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Bayern rises in India

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Fri, May 03, 2013 21:11 hrs

With the Spanish Inquisition being thwarted and punished this week in the world of football, May 25, 2013, will mark a unique Champions League final where the two dominant teams of Germany face off at Wembley stadium. FC Bayern Munich ("Bayern") and Borussia Dortmund ("Borussia") emphatically punished the two most popular clubs not located in the United Kingdom - Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively - and with that have dispelled any notions of which clubs to keep an eye on. The German football league, the Bundesliga, understated and often considered boring, might now in fact have established itself as a worthy adversary for the English Premier League (EPL).



That the EPL's high-profile teams were eliminated early on - and the powerhouse La Liga teams were unable to capitalise on their starts - is just one aspect of the immensity of this development. The Bundesliga had never had the flashy star power or pomp that its neighbour leagues routinely put on display and leveraged. It never figured in discussions of supremacy in ratings or revenue, nor was it considered a competitor to the EPL. La Liga was seen as the most likely, and it had started to look outwards to expanding its fan base and revenue streams, especially targeting the Indian demographic. The league's two iconic leaders, with their superstars and unparalleled success, seemed set to dominate Indian eyeballs. But the last couple of years have made Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga the likely and worthy adversaries for Manchester United and the EPL, respectively.

Bayern, or FC Hollywood as it is sometimes ironically called, is an understated superpower - it is the fourth-largest football club in the world, with revenues hovering around the ^370-million mark annually. It is a profitable club that has stayed in the green, unlike most other clubs - and this is unlikely to change given its domestic popularity, successful premium verticals, and the fact that it is always likely to feature in the major championships each year due to its blue-chip record and history of success. It has a glittering roster that features a balance of domestic (Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Klose and Boateng) and international (Robben and Ribery) stars, making it popular both domestically and internationally. It also doesn't suffer from inconsistent management decisions or autocratic ownership - critical to its success. There are so many reasons why Bayern is in position to become the next uber-club that one wonders how anyone could have missed something this obvious. Its roster and financials aside, the club is set to top a phenomenal year by introducing as its manager the already legendary Pep Guardiola, the former manager of Barcelona. Known for his player development skills, he will likely set into motion talent development and discovery - the cornerstones for a successful and sustainable football club.

Even the fact that it's playing its bitter rival Borussia in the Champions League finals is a positive for Bayern, because it proves that the Bundesliga has worthy opposition that has handily defeated fancied rivals, and it further adds context to an already bitter rivalry.

And then there's the Indian story. While the various European leagues and clubs have targeted India in their long-term plans, Bayern has already been part of two historic occasions in India: at Salt Lake Stadium in 2008, when Oliver Kahn played his last friendly match before retirement; and last year in Delhi, when Bayern played the Indian team in Baichung Bhutia's farewell game. Not only does Bayern have a direct brand presence in India, but even more fortuitous is the fact that there are corporate synergies for its minority owners as well. Two of Bayern's minority owners are Adidas and Audi, brands eager to make a statement in India above and beyond their current market penetration. Adidas is looking to re-establish its reputation and brand in India after a somewhat see-saw year, while Audi is fresh off a stellar year in which it leapfrogged BMW and Mercedes-Benz to become the top luxury automobile manufacturer in India. So, by penetrating the young and youngish through football initiatives featuring a club that could rival Manchester United and that just engulfed Barcelona, both German brands would do well to further cross-sell and disseminate the brand of what is in position to be the future dynastic sports club.

Bayern could well be the next Manchester United, especially in the Indian context. And with the Bundesliga getting all the attention it could dream of, thanks to the Champions League final, this is Bayern's time. With its history, pedigree, a superstar manager in Guardiola, solid strength in management and fan loyalty, we have what could be the most culturally significant development in the world of professional sports. Taking into account Bayern's presence in India and that of its corporate owners, we may have a brand that will penetrate the sports domain like none other in India. FC Hollywood, indeed.

The writer is a sports attorney at J Sagar Associates.
Views are personal.

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