Dortmund's irresistible sell – promoting Echte Liebe in Asia

The Germans' new office in Singapore is part of a bigger plan to win over fans and spread the BVB story in Asia, as Gary Koh finds out...

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Playing a brand of exciting football and employing revolutionary ‘gegenpressing’, 1997 Champions League winners Borussia Dortmund areyes  currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts. From the near-ruins of a financial crisis, the club has bounced back and has become a welcome breath of fresh air in the German Bundesliga under Jurgen Klopp.

With careful fiscal management and shrewd coaching from Klopp, the North Rhine-Westphalia club has since won two back-to-back Bundesliga titles, one German Cup, two German Supercups and reached the Champions League final at Wembley in 2013. Its rebirth from the ashes has inspired and piqued the curiosity of many fascinated Asian fans.

It is the 21st-century football comeback story that the club wants to promote through the opening of their first office outside of Dortmund in Singapore. Leading the Asian charge is experienced sports marketer Suresh Letchmanan, a former deputy president with leading sports marketing company Dentsu Sports Asia.

The Singaporean is confident with that the Dortmund story will help the club attract potential business partners for collaboration to make their Asian campaign a sustainable one for all parties.

“It’s a great opportunity to be part of this wonderful club,” said the Head of Dortmund’s Asia office. “Asia is an oyster and it’s an opportunity here, and if I can bridge the relationship between the club and businesses in Asia, [we will be] hoping to do that.”

Suresh Letchmanan is heading up Borussia Dortmund's Singapore office

True to the club motto “Echte Liebe” (True Love in German), Dortmund’s Head of Business Development and International Relations, Benedikt Scholz, backs his colleague to spread the story of the Yellow and Black, the club colours, in the region.

“Suresh, as a Singaporean, is the right guy to do that because he understands the needs, how to deliver the Dortmund story to the Singaporean people.”

The Asian Connection

At the forefront of the Asian campaign is the promotion of the playing squad via their Asian stars. There are presently five on Dortmund’s books – two Australians, two Japanese – including the returning Shinji Kagawa, and a South Korean.

The former Manchester United winger’s success in his first spell at the Signal Iduna Park (more commonly known as the Westfalonstadion) has piqued interest all across the vast Asia-Pacific region.

Buoyed by a similar commercial success in Poland a few years ago thanks to the exploits of Jakub Blaszczykwoski, Robert Lewandoski and Lukacz Piszczek in Dortmund’s recent golden history, the club is looking to generate a similar bond between their Asian stars and locals.

“Players help you to create a bond to the people in their respective regions,” Scholz said. “The Asian faces in our team help us to connect with the people here.

“We don’t know what happens in three to five years with the players. We hope to have Shinji Kagawa still around. What we know is we want to engage people in a certain way, with a long term perspective. Players obviously help us and we are more than delighted that he is back. But it is not built on just the players.”

Shinji Kawaga is BVB's most familiar face in Asia. Photo: DFL/Imago

Dortmund is presently ranked 11th in the 2014 Deloitte Football Money League, a position it has maintained from the previous year, with a record revenue generation of more than 250 million euros last season. Its commercial relationship with its sponsors has been further enhanced recently with three of them – Evonik, Signal Inuda and Puma – committed to long-term deals.

As with its commercial relationships, the club is also looking to building a win-win long-term relationship with its fans in Asia. Its strategy in this region is to raise the awareness of the club to the unconverted and make it more appealing on and off the pitch to football lovers.

A thousand brand ambassadors

Part of its plans is to engage the fan base through social media networks and interact with fans through grassroots outreach activities. With an established football school in Japan and now an office in Singapore, Dortmund is primed to expand the unique club’s reach beyond Europe.

“We are convinced we have an interesting story we want to tell the people. We want to engage them in digital media. That’s why we have hired a local and not seconded someone from Dortmund,” Scholz said.

“We want to build up communication with them through digital media or local activities. Grassroots is something we have highly considered and something we have done in Japan, while digital media helps us bridge the distance between Dortmund and Asia.”

Through these engagements, Dortmund hopes to provide added value for its supporters and consumers where every purchase of club merchandise symbolises their support of the club beyond dollars and cents.

“Merchandise sales are important for us through our online channels because we have more brand ambassadors when we sell shirts,” Scholz explained.

“A new shirt sold is a new brand ambassador for us. It’s not that much about revenue, but having 1,000 more brand ambassadors is a great sign for us.”