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 German club on the Forbes list has a rich history, a passionate fan base, and an abundance of trophies won, both internationally and domestic. There are however, major differences between each of these clubs. In other words, the rankings do not lie. For those not familiar with these Bundesliga giants, please, allow me to introduce to you, 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, ladies and gentlemen, here are the three clubs from the German Bundesliga who made the 2017 Forbes list of most valuable football clubs: FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, and FC Schalke 04. Prost!
FC Bayern München: “Mia San Mia”
FC Bayern München are the German 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 during 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 having 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 is an absolute certainty that without the backing of Adidas, Bayern would not have been able to climb the European football ranks for so many years consecutively, and been able to maintain their standing for such an extended period of time.
For the past ten years FC Bayern München have been ranked no higher than fourth and no lower than fifth in the Forbes’ list of most valuable football clubs. 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 this summer. Bayern have also recently opened an office in Shanghai. Certainly, there is much work to be done to gain ground on Barcelona, 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 Forbes 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 with FC Bayern München winning the German championship. BVB are the giant blue collar “workers club.” No team in Germany has had the overall success of Bayern in the Bundesliga era, but Dortmund are certainly the second power of the nation. Outside of Bayern München, no other club can match Dortmund in terms of financial strength, championships, star players, and international recognition.
Borussia Dortmund’s ranking on the 2017 Forbes Most Valuable Football Clubs 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,” a research company 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 Bayern München.
Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp, before making the move to Merseyside, resurrected Borussia Dortmund from a sporting perspective, while CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke did the same financially, following their close brush with bankruptcy in 2005. “Kloppo” as he is known, took a crop of young, no-name players and with them, won back-to-back German championships from 2010-2012. In 2013 he managed BVB to their first UEFA Champions League final since 1997. Jürgen Klopp had achieved the results on the pitch that made him one of the most sought-after managers in the world, simultaneously making Borussia Dortmund internationally relevant once more. For seven consecutive seasons (2003-04 – 2009-10), BVB missed out on the UEFA Champions League. Since then, for the past seven seasons (2010-11 – 2016-17), Dortmund has missed the UCL only once (2014-15), and even then they were able to qualify for the Europa League, keeping their streak of consecutive seasons playing in Europe alive. Jürgen Klopp ushered in a period of sustained excellence at Dortmund and laid the foundation of expected success for Thomas Tuchel, who replaced him when he left club in 2015, and current manager Peter Bosz.
Borussia Dortmund 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 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 this summer. Dortmund need more continental success. What does that mean? It 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 or even the final. 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 house superstar players on their respective rosters. A key reason why BVB has not won the Bundesliga and has difficulty consistently advancing to 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 them in fact, to arch-rivals Bayern München. This does two things: It keeps Dortmund weak in league play compared to Bayern as well as assuring that the squad is in a constant state of rebuild. Borussia Dortmund unquestionably has a knack for developing young talent. Their main obstacle on the path to achieving consistent Champions League success, winning the Bundesliga, and staying at eye level with Bayern and the other “big boys” of Europe, is to convince their home-grown talent to stay at Dortmund. Many would argue that Borussia Dortmund, now over a decade since their bankruptcy debacle, has the financial confidence to do just that and are in fact, closing the gap to Bayern. As long as this type of steady growth persists, it can 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 of most valuable football clubs 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 in the Bundesliga era (1963-present). Do not misunderstand, Schalke have been a very successful club these past 50-plus years, they simply have not been able to win the big one, finishing second in the league six times. Until just recently, and despite Borussia Dortmund’s undeniably greater overall success in the past decade, 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.
In the past ten years, 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, as well as 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 18 months. A new Sporting Director, two new managers, quite a few new players, and the unpopular departure of long-time club captain Benedikt Höwedes has all transpired in Gelsenkirchen during that time. Fans of other Bundesliga clubs always get a laugh at the soap opera cloud that seemingly rains over Schalke most of the time. There always appears to be an Unruhe (unrest) at the club. Schalke is seemingly it’s own worst enemy at times.
The first order of business for FC Schalke must certainly be to create stability within the club. This is precisely what Sporting Director Christian Heidel was brought in to do. His first hire as manager, Markus Weinzierl, thought by many to be the next big name among managers on the continent, lost his first five matches in charge of the side and never fully 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. Less than ten matches into his tenure though, Tedesco has overseen more of this recent trend of Schalke on-pitch inconsistency. Much like a bad stock, up one week, down the next. It is undeniable that Schalke have a fantastic group of young players more than capable of finishing in the top four of the Bundesliga, which would qualify the them for the UEFA Champions League next season. This is the first step on the path to long-term success.
For FC Schalke to move up the ladder and back into the top ten of Forbes’ list they must start with their performance on the pitch. An annual final position of no lower than fourth place in the league should be the minimum expectation. A club the size of Schalke, with its many supporters, low debt, and great financial capabilities, should not be as severely challenged by this goal as the club appears to be recently. 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 FC Schalke. While Schalke have ventured to the United States and China in recent years for preseason preparations, there is not near the buzz around them as 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 zero Champions League nights at the Veltins-Arena in the past three seasons, is simply not going to get the task done, nor will it satisfy the mass of supporters who are hungry for their Royal Blues to not only ascend to the top, but stay there for many years to come. The way to the top starts and ends with playing great football and winning big matches on Europe’s biggest stage, year in and year out. If FC Schalke can prove they are a club that is more than just raw potential, and can in fact execute at a high level on an annual basis, the sky is truly the limit for this sleeping giant who is being screamed at by its devoted fans 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, both past, present, and future. While all are currently in slightly different situations as it pertains to finance and performance on the pitch, it is undeniable they all want to be in the same position once all is said and done: on top.
The Bundesliga is in a difficult situation at the moment as other leagues, primarily the English Premier League have seen a massive increase in television revenue in recent years. This allows even mid-table clubs In England to spend a fortune on new players. It has been argued that in the past decade, the Bundesliga has become a feeder league for the Premier League, though it can be argued the “big three” in Germany are largely immune to this alleged poaching of Bundesliga talent. If the Premier League, among others, is offering more lucrative salaries to up and coming players in the Bundesliga than upper-tier German sides are willing to discuss, where then will the league powers find their new talent?
The latest examples of star players departing the Bundesliga for Premier League both come from Dortmund as midfielders Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan both opted for two clubs listed higher on the Forbes list than BVB, one of which is the most valuable club in the world, Manchester United. The other being their cross-town rivals and steady climbers up the list over the past decade, Manchester City.
If Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke are to remain as powers in Europe, much less improve their standing, it may require the Bundesliga to change the way it currently operates in order to keep not only it’s three most-prized clubs as prominent figures, but also to keep the league itself relevant and competitive across the continent.
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