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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Chiefs and Patriots compete for fans and influence in Germany ahead of games in Frankfurt

    The Patriots have the history. The Chiefs have the juice.

    New England is bringing its six Super Bowl trophies. How about a yacht? Kansas City has that, not to mention the star quarterback and tight end.

    They’re all headed to Frankfurt to take part in two weeks of American football because beyond the games, there are German fans to win over. A lot of them.

    “Most Germans don’t have a team yet,” said Alexander Steinforth, the NFL’s general manager for Germany.

    The fandom is in the millions — a barely tapped gold mine for teams and a league that have mostly maxed out domestically. The league says it has 18 million casual fans, or roughly one in five residents of Germany and about 3.6 million “avid” ones.

    “We are reaching that state of maturity where you see fans are actively seeking out teams and are looking for teams that they can follow," Steinforth said. "That’s why the market is so exciting for franchises to be active in because right now they have a massive opportunity to pick up fans.”

    The Chiefs go first; they’ll play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. A week later, the Patriots face the Indianapolis Colts. Both games are at Deutsche Bank Park, the home of German soccer club Eintracht Frankfurt.

    The Chiefs and Patriots both have commercial rights in Germany under the league’s global markets program, as do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons. It means they can sign corporate sponsorship deals, hold events to attract fans and sell merchandise as they do in their home markets.

    “This is a home game for us being in Frankfurt and we'll be utilizing our gameday production,” said Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, whose team also has rights to Austria, Switzerland and Mexico. “I expect to have a similar feel (to their London game in 2015), but the big difference is we've been in Frankfurt for a year and a half doing marketing.”

    Life has been pretty good for the Chiefs. They’re the defending Super Bowl champions, quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the reigning MVP, and All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce is having another big season. Oh yeah, Kelce also appears to be in a relationship with global megastar Taylor Swift, which only adds to the buzz every time the Chiefs take the field.

    “It’s perfect timing for us as a franchise and we’re going to be very aggressive in taking full advantage of that,” said Chiefs president Mark Donovan, adding the club has spent about $1 million in preparation and fan events for Frankfurt.

    Part of that went to the team docking a Chiefs-themed yacht in the Main River for fans to board and get a selfie with the Lombardi trophy, which it won for the third time with its 38-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.

    Both the Chiefs and Patriots wanted last year’s first-ever regular-season game in Munich, but that went to the Bucs and Tom Brady, in part because NFC teams had the extra home game. The Bucs beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-16 at Allianz Arena in what Steinforth said was the NFL's “most-successful international game” in terms of viewership and merchandise sales. He added that German viewership this season on free-to-air broadcaster RTL is up “9 to 10%" from a year ago.

    Though five teams are in the market, the Chiefs and Patriots “have been the most aggressive and probably have the most foothold,” Donovan said. New England has some advantages, he added, ”because they’ve been there longer and they have some German players and German radio and things like that."

    New England saw a surge of interest after selecting German offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer in 2009. They began pushing German content into the country, and for a while the Super Bowl titles kept coming, all coinciding with NFL games airing weekly on free TV network ProSieben. The league switched to the bigger RTL starting this season.

    “I would say we are the No. 1 (team) or we have been for many, many years," said Joe Dorant, the Patriots senior director of business development for the region, "but obviously we’re running up against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are doing really well right now and their popularity is soaring.”

    All six of New England’s Lombardi trophies will be on display for fans and photos at “Patriots Haus” downtown and alumni will be greeting the locals.

    But competing with Swift?

    “I don’t think we can,” Dorant said. “The only thing we can do is show the German people what the Patriot way is. We’ve been successful for many, many years — for a 20-year span. No other team can say that.”

    Kansas City already had the fastest-growing Instagram and TikTok engagement in Germany among NFL teams and that was “pre-Taylor,” Donovan said. Among the five teams in the market, the Chiefs have the most Instagram followers on their German account, but the Panthers have the edge on TikTok.

    “I don't know at this point if she’s going to Germany or not,” Donovan said of the 12-time Grammy-winning superstar.

    Kelce is sure to face questions about Swift from the locals. After all, Brady was grilled about his personal life after his divorce from supermodel Gisele Bündchen; a TV producer also presented Brady with Bavarian lederhosen.

    Who knows what awaits Kelce in Germany.

    The other football

    Teams have hired German agencies and advisers to facilitate deals, and the Chiefs' sponsorship agreements include fast food and pet food. But they didn't need help figuring out they can gain visibility through Germany's top sport: soccer.

    Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich has more than 40 million Instagram followers, whereas the Patriots are tops in the NFL with 5 million. The Chiefs' German account is just under 46,000.

    While the Panthers partnered with Eintracht Frankfurt and New England hosted the German national team in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the Chiefs have linked up with Bayern through the Hunt family-owned FC Dallas.

    “My first intro to Germany came in 1974 attending World Cup games in West Germany,” said Hunt, whose franchise is already preparing to host 2026 World Cup games at Arrowhead Stadium. “We're looking forward to this trip and showcasing the best of Chiefs Kingdom.”

    Run it back?

    The Panthers and Falcons would figure to be next in line for a game in Germany. It is slated to host one game next year, which the NFL confirmed Monday will be in Munich, and another one in 2025.

    “We would have no issue with playing a game next year and the year after," the Patriots' Dorant said.

    The Chiefs and Patriots are the designated “home” teams in Frankfurt. The Chiefs are such a big draw that other teams don't want to give up a visit from them.

    “We’d like to be more aggressive in being in the international markets more often,” Donovan said. “Right now, we’d only do it as an away team ideally, or during those years when we have the extra home game.”

    It’s widely expected that the NFL will extend its deal in Germany. The league opened an office in Dusseldorf with a capacity for 25 employees.

    “That’s the idea, to grow into it,” Steinforth said.

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