Examining the Bundesliga’s Three Most Valuable Clubs On The Forbes List

Every year the esteemed Forbes magazine releases it’s list of the most valuable football clubs on the planet. The latest rankings were recently released for 2017 with three German clubs placing within the top 20. Who are these clubs and why are they ranked at their respective positions? First, you might want to take a look at the five most valuable sport teams in the world, then come back to see how the German clubs fared.

Each club on the Forbes list has a rich history, passionate fan base, and has won an abundance of trophies, both internationally and domestic. There are however, major differences between each of them. For those not familiar with these Bundesliga giants, please allow me to introduce you to German football royalty. For those who know them well, lean back, grab a German beer of your choice and simply enjoy the ride. Without further ado football fans, here are the three Bundesliga clubs who made the 2017 Forbes Most Valuable Football Clubs list. Prost!!!

FC Bayern München: “Mia San Mia”

FC Bayern München are the Bundesliga equivalent of the New York Yankees. When it comes to championships, they have won everything there is to win. They are the “evil empire.” Bayern’s true rise to prominence in the Bundesliga era started in the 1970’s as the decade was largely dominated by themselves and fellow powerhouse Borussia Mönchengladbach.

When it was all said and done, the two clubs combined to win seven of the ten Bundesliga crowns over the course of that decade. Only one of them however, had staying power. It was also during this time when Bayern accomplished something that has stood the test of time and has not been duplicated since 1976: Winning three consecutive European Cups (known today as the UEFA Champions League).

Bayern’s rank on the Forbes Top 20 (#4 most valuable) is certainly justified. For decades now, they have been known as “FC Hollywood” due to the incredible list of elite players that have worn their shirt through the years.  Those names are literally a “who’s who” in football history. Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann, Thomas Müller, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, and the list goes on.

As a result of consistently featuring players of this caliber for over half a century, it is no surprise to read the long list of titles Bayern München have won since the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963. To keep it abbreviated I will only list the major accomplishments. FCB are five-time winners of the European Cup/UEFA Champions League, winners of the 1996 UEFA Cup, 26-time Bundesliga champions, 18-time DFB-Pokal (German Cup) winners, and FIFA Club World Cup winners in 2013. FC Bayern München is the undisputed measuring stick of German football.

The event that may have truly solidified Bayern’s stay atop the Bundesliga is their longtime relationship with apparel-maker giant, Adidas. According to Fashionista, Adidas are the fifth most valuable apparel brand in the world as of 2017, behind only Nike, H&M, Zara, and Louis Vutton. Adidas also have a 9% ownership stake in Bayern München, making their influence on the club extremely noteworthy.

Of course Adidas makes gear for other clubs, however, it is no secret that Bayern are the crown jewel on their clientele list. Additionally, Herbert Hainer, the former CEO of Adidas is a member of the Bayern Supervisory board. To say that Bayern love Adidas and vice versa, would be an understatement. It goes without saying that without the backing of Adidas, Bayern would not have been able to climb the ranks of European football for so many years consecutively and maintain their place at the top.

For the past ten years FC Bayern München have been ranked no higher than fourth and no lower than fifth on the Forbes’ list. The three clubs typically ranked above them are Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Manchester United. In order to surpass these juggernauts in the rankings it will take something more than simply winning the UEFA Champions League. The three clubs have a global name and brand that is long-standing and highly recognizable.

It is almost as if they have been “grandfathered” in. The opportunity to leap over them could be in the Asian market, where Bayern, along with many other European football powers, are trying to become a household name. Asia, specifically China, has become the new frontier in the battle for football supremacy. It will take some catching-up on Bayern’s part, which may be rather difficult as both Manchester United (1st) and FC Barcelona (3rd) currently rank ahead of Bayern (5th) in terms of the most-followed European football clubs in the Chinese market as of April 2017, according to the Financial Times.

The gap between first and fifth is a rather significant one as well. A slightly higher hill to climb might be the fact that no player on Bayern’s current roster ranks in the top five of the most followed European players in China. The club is desperately trying to remedy this by scheduling tours to the far east, such as their most recent trip to China and Singapore last summer. Bayern have also recently opened an office in Shanghai. Certainly, there is much work to be done to gain ground on Barca, Madrid, and United, though, if any club on this list is capable of breaking down the seemingly impenetrable wall to the “top three” on the list, it is without a doubt The Bavarians. 


Borussia Dortmund: “Echte Liebe”

Borussia Dortmund, “BVB” for short, are the good guys of the Bundesliga. For many fans, even those of other clubs, they are the one side consistently capable of preventing all non-Bayern supporters from having to endure another season of FC Bayern München winning the German championship. BVB are the giant blue collar “workers club.” No club in German football has had the overall success of Bayern during the Bundesliga era, but Dortmund are certainly the second power within it’s borders.

Outside of Bayern, no other clubs can match Dortmund in terms of financial strength, championships, star players, and international recognition. Borussia Dortmund’s ranking on the 2017 Forbes list is at number twelve. Despite not having won the UEFA Champions League since 1997, and only having won the Bundesliga three times in the past 20 years, Dortmund have earned their ranking the old fashioned way: through hard work and determination.

In a survey conducted a few years back by the company “Mafo,” researchers based out of Hamburg, German football fans were polled and the results were amazing. BVB finished first when it comes sympathy, honesty, the attractiveness of the club, and their credibility. In other words, The “Borussia Dortmund” brand is more respected than that of FC Bayern München.

Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp, before making the move to Merseyside, resurrected Borussia Dortmund from a sporting perspective. CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke did the same financially, following BVB’s close brush with bankruptcy in 2005. “Kloppo” as he is known, took a crop of young, unknown players, and with them, won back-to-back German championships from 2010-2012.

In 2013 he led BVB to their first UEFA Champions League final since 1997. Through his Dortmund accomplishments, Jürgen Klopp became one of the most sought-after managers in the world. “Kloppo” had made Borussia Dortmund internationally relevant once more. For seven consecutive seasons (2003-04 – 2009-10), BVB missed out on the UEFA Champions League. Since that time, (2010-11 – 2016-17) Dortmund has missed club football’s most prestigious competition just once (2014-15). Jürgen Klopp ushered in a period of sustained excellence at Dortmund and laid the foundation of expected success for every manager who follows.

BVB is fully capable of cracking the top ten of Forbes’ list. It would require a few things from the club from a marketing perspective, as well as certain accomplishments on the pitch. Much like their biggest rivals Bayern München, BVB have made it a priority to break into the Asian market, having also played in China last summer. Dortmund needs more continental success. That means deeper runs in the Champions League. At a minimum, BVB need to be securing a quarter-final spot, with an occasional jump into the semi-finals. This needs to be a non-negotiable club goal. So, how do they do this?

Many football fans love to cheer for successful clubs who feature superstar players on their respective rosters. One key reason why BVB has not won the Bundesliga in the past five years and has had difficulty consistently advancing past the quarter-finals of the Champions League is due to player retention. Since the “Klopp-era” began, Dortmund have lost more big-name players than many would care to count. Quite a few of those have departed to arch-rivals Bayern München.

This does two things: It keeps Dortmund weaker in league play (compared to Bayern) and ensures that the squad is in a constant state of rebuild. Borussia Dortmund unquestionably has a knack for developing young talent. The main obstacle on their path to achieving consistent continental success, winning the league, and staying at eye level with Bayern, as well as the other “big boys” of Europe, is to convince their home-grown talent to stay put.

Many would argue that Borussia Dortmund, now over a decade since their bankruptcy debacle, has the financial confidence to do this. Some might even argue they are in fact closing the gap to Bayern. As long as this type of steady growth persists, it should be expected that Borussia Dortmund will be major players in European football for many years to come.


FC Schalke 04: “Wir Leben Dich”

The final German club on Forbes’ 2017 list is FC Schalke 04. They are the “little brother” to Borussia Dortmund (the two share a fierce local rivalry nicknamed the “Revierderby“) and the much smaller cousin of  FC Bayern München. The club has a rich history and in fact were tied with 1. FC Nürnberg up until the 1986-87 season for the most German football championships all-time (Bayern has since taken over and never looked back).

This, despite never having won a league title during the Bundesliga era. Do not misunderstand, Schalke have been a very successful club over the past 50 years. They simply have not been able to win the “big one”, having finished second in the league on six occasions. Until just recently, Schalke had the second-largest club membership in Germany, (as of 2017 Dortmund has 145,000 members and Schalke has 142,000 members) trailing only Bayern.

Over the past decade Schalke have slipped down Forbes’ list a bit. After a peak ranking of 10th as recently as 2012, Schalke are currently ranked as the 16th most valuable club in the world. This is likely in direct correlation with Schalke’s incredibly inconsistent run of Bundesliga finishes recently, and their absence from the UEFA Champions League since the 2014-15 season. The club has a rabid fan base and packs the Veltins-Arena on a weekly basis.

Those same fans  have seen a massive overhaul of the their beloved Königsblauen in the past 24 months. A new Sporting Director, two new managers, numerous new players, and the unpopular departure of long-time club captain Benedikt Höwedes. Fans of other Bundesliga clubs typically get a good laugh at the “soap opera” cloud that seemingly rains over Schalke much of the time. There always appears to be an Unruhe (unrest) at the club.

The first order of business for FC Schalke must certainly be to create stability within the club. This is precisely what current Sporting Director Christian Heidel was brought in to do. His first hire as manager was Markus Weinzierl. He was thought by many to be the next big name among managers in the Bundesliga. This proved to be completely false. The manager lost his first five matches in charge of the side and never recovered in the table. He was let go after only one season.

The new man roaming the touchline for the Royal Blues is Domenico Tedesco, a young manager who appears to have a bright future in the sport. He currently has Schalke back to competing for European qualification. Schalke undeniably have a fantastic group of young players more than capable of finishing in the top four of the Bundesliga. This is the first step on the path to long-term success.

For Schalke to move up the ladder and back into the top ten of Forbes’ list they must start with their performances on the pitch. An annual final position of no lower than fifth in the league should be a minimum expectation. A club the size of Schalke, with its many supporters, low debt, and great financial capabilities, should not be so severely challenged by this goal as they so many times are.

Brand-building is extremely important, however, in order for this to be possible you must have a brand worthy of promoting. This is an area where both FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund hold a significant advantage over The Royal Blues. While Schalke have ventured to the United States and China in recent years for preseason preparations, there has yet to be a big buzz surrounding them as with other clubs that have made those same travels.

Schalke are a Champions League-caliber side. With an abundance of talent and ambition, the time has come for the club to show they can consistently compete at a high level, not only within their own borders, but with the other” big fish” on the continent. Two UEFA Europa League qualifications coupled with no Champions League nights at the Veltins-Arena in the past three seasons, is simply not enough. This will also do little to satisfy their mass of supporters who are hungry for the side to not only ascend to new heights, but also to stay there on a more consistent basis.

The way to the top starts and ends with playing great football and continuously winning big matches on Europe’s biggest stage. If Schalke can prove that they are a club that is more than just raw potential, then the sky is truly the limit for this sleeping giant. It’s fans are screaming for it to finally wake up.

What the Future Might Hold

FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, and FC Schalke 04. Three of Germany’s finest clubs, all boasting fantastic sponsors, huge fan bases, international appeal, and great sporting success, past, present, and future. While all three are currently in different situations as it pertains to finances and sporting success, it is undeniable they all desire to be in the same position once all is said and done: On top.

The Bundesliga is in a difficult position at the moment as other leagues, primarily the English Premier League, have recently seen massive increases in television revenue. This allows even mid-table clubs in England to spend a small fortune on incoming players. It has been argued that in the past decade, the Bundesliga has become a feeder league to the Premier League. Even the “big three” in Germany have not been immune to this alleged poaching of Bundesliga talent.

It is a problem if average Premier League clubs are offering more lucrative salaries to the Bundesliga’s top talent than even the larger German sides are willing to discuss. This creates a massive talent gap between the leagues should it become a long-term trend.

The latest examples of star players departing the Bundesliga for the English top flight both come from Dortmund. Midfielders Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan opted for two clubs currently listed higher on the Forbes list than BVB, one of which is valued as the most valuable club (Manchester United) in the world. The other, the highly-ambitious Manchester City.

If Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke look to remain as European powers it may require the entire Bundesliga to change the way it currently operates. This may be necessary in order to keep not only the league’s three most-prized clubs as prominent figures, but also to assist the other German clubs in their pursuit to stay competitive in the ever-expanding world of football.



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Critty Smith

Critty grew up in Amberg, Germany, but now resides in Charleston, South Carolina in the USA where he follows the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga on a weekly basis. He is an avid Borussia Dortmund fan, but enjoys all German football from top to bottom. His favorite players are "Super" Mario Götze and Christian Pulisic. You can follow him on twitter @crittysmith

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