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Podcast Summary: Winning off-the-pitch in Southeast Asia with Borussia Dortmund

In this special episode of the Football Business Podcast, we had the pleasure of conducting a video podcast with Julia Farr, Lead Asia Pacific of Borussia Dortmund (BVB). We unveiled BVB’s internationalization strategy in Southeast Asia, which is also the home region of our host, Quang T. Pham. Here are our key discussion points:  

  • The potential and key fan characteristics of this 600-million market 
  • BVB’s USPs and key success factors in Southeast Asia 
  • BVB’s unprecedented Asia Winter Tour during the FIFA World Cup 2022
  • Julia’s story of being a female professional in the male-dominated industry of football

Why is Southeast Asia such a key market for Borussia Dortmund’s internationalization strategy?  

Back in 2013-2014, Shinji Kagawa played for us, and it was a successful period when we won many trophies. This opened doors for us in Asia, and we suddenly started receiving a lot of interest, especially from Japan. Together with our key partners and sponsors, such as Evonik and Puma, we were discussing: “Hey, why don’t we do internationalization together?” 

As a result, we decided to set up our first office abroad, which we established in Singapore in 2014. This was a strategic move since several of our partners, including the German Bundesliga (DFL), also have their headquarters there. We recognized the tremendous potential of the Southeast Asian market, particularly in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, which are among our top markets worldwide in terms of fan engagement, especially on social media.

What are some of the unique characteristics of the fan culture in this region? 

Football is already the number one sport here – Firstly, I think the fans here are extremely passionate, despite being so far away from their beloved clubs. Many have never experienced the real stadium atmosphere, but they still wake up in the middle of the night to watch their team play. This level of support is truly remarkable, and the hospitality and welcoming nature of Asian culture is something that we appreciate a lot.  

The traditional father-son fandom is not relevant – Secondly, unlike in Europe or Germany, fans here have totally different mindsets and stories about why they support a certain club. Winning titles or having star players can help to grow a fan base, but creating various touchpoints with the fans is also crucial for us.  

The English Premier League is still dominating – Thirdly, we are totally aware that the EPL is still dominating the football scene in Asia, and there is still a long way to catch up. However, we don’t necessarily need to copy what the English clubs are doing. We want to create our own history and stories here in Asia. 

Fans often support multiple teams or players – Lastly, the fans here are not limited to supporting just one club. For instance, if you’re a Liverpool fan, it doesn’t mean you can’t also support Real Madrid or BVB. There is a huge opportunity in this region because we can always be the second most-favorite club of every fan here. We don’t disregard the diversity of fans here, in fact, we love it. It gives us a chance to reach out to a wider audience and build stronger relationships with them 

What are the key success factors to win this market?  

“Echte Liebe” Philosophy – At BVB, we have a claim or promise to the people called “Echte Liebe”, which means true or real love. This promise is reflected in everything we do, no matter where we’re going. It comes from the bottom of our hearts, and we try to bring it into our everyday lives. Whether it’s simply replying to emails, speaking with different people and organizations, or engaging with our existing partners, fans, or CSR organizations, everything we do is done with authenticity and sincerity.  

Strong unity and collaboration with the Bundesliga and other German clubs – This unique bond sets us apart from other clubs and leagues in Europe. By working together and promoting German football as a whole, we believe we can continue to achieve success all together both on and off the pitch.  

Being close to the markets and local partners – This region is huge and culturally diverse, and each country is different. So, it’s crucial to take time to get to know the people, their demands, and their wishes. Having an office in Singapore is critical because it allows us to be close to the surrounding countries and easily travel from Singapore to anywhere in Asia. We make efforts to be physically present in each country to foster personal relationships and find the best ways to work with them. It’s challenging, but having a presence on the ground is a huge advantage for us. 

Youth Development is our specialty – We take pride in our youth development system, which has produced and developed many biggest talents in the world. This is something very unique about Dortmund, and we know what we’re talking about when it comes to youth development. So, if we want to develop the local football markets, we have to start with youth development and build a long-lasting footprint. A great example is BVB Academy in Vietnam with Next Media, where we want to go into local schools, support a larger group of students, and bring them into football.  

Can you tell us more about the unprecedented 2022’s Asia Winter Tour during the FIFA World Cup break? 

The tour was definitely unique because it’s unlikely that we’ll have another Winter World Cup anytime soon. We didn’t want our players to have such a long break, and it had been a long time since we last visited Asia due to Covid-19. We hoped the tour would make our fans and regional partners happy, and luckily, it did! We visited Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and the reception was fantastic. Also, our goal was to make the tour as local as possible, so instead of inviting another European club, we played against the Lion City Sailors from Singapore and Johor Southern Tigers in Malaysia, both very local clubs. We concluded our tour by playing against the Vietnamese National Team, which was the highlight of the campaign for everyone involved.  

What has been your experience working in such a male-dominated industry? Any advice to young females who want to get into this industry?  

I’m proud to be a part of the story of Borussia Dortmund and the business world of football, especially in terms of women’s football and gender equality, which is an important topic worldwide. I hope that I can inspire other women and people to pursue their interests in football and to be part of the business world as well. We can achieve the same things as men, and that’s something I’ve learned and am proud of. 

My advice is to be open-minded, have different perspectives of the game, and understand the whole picture of football and the industry. It’s essential to get to know people and make connections. Most importantly, remember that being a woman doesn’t mean that door is closed, because all doors are always open for you.  

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