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Bayern Munich lead the chase for Far Eastern riches

The German champions have wrapped up another money-spinning tour of Asia. DW’s Michael Da Silva followed Bayern to Shanghai to see how they’re getting ahead in the world’s fastest growing market.

Bayern Munich's tour of the Far East has generated varying results. Defeat by Arsenal and AC Milan in China preceded a 3-2 win over Chelsea in Singapore, with this Friday's game against Inter Milan rounding off preparations for the new campaign, which they hope will garner a sixth successive Bundesliga title.

It's debatable whether coach Carlo Ancelotti was able to learn anything new about his team as the mercury hit a 145-year high of 42 degrees and the soaring Shanghai humidity challenged the wisdom of playing at all - but this tour is not about the results.

Bayern are not the only German team touring Asia this summer, with Borussia Dortmund and Schalke also dropping in for a couple of friendlies – but Bayern are by far the most internationally recognized Bundesliga team in the region and their games in China are the busiest day of the year for Bayern's office in Shanghai. The club's office in China’s most populous city only opened in September last year as the German champions try to steal the march on their rivals in exploiting the regions growing enthusiasm for the Bundesliga.

Based at the German Centre on the outer edges of Pudong, a district of the city that’s home to many businesses, Bayern's small but functioning office sits at the top of the glass and steel structure, which houses a number of German firms doing business in China. The office's Managing Director, Rouven Kasper, says Bayern are using Chinese social media platforms - WeChat being the most dominant - to communicate to local fans in Cantonese and Mandarin, with the ultimate goal of exploiting the vast commercial opportunities.

“The first employees here in our Shanghai office were social media guys to just get the dialogue started,” Kasper told DW. “It’s important not only to inform the fans but to start a conversation and talk to them in their style of communication. We want enthusiastic, emotional fans and that’s something we started from the beginning.

China Rouven Kasper Managing Direktor des Bayern München in Schanghai (Weekend Studio/J. Beard
)

Rouven Kasper, Managing Director of Bayern Munich's Shanghai office

“The main target over the next few years is to connect with our fans - it’s not just about ‘cashing in’. Bayern Munich is not a club with financial problems.

“But of course the financial opportunities in China are really big. We have seen in the other leagues what can happen when a big investor comes into a club, which make us happy that we have the 50+1 regulation in Germany."

With the effectiveness of the 50+1 regulation (a club must hold a majority of its own voting rights, protecting clubs from the influence of external investors) currently in question, Bayern's public support for the rule shouldn't be underestimated. 

“At the beginning, many companies like Fosun (the Chinese conglomerate rumored to be interested in buying shares in various Bundesliga clubs) don’t understand that because they are used to investing in everything. But we have helped them understand that the 50+1 rule is special and is a USP for the Bundesliga.

Kasper added: “It helps promote quality because German clubs have to build up star players rather than just buy them, and that investment for the future is something that China needs and they understand that. So the 50+1 rule is a huge benefit for relations between Chinese investors and Bundesliga teams.”

Bayern are the first non-Chinese football club to operate as a registered and tax-paying company in mainland China, a distinction worth making from other teams who are yet to make that kind of commitment to the country.

There is certainly plenty of evidence that Bayern, perhaps with the exception of Manchester United and Real Madrid, are winning more hearts and minds in China than any other club. Many football fans in China pledge their allegiance to a European team as well as one from their own Chinese Super League. Bayern shirts, particularly ones with '25 Müller' emblazoned across the back could be seen all over Shanghai in the days leading up to their opening tour game at the city's main stadium.

One of those fans, Ami Jin, lives over an hour by train from the center of Shanghai. He fell in love with the Bavarian club in 1999, when they lost the Champions League final. His affinity with the team has not waned in the 18 years since that heartbreaking night in Barcelona, and he even made the 8,800 kilometer pilgrimage to Munich in 2015 to watch his team play at the Allianz Arena.

“From that moment on, I felt something strong for Bayern and that feeling has never gone away. They are my second love, after my wife of course,” Ami Jin said in his quiet apartment within a gated community on the outskirts of Shanghai.

“I am often tired when I go to work because I like to stay up late and watch Bayern’s Champions League games, which start at 1.45 a.m. Chinese time. And of course I stay up and watch the Bundesliga games, which are usually earlier for me.

Deutschland Vorstellung von James Rodriguez beim Bayern München (picture-alliance/Sven Simon/F. Hoermann)

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“There are a lot of people in China that are starting to watch the Bundesliga more because they want an alternative to the Premier League. I think this is also because the German national team are world champions and they like the quality that the Bundesliga has. There is definitely a growing community of Bundesliga fans - and mainly Bayern fans - here in Shanghai.”

Ami Jin’s story is one of a growing number in China, where Bayern’s initiative to set up a native company in China to reach out to fans could prove a key strategic move in their long term aim of tapping into the lucrative Chinese market.

Five years ago, 14 Bundesliga clubs spent their summers training in Austria and the other four in Switzerland. This year, three clubs went to Asia, and Eintracht Frankfurt spent 12 days in the US.

The prospect of a German Supercup being played in China may yet be some way off, but if it does happen, Bayern are once again doing more than their rivals in ensuring they are the team China is talking about.

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