The “Internationalization” of 1. FC Köln

Believe it or not, this site is not officially affiliated with 1. FC Köln.

Shocking, I know, but it really is just what many would call a “labor of love.”

Therefore, when club president Werner Spinner spends time this week in Indianapolis, I will not be on hand to cover it.

This does not, however, preclude me from spreading the good news of our beloved club continuing to force their way into the US market as a potentially large part of the wider Internationalizierung effort.

Spinner will be in the states to attend the founding of a US-based effzeh fan club in Indianapolis this Thursday. He’s also meeting with NASL club Indy Eleven to discuss marketing ideas, presumably with the potential for future collaboration between the two to come.

Spinner will also talk to people from the soccer programs of Indiana and Butler universities and squeeze in some time with the media, wherever public-relations opportunities may present themselves.

Now, let me get to the question screaming in the heads of some of you the way it did in mine the first time I heard of the chosen entry point for the club into the USA.

“Indiana? WHY INDIANA?!”

First, no offense, Indiana, but hopefully you are reasonable enough to recognize that most are going to see Indianapolis as not necessarily a top choice of city from which to launch national marketing efforts.

That said, Indianapolis and Köln are “sister” cities . . .

Okay, most of us might not generally value such relationships much, if at all, nor would we likely suggest that as a basis on which to make business decisions, but we are also not in charge.

Fortunately, Spinner has other ideas.

“The Football Club Indy Eleven is very young and very interested in an exchange. And ultimately, the Midwest is also a very interesting area with many people and economic potential – even if the region is less well-known here in Germany than the typical tourist areas of the east and west coasts.”

Okay, so it was not the sort of whimsical “Let’s just go with our sister city!” reasoning that might have some snickering at the FC while saying “typical Karneval club!” That’s good, but is that it, Herr Spinner?

“I even lived north of Indianapolis for six years myself,” says Spinner. “So that is also something special for me.”

Ah, I see.

I must admit that one of my concerns with Indianapolis would be the social conservatism that runs rampant in the less-urban areas of the midwestern United States.

As a native of small-town Michigan, I too know the charms and appeal of the people there, but also am aware enough of how there is more than a fair share of the types who would align themselves with those who’ve returned their club memberships in protest of humanitarian aid to refugees or even over the club participation in gay-pride events. Granted, these things go beyond the 90-minutes-per-week of sporting competition the club wants to present to people with the help of the Indy Eleven franchise, but it is worth noting, because the personality of our club as being open to everyone is something that brings us even closer to and prouder of our FC.

Of course, Indianapolis is a city and more-progressive by nature. My own experience and bias says that the same can largely be said of those Americans who’ve opened themselves to the sport we call “soccer.”

Something that might interest those back in Germany is that the Indy Eleven is not a part of the “first-division” league Major League Soccer and can be appreciated as a big-time underdog in the world of soccer in the US.

The North American Soccer League is considered a lower tier, though because there is no genuine pyramid-structure to the US game, nor is there promotion and relegation between leagues, such labels are somewhat misleading. Even so, NASL teams have struggled in our domestic cup competition even against “third-tier” teams of the USL, so any claim to peer-status with MLS franchises would be plainly disingenuous.

BUT . . . the NASL does continue to voice support for the institution of a promotion-relegation system in US Soccer, which is something to which MLS has been 100% averse. If there is any hope of there ever being a nationwide soccer system that looks like those of other nations, it’ll likely emerge from places like Indy Eleven and (sadly) not from the club down the street from my own house, Seattle Sounders.

Just giving you all a rallying point here, in case you need help coming around, because it IS all about the club, isn’t it?

No, potentially partnering with a second-division team in the rust belt is not quite as glamorous as FC Bayern’s New York City offices, nor even quite as eye-catching as Schalke having launched social-media channels dedicated to US audiences, but it does signal the club’s interest in progressing on these shores.

Besides, we are decidedly not FC Hollywood/Madison Avenue, nor can we immediately jump into a head-to-head battle with such clubs today, in any way, shape, or form. A lower-key approach is simply a lot more effzeh-appropriate and realistic.

Because “we occupy an interesting niche. The FC is a club that is both fascinating and special,”  says Herr Spinner in discussing the decision to use a “step by step” approach.

“Being a fan of the FC in the United States is significantly unique, in any case. Anyone can wear a Real (Madrid) jersey . . .”

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