German soccer giants Borussia Dortmund returned to profit for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic in the 2022-23 financial year, marking a significant turnaround for the club.
The Bundesliga side posted a profit of €9.5 million ($10.4 million) for the 12 months. In 2021-2022, the team announced a loss of almost €32 million.
Overall, the pandemic cost Dortmund €150 million, which illustrates the impressive nature of their recovery.
“We have the ambition to be profitable in the next years,” Carsten Cramer, Dortmund’s managing director, says.
“We lost lots of money during Covid, but we are back on track and I'm fully convinced that there is still potential for more financial growth to be as competitive as possible.”
That upward financial trajectory has already continued into this year, with the club posting revenue of €58.9 million in the first quarter, an increase of €15.1 million from the prior year, and a net profit of €52.4 million (up from €38.5 million).
With a strong senior leadership and shrewd business model, Dortmund’s bounce back comes as no surprise.
As chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke outlined: "We have always said that when we have this [pandemic] behind us, we will find our way back to our old strength. We have delivered."
Dortmund’s strategy of securing young talent at relatively cheap prices and selling them for huge profits continues to pay dividends.
The sale of Norwegian star Erling Haaland to Manchester City last year contributed significantly to the club’s strong finances, while young English sensation Jude Bellingham’s recent €100 million move to Real Madrid should see Dortmund’s books look even healthier for 2023-24.
Dortmund have forged a reputation for developing young players who have gone on to become global stars, which continues to make the Bundesliga side an attractive destination. This model has helped turn the German club into one of Europe’s elite sides over the past decade.
In the most recent Deloitte Football Money League, which analyzes the top 20 revenue-generating clubs in the world, Dortmund ranked 13th ahead of several powerhouses in European soccer including the likes of Inter Milan and AC Milan.
Dortmund have consistently been in the top 20 due to their regular appearances in the UEFA Champions League. The club this week qualified for the knockout stages of this year’s competition in a ‘group of death’ that also contains Milan and state-backed teams Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle United.
— DW Sports (@dw_sports) November 29, 2023
Consistent performances on the pitch, coupled with a huge fanbase and a sold-out 81,000-seat Signal Iduna Park stadium every match, make Dortmund an attractive commercial proposition.
The ‘Yellow Wall’ – located in the south stand of the club’s stadium with a capacity of 25,000 – has become iconic and a symbol of German soccer.
The significance of the Yellow Wall was felt while the team played behind closed doors during the pandemic.
When it comes to securing commercial partners, the Dortmund story and ethos are not a hard sell. The club prides itself on authenticity and a deep-rooted connection with a passionate local fanbase.
“We try to be as authentic as possible and if we are authentic, I am fully convinced that we will create interest, and interest also means sympathy, and interest and sympathy definitely will increase your revenues,” Cramer explains.
“The more that people know about you, the more they are interested, and the more they love you. It doesn't matter whether it's a fan or a company, the more they will be interested in spending money and that is a very simple strategy. We try to be ourselves as Dortmund.
“Whenever we play in the Champions League and meet other clubs, our story, and our club is unique and we can differentiate our brand with this story and with this positioning from the others and therefore I focus and concentrate on the authenticity and the emotion, and it works.”
Of the club’s €515.4 million revenue for last season, sponsorships accounted for €142.3 million.
International sports marketing agency Sportfive works as Dortmund’s exclusive global sales agency and has had a relationship with the team for over two decades.
The company has consistently delivered on its remit with the club and the two parties renewed their long-standing deal earlier this year until 2031. The tie-up has seen Sportfive secure several high-profile partners for the team.
BVB’s range of commercial partners includes brands such as 1&1, Evonik, Puma, Bwin, Signal Iduna, Hankook, Electronic Arts, and Coca-Cola.
“We have a really good connection to Sportfive in different areas of the world,” Cramer shares, discussing the partnership.
“Recently, we decided to open an office in New York and Sportfive has an office there as well. When we decided to open BVB offices in China and Singapore, we looked to build a close connection and relationship with the Sportfive offices because when we open offices, of course, we are interested in acquiring new sponsors as well and that has to be done together and therefore it's sensible and helpful that Sportfive is closely based next to us.
“That doesn't mean that we won't be able to work together with other agencies. If the CAA guys come in and present some other sponsors or ideas to us, we are completely open-minded. But the first touchpoint, the first level sales approach is done by Sportfive.”
Asked if Sportfive acts as Dortmund’s de facto commercial team, he replies: “We have our own in-house commercial team. I would say they [Sportfive] are focused on the sales approach. They open the door, we go in together, and we close the deal as a club.”
As part of their renewed agreement, Sportfive is supporting Dortmund’s efforts to grow internationally. The agency is specifically focused on expanding the club’s partnerships in the US.
BVB traveled to the US as part of a summer pre-season tour earlier this year, playing games in San Diego, Las Vegas, and Chicago, while in 2026 the country will jointly host the men’s FIFA World Cup alongside Mexico and Canada.
With US national team star Giovanni Reyna on their books, coupled with soccer’s rise in the country, it represents a key growth market for Dortmund.
“The US is an important market not only for Borussia Dortmund but also for the Bundesliga,” Cramer says.
“Everyone is excited about the World Cup in 2026. Of course, as Borussia Dortmund and an international club, we do have the hope maybe to play in the Club World Cup in the US as well.
“There are many connecting touchpoints that show us that the American market is a very exciting one for Borussia Dortmund. We are still a club that is motivated to generate international growth.
“Of course, we are not on the top five level and can't compete with Real Madrid or Manchester City but as part of the top 10 European clubs, we want to generate interest. We know that the Americans are growing their interest in football.”
Although Dortmund are back in a strong financial position, the same can’t be said for many other Bundesliga clubs who are still recovering from the impact of Covid-19.
In recent years, the DFL, the German league’s organizing body, has explored financial solutions to both support its clubs and focus on the long-term development of the competition. As yet, however, it has not received the necessary backing from all teams.
The DFL recently announced it will make a third attempt to sell a stake in the media rights for its top two divisions to private equity investors in the hope of securing a majority vote from its clubs to proceed with an auction.
— DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga (@DFL_Official) November 14, 2023
Dortmund were among the clubs in favor of securing outside investment, viewing it as an important move in developing the league as a whole.
With its finances in order, the club is not particularly in need of investment or support but is still keen to see the Bundesliga grow and bring in the necessary funds to advance in key areas such as digitalization, technology, and sustainability.
The 36 clubs that make up the Bundesliga and second-tier 2. Bundesliga will vote on the matter again at a meeting on December 11.
In May, clubs from the top two divisions voted to end talks with investment firms as fewer than the required two-thirds of the 36 sides opted for the discussions to continue.
There were 20 votes in favor of continuing talks, with 11 clubs voting against and five abstentions. A minimum of 24 votes in favor was required for the talks to progress.
“We are a club that is convinced that the private equity money the Bundesliga was looking for was sensible because there are some investments necessary which can't be done by the Bundesliga or the clubs,” Cramer says.
“If we want to invest in more international awareness, digitalization, and even sustainability, it costs you more than you can earn. That is really challenging and we’re able to do it by ourselves and Bayern Munich are as well, but there are so many other clubs [who can’t], and we have to do it collaboratively as 36 clubs.
“If we commit to sustainability, if we want to gain growth internationally, we must spend more, but we don't have the money and the financial sources to do it. Therefore, I am convinced that a private equity firm would be helpful to deliver the money, but also the professional experience and the know-how which might take the Bundesliga to the next level.”
The DFL is reportedly seeking an investment of up to €1 billion in a new commercial entity, significantly lower than the figure it was seeking previously, and is likely to offer a stake below 10%.
The league is understood to have invited five private equity companies to submit bids. The firms being considered are CVC Capital Partners, Blackstone, Bridgepoint, EQT, and Advent. Preliminary bids are expected from at least four of these investors at the beginning of December.
Cramer, who has been Dortmund's managing director since 2018, believes the funds will support clubs in multiple areas, as well as guarding against future crises.
“If a private equity group becomes an investor or shareholder/partner in the Bundesliga, we should strengthen the league as a global platform,” Cramer states.
“That means whenever we make the decision that we want to be more present in the international market, then this must be done for every club. We as Dortmund can invest by ourselves, we don't need it as a separate club demand, but if the Bundesliga is trying to make the next step as a product, we won't be able to.
“We have media revenues in the Bundesliga of roughly €1.2 billion. From that, if we would have to invest €150 or €200 million per season for the issues I mentioned before, then this money would be missing for other investments and that won't be accepted by the clubs. Therefore, I'm fully convinced that we need external money and sometimes it can also be insurance money for further crises which definitely will come even if we are not able to predict them.
“Nobody predicted Covid or the Ukraine war. It will be more difficult for Bundesliga clubs to get debts from the banking sector. So therefore, to have someone in your backhand as an insurance, it helps you to be prepared for the next crisis.”