The night was ending but the Hogs and Heifers bar in New York City remained hopping. Scantily-clad waitresses climbed on the bars, danced, and shouted via megaphone. Amid the bustle at the popular nightspot stood Juan Bernat, a top Spanish player newly acquired by the Munich-based soccer club FC Bayern. Together with friends and colleagues from the team, he and the Bavarians danced with enthusiasm.
FC Bayern Munich was having a blast in New York, enjoying not just the nightlife; the club has opened an office at an expensive Lexington Avenue address. The team and a jet full of assistants, managers and journalists had arrived a few days before. TV star Thomas Gottschalk helped open the office Thursday. After that, the Bavarian squad traveled to the West Coast to play U.S. soccer league teams.
Such tours by elite soccer clubs such as Manchester United and Real Madrid aren’t unusual. But few have taken steps such as FC Bayern Munich. Only FC Liverpool and AS Rome, which both have American investors, keep permanent U.S. offices in Boston. “Deep-pocketed Bayern Munich is open for business in U.S,” the New York Times headline said.
When Franz Beckenbauer joined the New York Cosmos in 1977, some observers said soccer was on the brink of a breakthrough in a country where baseball and football dominated. Such predictions were premature.
“American parents consider soccer less dangerous than football.”
This time should be different, said Rudolf Vidal, the U.S. head of Bayern Munich. He said the number of U.S. soccer fans grew from 44 million in 2008 to more than 61 million now. According to TV statistics, 29 percent more Americans watched the World Cup games in Brazil than the 2010 matches in South Africa.
About 7.2 million U.S. children play football and now 6.8 million play soccer. “Soccer counts with the parents as less dangerous in comparison to football,” Mr. Vidal said.
“The bandwagon has started and will no longer stop so quickly,” said Alexander Brown, head of the U.S. sports channel One World Sports.
At an autograph signing event in an Adidas store in New York, long lines formed to see stars such as Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. The interest may increase in 2015, when cable TV’s Fox Sports shows German national league matches for the first time. More than 15 million Americans number among FC Bayern’s 292 million fans worldwide, Mr. Vidal said. The United States has 17 official fan clubs, even one in football crazy Texas.
Mr. Vidal wants to sell more merchandise. And even more important is wooing U.S. sponsors, who would be able to meet with German sponsors such as Audi, Allianz and Adidas. FC Liverpool signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with the U.S. chain Dunkin’ Donuts a few months ago and before that, sealed similar deals with the restaurant chain Subway and merchandising manufacturer Warrior Sports. English media estimates said the Warrior Sports deal would bring about €380 million over six years.
The U.S. market is not the only expansion focus of FC Bayern. Jörg Wacker, who is responsible in the club’s management board for internationalization and strategy, aims to open an office in Asia in 2015.