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

Patriots

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 Deutsche Bank Park is illuminated.
The Deutsche Bank Park is illuminated on occasion of the invasion in the Ukraine prior to a German Bundesliga soccer match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich in Frankfurt, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. AP Photo/Michael Probst, File

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 which have mostly maxed out domestically. The league says it has 18 million casual fans — that would be roughly one in five residents of Germany — and 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 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 like they do in their home markets.

For Kansas City, life is good. They’re the defending Super Bowl champion. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the reigning MVP. Travis Kelce is having another big season. Oh yeah, the tight end also appears to be in a relationship with global megastar Taylor Swift, which only adds to the buzz.

“It’s perfect timing for us as a franchise and we’re going to be very aggressive in taking full advantage of that,” Chiefs President Mark Donovan said of the team’s overall momentum.

The Chiefs have spent $1 million in preparation and fan events for Frankfurt, Donovan said.

The team is docking a Chiefs-themed yacht in the Main River for fans to board and get a selfie with the Lombardi trophy from their 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.

“We definitely want to be No. 1 in Germany” and elsewhere, he said.

New England saw a surge of interest after selecting German offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer in 2009. They began pushing German content into the country. 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, but obviously we’re running up against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are doing really well right now and their popularity is soaring,” said Joe Dorant, the team’s senior director of business development for the region.

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 Taylor 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.

Kelce is sure to face questions about Swift from the locals. Brady was grilled about his personal life following his divorce from Gisele Bündchen. A TV producer also presented Brady with Bavarian lederhosen.

Who knows what awaits Kelce.

Teams have hired German agencies and advisers to facilitate deals — 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. The Patriots are tops in the NFL with 5 million. The Chiefs’ German account is just under 46,000.

The Panthers partnered with Eintracht Frankfurt, the Bundesliga club that plays in Deutsche Bank Park.

New England hosted the German national soccer team in Foxborough. The Chiefs have linked up with Bayern through the Hunt family-owned FC Dallas.

Run it back?

The Panthers and Falcons would figure to be next in line. Germany is slated to host one game next year — the NFL confirmed on Monday it will be in Munich — and one in 2025.

The Patriots hope to play in Germany as often as possible.

“We would have no issue with playing a game next year and the year after — however many games that they ask us to play,” 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 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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