Updated: Jun 3, 2021
U.S. sports betting operator BetMGM and Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund worked together to forge a first-of-its-kind partnership. The scope of the partnership will see the two entities activate in the United States.
While the partnership is new to the realm of sports business, the approach and philosophy behind it have been cultivated for many years. With global sports business agency SPORTFIVE handling regional commercial and digital operations for Borussia Dortmund, focused expansion has been a major factor in the success of this working relationship.
“We have been working with BVB for a few years now on international-based strategy, representing their growth outside of Germany,” said Bob Brennfleck, Senior Vice President of Commercial for SPORTFIVE. “Two key markets for us are Asia and the United States. Everything we do is led by a digital-first, social-first strategy.”
Digital is at the core of SPORTFIVE’s operation and is reflected heavily within Borussia Dortmund’s U.S.-based social platforms. With over 2 million followers across the @BlackYellow Twitter and Instagram channels, the SPORTFIVE team has taken a targeted, personalized approach in building up the club’s American social following. The agency has focused on truly integrating and engaging within the fanbase, prioritizing wholesome content, and establishing realistic expectations and budget goals as opposed to aiming for vanity social metrics.
“You can’t just mail in digital content,” said Brennfleck. “You have to be conscious of a market’s culture, societal culture, pop culture, music culture, etc. We take the reflective shine of who BVB is and we transpose that on the U.S. audience.”
The scope of the @BlackYellow channels further illustrates the emphasis on seeing this partnership come to fruition. The genesis of SPORTFIVE, Borussia Dortmund, and BetMGM align similarly with each other. Benedikt Scholz, Head of International / Commercial & New Business at Borussia Dortmund, echoes the simpatico relationship with all involved.
“Working with the team behind @BlackYellow is great,” said Scholz. “When the club was close to bankruptcy back in 2005, the entity that became SPORTFIVE supported us during those hard times. Our relationship truly has come full circle as they have a 15-16 person team that strictly works on BVB content and operations. They know what the DNA of the club is. They speak the language. They have an international network with high-performance commercial and content teams who are always looking for new and innovative ways to grow.”
“BetMGM is a very important piece in all of this. Adding a football club to their portfolio meshes with their approach as well as ours. They have a young, very innovative team. They align well with what we are doing.”
With synergies aligned, the opportunity to partner with BetMGM became evident.
“A major pillar for us, in addition to fostering commercial growth and building social community, is a global betting practice,” said Brennfleck. “AT SPORTFIVE, we pride ourselves on being betting and commercial experts. Within the global landscape, it is often an arms race to get content deals done, especially for a partnership such as this. Outside of American football, soccer is the most globally bet on sport in the world.”
“There was an appetite to be the first. Borussia Dortmund is a club that competes on the global stage. BetMGM is a global brand that is setting the standard for what they do while also being an established entity that will be around for a long time. They are a very good brand with a strong mission alignment.”
With visions aligned, all parties came into this partnership with eyes wide open. Two major KPI’s were established:
KPI #1: bring in as many Borussia Dortmund fans as possible into the BetMGM umbrella
KPI #2: align Borussia Dortmund with a brand in BetMGM that has fantastic reach and recognition within the United States
Both of the guiding principles illustrate the forward-thinking strategy for both parties. Both want to be recognized as progressive and innovative. Both look to leverage each other through the domestic and international recognizability that each has.
“The U.S. is one of the most prominent markets for us,” said Scholz. “Football is on the rise in the states. With World Cup 2026 around the corner, there’s traction for solid growth. Those trends, coupled with strong German heritage in the U.S. as well as the burgeoning ESPN+ deal with the Bundesliga, sets our brand up very well to succeed abroad.”
With the “why?” established, the partnership went about figuring out “how?” it will come to life. Through a diversified portfolio of assets, the partnership will capitalize on the ever-growing popularity of BVB’s players, social channels, and global familiarity:
Club rights: BetMGM able to use BVB’s marks and contents throughout the United States
Player rights: able to use individual player name, image, and likeness (NIL) on a global scale
Pitch-side signage: opportunity to commercialize BVB’s virtual pitch-side signage by displaying BetMGM signage via domestic ESPN+ feed
Digital and social channel integrations: encouraging fans to download the BetMGM app through a mixture of personalized sweepstakes and targeted promotions
The execution of this partnership serves as a standard-bearer for the rest of the industry. The impact on the global football market is seismic. This partnership can be activated and used as an operator in every legal state in the U.S. On a global scale, European football clubs are looking to utilize their player rights within full-scope partnerships.
“We race our own race,” said Scholz. “We look into our own position as we establish solid differentiating characteristics. Our model allows us to be receptive and flexible as we look into what’s working well and what’s not, while still being able to fine-tune the partnership along the way. We know what we each want to do to succeed and will do our best to ensure it happens.”
“This truly is a game-changer within the market,” said Brennfleck. “The world is getting to be a much smaller place. Not just in betting and gaming but also from a strategic standpoint. More U.S.-based brands have larger global expectations. The market is going to continue to develop in order to secure these global aspirations.”
“For our team, we need to execute on the plan we have in place. That includes continuing to learn and develop what content is going to be core to the club, analyze and integrate social demographics of new markets, and establishing proper metrics and benchmarks. The overarching theme is to stay patient. The upside of this partnership is massive.”
For Borussia Dortmund, the partnership is a culmination of how the brand has positioned itself over the years. Both on and off the field, it is one that the @BlackYellow fanbase can truly appreciate.
“Our story with SPORTFIVE has been created over the past 15-20 years. Our club was that of zero to hero, a classic underdog story,” said Scholz. “From decades of success in the ’60s, ’80s, and '90s to staring at bankruptcy in 2005 to competing in the 2013 UEFA Champions League Final, our club has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Our origins, our saga truly resonates with U.S. fans. In the end, it is the quintessential American story. That’s what we aim to do as an emerging global brand: to transport this story to our U.S digital channels.”
“The challenge is to rise up, win titles, and continue telling this story.”
Max Simpson contributes a variety of content to The Sponsorship Space, covering areas such as experiential marketing, activation analysis, and illustrating the "why" behind interesting partnerships.