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Jonas Puck

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Jonas Puck

Researcher of the Month

In­ter­na­tion­al­iz­ing soc­cer: How even small clubs can be­ne­fit

Whichever team you cheer for, soc­cer has al­ways been im­port­ant in Aus­trian so­ci­ety, and espe­cially in re­cent years, it has also be­come a rel­ev­ant eco­nomic factor world­wide. In 2016 alone, the three largest Span­ish soc­cer clubs had a turnover of more than € 1.5 bil­lion, and the Ger­man Bundes­liga ex­ceeded € 3.5 bil­lion. Clubs gen­er­ate sub­stan­tial amounts of their rev­enue out­side their home coun­tries. WU pro­fessor Jonas Puck, Head of the In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness, has been in­vest­ig­at­ing how soc­cer clubs can best develop and im­ple­ment suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion strategies.

In­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion plays a key role in many areas, even in the world’s most pop­ular sport, soc­cer. Even though there are enthu­si­astic soc­cer fans all over the world, only a hand­ful of teams man­age to build up an in­ter­na­tional fan base around the globe. However, a large in­ter­na­tional fan base in­creases the chances of at­tract­ing bet­ter spon­sors, bet­ter ad­vert­ising op­por­tun­it­ies, and bet­ter play­ers. In much of his re­search, WU Pro­fessor Jonas Puck fo­cuses on in­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion. Cur­rently, his em­phasis is on sports, and he is in­vest­ig­at­ing how soc­cer clubs can in­ter­na­tion­al­ize suc­cess­fully. A par­tic­u­lar point of in­terest is how smal­ler clubs can be­ne­fit from the op­por­tun­it­ies offered by in­ter­na­tional mar­kets without los­ing their fo­cus on the sport it­self and their local fan base.

Mar­ket­ing alone is not enough

The res­ults show a num­ber of prom­ising start­ing points for suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion. Among other th­ings, Puck’s stud­ies show clearly that fo­cus­ing solely on the in­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion of com­mer­cial activ­it­ies does not lead to sus­tain­able suc­cess. “The danger here is that clubs in­vest too much in com­mer­cial­iz­a­tion without be­ing sus­tain­ably at­tract­ive to an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket,” Puck ex­plains. Ac­cord­ing to him, it is much more im­port­ant to first in­crease the in­ter­na­tional vis­ib­il­ity of a club and its tal­ent. Op­tions to achieve this in­clude in­ter­na­tion­al­iz­ing the lineup or the trainer team. “ Pre-season matches and train­ing camps abroad can lead to im­proved mar­ket­ing op­tions in other coun­tries, sub­sequently en­han­cing the value of the club and its play­ers,” says Puck.

Chances for small-s­cale clubs

“In­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion is cer­tainly not just for the big-­league clubs. In­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion of­fers op­por­tun­it­ies even for second or third-tier clubs,” ac­cord­ing to Puck. One of the ma­jor chal­lenges fre­quently faced by smal­ler clubs is in­con­sist­ent ath­letic per­form­ance over time. Clubs there­fore might con­sider shift­ing their unique selling point from ath­letic per­form­ance to the cul­ture and char­ac­ter of the club it­self. “Ham­burg’s FC Sankt Pauli is a good example: While their ath­letic per­form­ance is not al­ways out­stand­ing, the club has gained in­ter­na­tional re­cog­ni­tion for its unique, au­thentic cul­ture.” A fur­ther op­tion is nar­row­ing the club’s in­ter­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion fo­cus. “Coun­tries like Ch­ina, In­dia, or the US are on the agenda of nu­mer­ous clubs, which in­creases com­pet­i­tion in these re­gions. Small clubs with a clearly defined niche strategy aimed at spe­cific mar­kets can avoid this com­pet­it­ive pres­sure and profit from more fo­cused in­ter­na­tional activ­it­ies.” Puck’s stud­ies also re­veal nu­mer­ous other ap­proaches small clubs can take to be­come sus­tain­ably more in­ter­na­tional and se­cure their long-term fin­an­cial fu­ture, in­clud­ing part­ner­ships and co­oper­a­tions on dif­fer­ent levels of the value chain.