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Dortmund vs. Bayern: A global affair

November 16, 2016

Mia san mia in America, Echte Liebe in China. Saturday's Klassiker has taken on a global significance for Dortmund, Bayern and the league as a whole - but the clubs must be careful not to abandon their local support.

Deutschland DFB-Pokal Finale Borussia Dortmund und Bayern München
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Stollarz

When Borussia Dortmund faced Bayern Munich in April 2015, the travelling Bavarian supporters in the away section at the Signal Iduna Park held up a banner in German which translated to: "We're the beer capital of Germany, you Prussian pigs!" It was a response to a display by Dortmund supporters the previous week in which they had demanded: "Three points for Germany's beer capital!" as they like to think of themselves.

Regional pride is important in German football and the light-hearted banter over whether Munich or Dortmund produces the best beer is a classic example. But when the two sides meet in this season's Bundesliga Klassiker on Saturday (kickoff 18:30 CET), the game will have an appeal way beyond the beer halls of Germany.

Broadcast live in more than 200 countries around the world and potentially featuring up to 12 World Cup winners, the Klassiker is an integral part of the internationalization of the Bundesliga as clubs such as Bayern and Dortmund battle to gain new fans and monetize new markets.

Deutschland DFL Supercup Borussia Dortmund vs FC Bayern München Zweikampf
Mats Hummels, who swapped Dortmund for Bayern in the summer, will make his second return to Signal Iduna Park as a Bayern player.Image: Getty Images/Bongarts/O. Hardt

Bayern Munich opened an office in New York in 2014 and see the United States as their primary overseas market. They estimate that over 60 million Americans have heard of Bayern, whilst around 15 million maintain an active interest in the club. This summer, they played friendly matches against AC Milan, Inter Milan and Real Madrid in Chicago, Charlotte and New York as part of the International Champions Cup.

"Two years ago we had nine fan clubs in the USA, now we have over 100 across 37 states,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told broadcaster Sport1 this summer. "The American flag has 50 stars on it so it would be nice if we could have at least one fan club for each.”

While Bayern look west, Borussia Dortmund have focused their attention on the Far East, opening a club office in Singapore in 2014. According to international research institute Nielsen Sports, some 30 million people in China have heard of the club, and it is this passive interest that the club are aiming to convert into active, paying fans.

It is no coincidence that Dortmund's Asian offensive has come at a moment when China itself is launching a state-backed campaign to boost the popularity of football. President Xi Jinping intends to build 50,000 football academies by 2025 and has made football obligatory in schools. The country's long-term goal is to host - and win - the 2030 World Cup. 

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watze has already confirmed the team will return to Asia next summer and the club expects to soon be generating more than 10 percent of its total revenue in the region. Such financial reward is vital if Dortmund are to compete with Bayern Munich at home and the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona abroad.

Yet not everyone in Dortmund sees the club's international ambitions in such a positive light and some sections of the club's local, match-going supporters feel increasingly forgotten as the focus of the club's gaze switches from Borsigplatz to Tiananmen Square.

"In the past, Watzke would sit down with us and talk to us directly," one hardcore supporter outside of the Signal Iduna Park told DW. "The relationship was best before 2010, before all the success and the commercial expansion. Now there is a feeling that they're more interested in accommodating sponsors and tourists than helping us.”  

Deutschland Bayern Muüchen vs Borussia Dortmund Fan mit Schal
Der Klassiker has become a rivalry that captures the imagination of football fans around the world.Image: Getty Images/Bongarts/A. Hassenstein

The feverish atmosphere generated by the 81,000 fans inside the ground on Saturday, particularly the 28,000 standing on its famous south stand, dubbed the "Gelbe Wand" (yellow wall), is one of the club's unique selling points, something that attracts viewers from all over the world.

"Submerge yourself in the most intense football experience in Germany," the club boasts on its English language website, and Watzke recognizes the value of the club's fan culture.

"The whole culture of standing terraces is extremely important," he said in an interview with the Bundesliga's official website earlier this year, stressing that the club is determined to strike a balance between the club's Ruhr district identity and the global expansion that is necessary if the club are to remain competitive. 

But many fans aren't convinced. At this season's opening game against Mainz in August, a banner on that famous south stand read: "Watzke: lots of talk but no action - a loss of identity in installments!"

Saturday's Klassiker is a global affair which will be followed, scrutinized and analyzed by millions of fans across the world. It's a fine balance but both Dortmund and Bayern must also ensure that they don't forget the little things which make the rivalry what it is. Regional pride, a storied rivalry - and of course who makes the best beer.