New Year’s Treat — Schalke and Leverkusen at the Florida Cup

It’s winter break time for the Bundesliga, and although we fans miss the weekly matches, for me winter break is a good thing.  It provides the opportunity for players and coaches to relax, visit family and friends for the holidays, and in many cases heal from the accumulated knocks and bruises from the season’s first half.  And we fans across the Atlantic Ocean can actually sleep-in for a few Saturday and Sunday mornings.

It is also a time to train for the upcoming Ruckrunde, the second half of the season.  This season, two German clubs, FC Schalke 04 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, have chosen to do their training in Florida and compete in the 2016 Florida Cup in early January.  And it’s a great chance for fans to see two elite Bundesliga clubs for fans in the Americas without crossing the Atlantic.

Schalke and Leverkusen are among nine clubs involved in this year’s Cup, which includes Brazilian sides SC Corinthians, Fluminense FC, Clube Atlético Mineiro and SC Internacional, popular clubs that together have won numerous Brazilian trophies along with the Copa Libertadores, the Copa Sudamericana and the FIFA Club World Cup.  Also competing in this year’s expanded Cup will be Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, winner of the 2008/2009 UEFA Cup along with nine Ukrainian domestic titles, Independiente Santa Fe, the Colombian side that won the most recent Copa Sudamericana, and the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a playoff side in 2015.  This year’s ten Florida Cup matches begin on January 10 and conclude on January 20.

Both Schalke and Leverkusen will be arriving a few days into the New Year and leave shortly after their final matches on January 13.  A doubleheader at the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando on Sunday the 10th will feature Leverkusen facing Santa Fe at 5:00 pm and Schalke playing the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at 7:30 pm.  On Wednesday the 13th, Leverkusen will kickoff against SC Internacional at 8:30 pm again at the ESPN Complex while Schalke will be in South Florida in a contest against Clube Atlético Mineiro at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, the Strikers’ home field, at 6:30 pm. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.  (You can find the schedule for the other Florida Cup matches here).

After experiencing last year’s Florida Cup, I can tell you that it is a slice of heaven for a Bundesliga fan.  Seeing the players and coaches upclose at open practice sessions as well as at the intimate ESPN Complex stadium is a blast, with chances to get autographs, pictures, etc. And getting to meet fellow Bundesliga fans is a thrill, too.  Even if you support other Bundesliga clubs, it’s still a great opportunity and although this is preseason, the practices and matches will have a sense of urgency, as the Bundesliga season resumes a week after Schalke and Leverkusen leave Florida.  And of course the clubs from the Americas will take seriously their chances to knock off two clubs that feature regularly in the Champions and Europa League tournaments.

More than training and getting some friendly matches against quality competition, the nine clubs will be in Florida in January to build the brand-awareness of their domestic leagues. I had the opportunity to recently read the 22 page report on “The Bundesliga as a Growth Engine -2015 Edition” put out by McKinsey & Company.  The bottom line of the report is that the Bundesliga is a growing contributor to the German economy as a whole, and that the 36 clubs (the 18 in Bundesliga and the 18 in Bundesliga 2) administered by the Deutsche Fussball Liga have done an exceptional job of maximizing revenue streams, especially in the areas of sponsorships (not only shirt and stadium sponsorships, but additional corporate sponsorships of individual clubs) and ticket sales.

But the tremendous work done by Bundesliga clubs already means that there is not a great deal of growth left in those areas, unless ticket prices would be raised, or the leagues expanded to 20 teams each, or that matchday kickoff times are expanded further for the benefit of overseas audiences — all trends that are anathema to most Bundesliga fans in Germany.  The best answer to growing additional revenues is to grow the league’s international audience.

And that’s a major reason why Leverkusen and Schalke will be in Florida this January. That reason is also why Bayern Munich opened an office in New York City, why Borussia Dortmund have created affiliations with youth soccer clubs in Cincinnati and Utah, why Hoffenheim are training this winter in South Africa and why several Bundesliga clubs have had training/tours recently in countries such as China and South Korea.  It’s why Schalke will be holding fan workshops on Sunday the 10th at their team hotel.

So if you have an opportunity to get down to Florida in the next few weeks, do so.  One can find relatively inexpensive airfare and lodgings this time of the year, and I’ll guarantee that you’d have a great time, especially if you are from a colder clime.  Seeing stars like Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Leroy Sané, Stefan Kießling, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Johannes Geis and Karim Bellarabi, plus two of Germany’s best goalkeepers in Ralf Fahrmann and Bernd Leno, along with the many other internationals and stars from the other clubs, and fans from around the world is truly too much fun.

(The Bundesliga Fanatic will be in Orlando from January 7-12, attending matches and practice sessions, press conferences, etc.  We will be shooting videos and would love to feature Bundesliga fans kitted up in all their glory, supporting their clubs, and telling their stories of how they became fans, etc. Bundesliga Fanatic contributor and ultimate Schalke fan Jody Strauch will also be in Orlando, gathering S04 fans. Additionally, media and marketing contacts for Schalke and Leverkusen are available on bundesliga.de here).

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.