Chinese solar companies power German soccer | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 06.08.2011
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Chinese solar companies power German soccer

Advertising is big business in the German Bundesliga, and solar companies are getting on board - and on jerseys and stadium roofs. Chinese firms are leading the way.

SunTech adverstisement on Hoffenheim jerseys

SunTech is spreading the word via soccer jersey

Things are looking bright for the German soccer Bundesliga as the new season gets underway.

Business is booming, fans are coming in droves, and marketing efforts inside and outside of Germany are brining in a lot of money. But the sun is shining on the league literally as well, as solar energy companies begin to see Germany's top soccer league as a good advertising platform.

The reigning league champions, Borussia Dortmund, are getting solar panels installed on the roof of their stadium. Upon completion in October, the solar panels will deliver up to 860,000 kilowatt-hours per year - more than enough for the energy needs of 200 homes.

The photovoltaic company Q-Cells from Bitterfeld in Saxony-Anhalt is Dortmund's partner for the solar panels. The company said it consider itself one of the leading firms in this branch, and are not surprisingly interested in advertising their name on banners inside the stadium.

Uniform business

As high-profile as stadium banners are, it's the front of players' shirts that remains the most-desired advertising spot on the pitch. That's where another solar power company placed its name.

This season, Hoffenheim's jersey will be splashed with the logo of the biggest solar panel constructor in the world, the Chinese company Suntech.

That's fitting, considering the background of Suntech and that of German billionaire Dietmar Hopp, who is one of the team's financial supporters. Thanks to Hopp, Hoffenheim made the leap from the lower leagues to the Bundesliga in just a few years.

Yingli Solar advertisement banner in German soccer stadium

Yingli Solar is also making inroads in the German market

Suntech's history involves a similar quick climb to success. Shi Zhengrong grew up as the son of a farmer in China, who left the country and got a doctorate in electrical engineering in Australia. This wasn't lost on those back in his home town of Wuxi, who made the at that time 37-year-old Shi a $6 million (4.2 million euro) offer to start a solar company there. That was 10 years ago, and today, Suntech is a worldwide industry leader.

Suntech has five factories in China and one in the United States, as well as offices in 13 countries. Thanks to financial backing from the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, the company grew and has been publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange since the winter of 2005. Despite the huge growth, the company's headquarters are still in Wuxi near Shanghai. There Suntech has an impressive, post-modern glass building - powered by solar energy, of course.

By keeping their company in China, Suntech is able to offer solar panels at about a third of the price of German companies, with similar quality. In June, Siemens signed a contract with Suntech to deliver their products to the German company.

The Chinese solar boom

About a fourth of Suntech's products are exported to Europe, and Germany gets the most. Suntech is one of the few Chinese companies to have a German speaking website. Their target audience consists of German homeowners.

Those same German homeowners have other companies on their horizon, though, too. One example is Yingli Solar, which is Suntech's biggest domestic competitor. The head of the company also happens to be a fanatic Bayern Munich fan. Yingli Solar hasn't quite made it to the front of Bayern's shirts, but their banners have been visible in the stadium since last year.

Solar panels in California

The global solar power industry is becoming increasingly competitive

Last season's second place team, Bayer Leverkusen, is also being warmed by the Chinese sun. Jinko Solar signed a deal just a few days ago to have its banners shown in Leverkusen's stadium in an effort to make its name better known throughout Europe.

But Jinko Solar was just a little late in getting on Leverkusen's jerseys; a company from California beat them to the punch. SunPower from San Jose will be Leverkusen's most prominent sponsors for the next three seasons.

German companies falling behind

The Chinese companies are surely beaming over their presence in the Bundesliga, but the same can't be said for their German competitors. Q-Cells in Dortmund and Cologne's title sponsor, Solarworld, are two of the industry's leaders and also premium partners. But beyond that, the soccer marketing efforts of Germany's solar branch reflects the stagnant situation of the industry in Germany.

There was once a time when the German solar industry was far ahead of its Chinese competitors, but the tables have significantly turned. Margins have sunk, price competitions have left their mark, and some companies are nearly broke. Now, it's the Chinese companies who are setting the tempo and blanketing Bundesliga stadiums with their ads.

Author: Henrik Böhme / Astrid Freyeisen (mz)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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