contact companies if we think we might want to enter into a partnership with them. And then we convince them that FC Bayern is a partner with whom they can cooperate well and create important synergies. That's what we did with our main sponsor Deutsche Telekom, and the same goes for Audi and Continental. We watch the market closely and see which companies are involved in soccer. Obviously we prefer to work with soccer-friendly companies.
Question: Do you actually prefer signing contracts with sponsors rather than players? After all, sponsorship agreements are definitely less likely to be canceled before they expire…
Rummenigge: The agreements between FC Bayern and its sponsors will last, that's certain. And I can say the following about contracts with players: if the employees of a club, be it any club, have problems with players who desperately want to leave and who practically blackmail the club, then that's a sign that something's wrong on the inside. Of course it's normal for a player to want to change clubs from time to time; that happens at FC Bayern too. But in such cases the key is to find a sensible solution based on partnership. It's a give and take situation, whether you're talking about sports or sponsorships. Companies often pay a lot of money to support FC Bayern, and FC Bayern has to pay them back in the form of PR activities, synergies and other business ventures that we can arrange.
Question: FC Bayern has been generating record profits for years. What kind of role does sponsorship play in your business success?
Rummenigge: An extremely important one. Without our partners we couldn't accomplish what we're doing, especially not to this extent. The Bundesliga is at a huge disadvantage. In terms of TV revenues, we lag far behind our competitors in England, Italy, Spain and France. As a result, we're more or less forced to compensate for the competitive disadvantage we have compared to other major clubs in Europe. Thanks to our partners, we're very successful at that.
Question: In terms of professionalism, how does the Bundesliga compare to other European countries when it comes to sponsorship?
Rummenigge: There is clear data to show that the Bundesliga is just about on par with the English Premier League, which is far ahead of us in terms of TV revenues. The Bundesliga is doing well in the area of sponsorship.
Question: What factors do you take into consideration when you're creating your pool of sponsors?
Rummenigge: We offer every one of our partners exclusivity, both for themselves and their products; in other words, we don't enter into partnerships with two telecommunications companies or two automotive component suppliers. It's also important for our partners to be well-matched. It's like a mosaic, where each piece fits with another. You can tell that the chemistry is right, for example when we hold the sponsorship events that we invite our partners to twice a year. At these events, we present our approach for the coming months, explain what's being planned and the direction we want to take. Time and again, we find that, for the most part, we all have similar goals that can be achieved with even greater success by working together.
Question: What does that involve in practice? Can you give an example?
Rummenigge: Well, we're planning a trip to China in the near future. That means we'll involve partners who are also pursuing interests in China. Audi, or even Continental, are certainly very interested in marketing their products more effectively in China. When FC Bayern plays a game there, it's obviously an excellent way of generating PR. The games are broadcasted on television, a lot of publicity can be generated through stadium billboards alone. Also, individual PR events can be organized locally based on the partner's needs.
Question: So what would happen if a Chinese company approached FC Bayern after the PR tour and said: "Here's 50 million euros, we want to be your jersey sponsor!"?
Rummenigge: Money's important, no doubt, but at the end of the day, the partner has to be a good match for FC Bayern. We can't be bought. We're very happy with the partners we have. And if we do happen to receive an attractive offer from a competitor of one our partners, then we discuss the matter collectively. That's another important feature of a partnership: you don't do things without consulting your partner beforehand.
Question: So when the players return from China, they don't have to worry about having to drive to training in Chinese cars instead of Audis with Continental tires?
Rummenigge: A partnership always has to be credible. Let's take Opel as just one example. Opel was one of our partners for many years. But at some point, we noticed that the two brands had grown apart. The Bayern Munich brand eclipsed the Opel brand; for example, hardly any players were actually still driving an Opel to training. The credibility was simply no longer there, so we parted ways.
Question: So what does the FC Bayern brand stand for?
Rummenigge: I see us as a very global brand. Around the world, FC Bayern is a club that stands for success, fairness and the notion of a "big family".
Question: The brand polarizes people too. If you ask fans of other soccer clubs in Germany what they associate with FC Bayern, they surely wouldn't characterize it the same way…
Rummenigge: Of course our brand also stands for polarization, and we even cultivate this polarization, partly because it means that we have constant media exposure. We conduct surveys on a regular basis, and every time, one thing stands out: even those who aren't fans have respect for FC Bayern and what it does. That's an important factor.
Question: So when is a company a good fit for FC Bayern? You've said before that it's not a disadvantage if the partner's managers are interested in soccer. That was why a contract once went to Audi, not BMW or Mercedes, because Martin Winterkorn, Audi's CEO at the time, was a certifiable soccer fan.
Rummenigge: It makes things easier if the partner's senior managers have a positive relationship with soccer. The managers at Continental and Schaeffler regularly come to our games, and it's an opportunity to discuss things without going through the official channels. Over time, you get to know people really well through these contacts and both parties develop a mutual trust. Establishing a partnership is much easier if managers declare an interest in soccer, come to the games and share the FC Bayern experience with us.
Question: Do you have sponsors who react when the club doesn't perform well? For example, are there sponsors who might call you up if FC Bayern were to lose the first round of the DFB Cup in the upcoming season?
Rummenigge: No we've never had a sponsor call up because we failed to perform. Of course, people might sometimes criticize the club because things on the field aren't going as well as we would all hope. By the same token, we wouldn't criticize one of our partners if their business wasn't going smoothly.
Question: And what about the typical FC Bayern drama that we hear about at least once a season, does that have any effect on partnerships? As you know, in the 2010/2011 season, things got pretty lively again between the coaches, president and executive board…
Rummenigge: In May 2010, when we won the German championship and the DFB (German) Cup and we were in the Champions League finals, it was perfect PR for everyone, especially for FC Bayern and its partners. And as for everything else…well, I'm not Bavarian, I'm from East Westphalia. I realized early on that there's a big culture of debate in Bavaria, and that goes for our club too. It stopped bothering me long ago: after all, I've been involved with this club since 1974. And as for our sponsors, they know us and are able to put these things in their proper context.
Question: When you started out, you went from an apprenticeship in banking straight to the playing field and embarked on one of the most successful careers in German soccer history. Do you ever have moments when you have a strong urge to play again, where you would rather be kicking a soccer ball than signing contracts up here in the executive suite?
Rummenigge: Well, I don't get the urge to play anymore, but I definitely have to say one thing: the best part of soccer is playing the game. It's incredibly satisfying to score a goal in front of 70,000 spectators or more, and go on to win the game. Experiencing that feeling of togetherness with the team is something really extraordinary. My job here on the board is also really interesting, albeit in a different way. Over the past 10 years, we've kept the club on stable ground and celebrated some great successes, both athletic and financial. For example, we're the only club in the Champions League that has consistently stayed in the black since the competition started in 1992. That's also an extraordinary achievement.