Since we launched The Terrace Club, we have received incredible support on it. Our member base is amazing and we wanted to share the stories of some of the Terrace Club members.
Our next member is a guy who has a job that would be the envy of many soccer fans. Cris Nyari is helping to build Bayern Munich in the United States and has seen some incredible growth in his time since the German giants opened up a permanent office here in the United States. In this piece on Cris, he takes us inside and tells us what it is like to help build one of the worlds great clubs here in the United States.
Take it away Cris...
My name is Cris Nyari, I‘m based in New York and I head FC Bayern Munich’s US media strategy. I work out of the US office, which we set up about two years ago and I am in charge of running all of our US specific digital channels, our communications strategy and our media partnerships here. All of this with an eye on building a fanbase here in the US and growing the brand.
That would certainly qualify as a dream job for many soccer fans. How did you find yourself in this job?
Good timing and a bit of luck. It’s a bit of an involved story. I grew up in Austria so German soccer and the Bundesliga were always near to my heart. When I moved to the States in the early 2000s, German soccer was the only real way I could stay connected with Europe. Even though it was impossible to watch, I used to receive old print magazines months after they were published in Europe and I just kept up with it. After college I found my way into sports journalism and niche blogging when soccer kind of begin a thing in the early nascent stages of the Internet and message boards and social media. I was covering German soccer and the Bundesliga and that became my niche because I had been following it and not many people were too interested in at the time with the Premier League taking hold and soccer still being a niche in this country. I kind of made that my own. I also worked very closely with Major League Soccer here and Opta, the data analytics company here in New York. So I was also very close to the US soccer community and business. Also, keeping very close connections with colleagues in Germany. Be that media or the league itself. When Bayern were opening an office here there weren’t a lot of options for people who knew soccer here but who also had a deep understanding of the Bundesliga. It was a bit fortuitous in that sense and good timing because they didn’t need to pay anyone to relocate
You are a soccer fan at your core who has followed the Bundesliga for a long time. What is it like for you to turn that passion into your job
It’s actually very interesting. We’re the first team to really open and maintain an operation like this in the US. Unlike so many other people who work in sports and for sports teams, our team is thousands of miles away. I know people who are doing similar jobs to myself at MLS or NFL teams, but they work at the stadiums or the headquarters, and the team is right there. We’re in a bit of a different situation because the team is in Munich and I cant exactly just pop over to the stadium. In that sense the operation is a little bit different. My job and the challenge is to try and educate people here and try to connect our fans to a club that is so many miles away. That brings with it it’s own set of challenges. For me personally, it’s still interesting because I travel to Munich during the year. I was with the team when they were on the US tour last week. They were here 11 days in three cities. It’s kind of surreal because I was a fan growing up and I still am and it actually helps when you are a fan of the team when you are working with them. You know the club, the culture, the fanbase and that’s really really important from a media side because you are the consumer facing side of the business and you’re the one who is communicating with the fans. The messaging has to be spot on. You have to be able to relate to what the fans want, what they’re thinking, the emotion behind it. Sometimes fans can be overly passionate and as a club you have to be empathetic about that. That has to translate to the entire strategy, the business side of things. It’s really interesting. It definitely has its challenges. It’s great. It could be a lot worse!
You mentioned that Bayern is the first European team that has setup a permanent office in the US. We see the that big European clubs will come to the US in the summer, play some games, hold preseason trainings and try to connect with fans. But it’s really interesting that Bayern has chosen to have a permanent office here in the US. Can you talk to that a bit?
I know the perception here in the US is that European clubs come here in the summer and impose themselves and try to cash in. Bias aside, I think Bayern are doing a really great job to integrate themselves into the fabric of US soccer and not just coming here to sell jerseys. Of course the aim is always to be able to monetize on the fanbase that you are building. That’s why we have things like a US online store. But, at the same time, we also have a grassroots program with one of the biggest youth organizations, Global Premier Soccer. They are in 16 states now, they have about 80,000 kids. We’re doing this program with our partner adidas, where we’re helping educate and train their coaches. We’re bringing over our coaches from Munich. We send the GPS coaches to Munich to learn where there is a real knowledge transfer. We’re sharing our youth development curriculum with them. We have an ID program where the kids that stand out get to travel to Munich and try out. This is always with an eye to help grow the game. This is the next generation of soccer fans and this is a positive impression were making. We’re really embedding ourselves in the culture and the fabric of US soccer and we’re very much open to everyone coming over. We invite the other European clubs to come in and be part of the scene here. The rising tide lifts all boats kind of thing. We’re still in the process of the game growing and everyone needs to work together to really create a culture of the sport here. All the way from the bottom to the top. That’s not just about making money and selling jerseys.
We have institutional partnerships with Columbia University where we are partnering with their sports management masters program. Where we’re trying to make Bayern and our business practices part of their curriculum so we really want to hit the market from all angles. Grassroots, institional, our media partnerships. Were committed to the market, its very important to us. Its all about sustainability. You're not going to have a sustainable operation when you are only playing three friendlies and getting out of there.
With all that Bayern is trtying to do here in the US, it seems that the club has a very holistic approach to what they are doing.
For sure. This is the most competitive sports market in the world. Its very simple for Bayern to stand out in Germany and In Europe nowadays. They have a market dominance established in Germany buyt this is a completely different environment. When you talk about a country with over 300 million people with four or five of the most profitable leagues in the world, all competing for eyeballs and attention, we really have to make sure that we hit all angles and create market visibility. Give fans a reason to pick Bayern as their club. The new profile of fan, like the millennial, or even younger, they have all these options now. They can have countless teams they can follow. What are the things that we can do to convince the fans that Bayern is the team that stands out above the others. That’s part of the education process as well. What is so unique about Bayern? What is unique about our clubs history and the culture? What makes German soccer special? I think the bundesliga is a fantastic proposition for the American sports fan. It's an antidote to the usual American sports experience where the fan may not be super connected to the team. In Germany, it’s the exact opposite. You have low ticket prices. The fans have a stake in the club. It’s the same way we approach our fanbase. We have a huge network of fan clubs. We actually have the largest network of official fanclubs on the US of any team. Only the American Outlaws have a larger network of supporter groups here. We were able to build that and grow that by having this really authentic approach where we're very close to our fans. We have a dedicated fan service person in our office that literally talks to our fans on a daily basis. That connection goes a long way for people who can't go to the stadium on weekends. They have to have another reason to stay attached to the team and that’s what we want to provide here.
When we opened the office in 2014 we had eight official fanclubs. Now we have 105 in 38 states. And that organic growth, that’s really taking a very committed approach to building our fanbase and listening to the fans and trying to provide value for them.
In two years you have gone from eight fan clubs to over 100. You guys are thousands of miles away from Munich. Is there something you have found that works really well with the American audience that has allowed you to grow the club here?
The American sports fan is different. They might be picky, but at the end of the day they love success. Bayern is very fortunate that while we are doing this brand building initiative, the team has also been very successful. At the end of the day for sports, a lot of it comes down to the team on the field. If we didn’t win four consecutive titles, if we don’t win the champions league semifinals, if we don’t have multiple World Cup winners, it might be difficult to argue we would be where we are. That certainly helps. But I think what has really worked is educating the American fan about how unique Bayern is as a club. The fact that we are owned by the members. These members pay a small membership fee and they have a say in the elections of our board members and president. So there is a real stake in the club by the fans. And I think that is a very eye opening thing for a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the business model and structure of a major sports brand like Bayern. It's not often that fans have a say in a clubs policy or elections. At Bayern, even though these American fans are thousands of miles away, they have a voice in the club and through the office here they have an even more direct voice. If there is something that the fans don’t like or something they are unhappy with we are very adamant in working together with them to resolve everything. Make everything available to them that is humanly possible to imporove the overall fan experience. We try to distingiush ourselves as a club to build greater brand and culb allegiance.
Congrats on all the work you guys have done. All the best going forward.