Fernando Carro: Bayer Leverkusen's CEO On Global Branding in Soccer

"That’s the expectation that has been set here and that we set ourselves," Carro says. For the CEO Champions League football is crucial when it comes to having the club represented on a global level.

It was for that reason that Leverkusen's board decided to part ways with head coach Heiko Herrlich last winter. Under Herrlich, the club was in danger of missing out on the top four and ahead of the winter break the club decided to fire the head coach and replace him with Peter Bosz, who had mixed results at Borussia Dortmund.

"It was difficult from a human standpoint, and it was a risk from the sportive standpoint," Carro says. "The final result though underlines that the decision we took was right. Peter Bosz managed to revitalize the team mentally and physically and lead it to a fabulous second half of the season. That is football business."

Signing Bosz was certainly a risk given that the 55-year-old lost control at Borussia Dortmund after a phenomenal start in 2017/18. Carro, however, was quick to point out that the decision was made by the sporting decision-makers. Furthermore, the club looked beyond Bosz's time at Dortmund and liked what they saw from the head coach during his time at Ajax with whom Bosz reached the final of the Europa League in 2017.

"From my perspective, I like his attractive style of play, his leadership, his ability to develop players and create the kind of special ambitious atmosphere that is so important for a teams’ success," Carro said.

A style of play that is also supposed to bring out of young players like Kai Havertz. The talented midfielder is one of the hottest prospects in Europe and has been heavily linked with a move to Bayern Munich but also clubs from England and Spain.

"We are regularly mentioned as one of the top teams in the world in player development, and we’re proud of this history," Carro says. But the CEO was also quick to point out that the club is much more than just about Havertz or even just a development club.

"As for the upcoming season, we’re happy and excited that Havertz will definitely be with Bayer 04, that is what we agreed upon with him," Carro says. As for the future? "You can’t get too much into these kinds of hopes, expectations and guessing about the future in general," Carro says.

For Bayer Leverkusen selling Havertz would without a doubt, generate an incredible financial windfall. But again, Carro is quick to point out that the club is more than one player and that financial growth cannot be achieved through the transfer market alone.

"Our goal is to grow as a club overall, especially to thrive our international recognition, sharpen and strengthen our brand," Carro says. " Naturally, sportive success lifts you up most, and we are eager to play a fantastic season with a high-quality pro team and an ambitious head coach Peter Bosz."

At the same, time, there is a recognition that players can help to grow the brand. Leverkusen saw a sharp increase in their social media growth in North America after the club signed Mexican star Javier "Chicharito" Hernández.

"There’s no question Chicharito helped with the clubs’ push into new markets like North America," Carro says. "It helped Bayer 04 launch and develop social media platforms like Spanish and English Twitter feed as well as increase our English-language video and digital offerings," Carro says.

It is, however, a fine line between sporting decisions and bringing on a player brand. For a club like Leverkusen, the sporting decisions always have priorities over the potential brand value of a player. "A team that signs players for marketing isn’t going to get far – but it’s a nice bonus when players help reach new markets and the key for us as a team is to have the marketing and communications infrastructure in place to take advantage of it," Carro says.

"The sporting side usually makes decisions independent from our business initiatives," Carro says. "But as I mentioned, you need to have the right infrastructure in place to take advantage of sporting success and stars on the field," Carro says.

Hence, signing the right players is not an effective tool on its own to grow Bayer Leverkusen as a global brand. "For us, that means on-the-ground staff working on global initiatives, effective digital platforms - whether it's social, web or video that can reach new markets, relationships with media outlets that cross borders and the ability to bring fans together," Carro says.

It is in that field that Carro believes that his previous experience of working at the media company Bertelsmann will aid Bayer in their growth as a global soccer brand.

"I strongly believe that a modern football club needs two top-level fields of competence: the sporting side and the business side," Carro says. [CEO for sport] Rudi Völler and [sporting director] Simon Rolfes both know the football business from the standpoint of their experience, giving them priceless knowledge," Carro says.

"I can bring in my experience from running big companies, analytical and strategic views, leadership, guidance, economical responsibility etc. – those competencies need to be aligned to be successful," Carro says.

Ultimately, for clubs to be recognized as a global brand, there needs to be a success on the pitch. Leverkusen has never won the Bundesliga, but the club did win the UEFA Cup in 1988 and the DFB Pokal in 1993.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the club came close to winning a title, but four times, in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002, the club missed out on the title. In fact, in 2002 the club finished second in the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Pokal earning the nickname Vizekusen.

"We are competitive," Carro says. "There are not too many teams ahead of us in the Bundesliga. It is all a matter of power, resilience and opportunity. You need to be there if others struggle," Carro says.

For him, it is not necessarily about winning the title in the upcoming season. Instead, the club's growth is about two major goals.

"On the sportive side, we want to qualify for the UEFA Champions League every season, it is as simple as that," Carro says. "On the business side, by now we already belong to the most modern and well-established European Football clubs. But we are very ambitious, seek to improve on a high level and want to position Bayer 04 Leverkusen as a global football brand within the upcoming years," Carro says.

Establishing Bayer Leverkusen as a global brand, therefore, is as much about the work on the pitch than the work in the boardroom. "To achieve these goals, we’ll need to take on different and challenging topics, such as digitalization, internationalization, modern infrastructure and sponsoring," Carro says. If we do our work appropriately, we will very likely be successful," Carro concluded.

Manuel Veth is the editor-in-chief of the Futbolgrad Network, which focuses on football in the post-Soviet space, the Bundesliga and football in the Americas. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth 

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This weekend the Bundesliga will kick off its 57th season. Much of the focus heading into the season has been on the two title favourites Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. But last year's fourth-place team Bayer Leverkusen will be among a pack of teams that will watch out for any potential slip of the top two.

"For Bayer Leverkusen, playing the Champions League is always the goal," Bayer Leverkusen's CEO Fernando Carro says in an interview conducted via email. The former CEO of Arvato and a member of the board at Bertelsmann SE Carro took over the club in July 2018.

"That’s the expectation that has been set here and that we set ourselves," Carro says. For the CEO Champions League football is crucial when it comes to having the club represented on a global level.

It was for that reason that Leverkusen's board decided to part ways with head coach Heiko Herrlich last winter. Under Herrlich, the club was in danger of missing out on the top four and ahead of the winter break the club decided to fire the head coach and replace him with Peter Bosz, who had mixed results at Borussia Dortmund.

"It was difficult from a human standpoint, and it was a risk from the sportive standpoint," Carro says. "The final result though underlines that the decision we took was right. Peter Bosz managed to revitalize the team mentally and physically and lead it to a fabulous second half of the season. That is football business."

Signing Bosz was certainly a risk given that the 55-year-old lost control at Borussia Dortmund after a phenomenal start in 2017/18. Carro, however, was quick to point out that the decision was made by the sporting decision-makers. Furthermore, the club looked beyond Bosz's time at Dortmund and liked what they saw from the head coach during his time at Ajax with whom Bosz reached the final of the Europa League in 2017.

"From my perspective, I like his attractive style of play, his leadership, his ability to develop players and create the kind of special ambitious atmosphere that is so important for a teams’ success," Carro said.

A style of play that is also supposed to bring out of young players like Kai Havertz. The talented midfielder is one of the hottest prospects in Europe and has been heavily linked with a move to Bayern Munich but also clubs from England and Spain.

"We are regularly mentioned as one of the top teams in the world in player development, and we’re proud of this history," Carro says. But the CEO was also quick to point out that the club is much more than just about Havertz or even just a development club.

"As for the upcoming season, we’re happy and excited that Havertz will definitely be with Bayer 04, that is what we agreed upon with him," Carro says. As for the future? "You can’t get too much into these kinds of hopes, expectations and guessing about the future in general," Carro says.

For Bayer Leverkusen selling Havertz would without a doubt, generate an incredible financial windfall. But again, Carro is quick to point out that the club is more than one player and that financial growth cannot be achieved through the transfer market alone.

"Our goal is to grow as a club overall, especially to thrive our international recognition, sharpen and strengthen our brand," Carro says. " Naturally, sportive success lifts you up most, and we are eager to play a fantastic season with a high-quality pro team and an ambitious head coach Peter Bosz."

At the same, time, there is a recognition that players can help to grow the brand. Leverkusen saw a sharp increase in their social media growth in North America after the club signed Mexican star Javier "Chicharito" Hernández.

"There’s no question Chicharito helped with the clubs’ push into new markets like North America," Carro says. "It helped Bayer 04 launch and develop social media platforms like Spanish and English Twitter feed as well as increase our English-language video and digital offerings," Carro says.

It is, however, a fine line between sporting decisions and bringing on a player brand. For a club like Leverkusen, the sporting decisions always have priorities over the potential brand value of a player. "A team that signs players for marketing isn’t going to get far – but it’s a nice bonus when players help reach new markets and the key for us as a team is to have the marketing and communications infrastructure in place to take advantage of it," Carro says.

"The sporting side usually makes decisions independent from our business initiatives," Carro says. "But as I mentioned, you need to have the right infrastructure in place to take advantage of sporting success and stars on the field," Carro says.

Hence, signing the right players is not an effective tool on its own to grow Bayer Leverkusen as a global brand. "For us, that means on-the-ground staff working on global initiatives, effective digital platforms - whether it's social, web or video that can reach new markets, relationships with media outlets that cross borders and the ability to bring fans together," Carro says.

It is in that field that Carro believes that his previous experience of working at the media company Bertelsmann will aid Bayer in their growth as a global soccer brand.

"I strongly believe that a modern football club needs two top-level fields of competence: the sporting side and the business side," Carro says. [CEO for sport] Rudi Völler and [sporting director] Simon Rolfes both know the football business from the standpoint of their experience, giving them priceless knowledge," Carro says.

"I can bring in my experience from running big companies, analytical and strategic views, leadership, guidance, economical responsibility etc. – those competencies need to be aligned to be successful," Carro says.

Ultimately, for clubs to be recognized as a global brand, there needs to be a success on the pitch. Leverkusen has never won the Bundesliga, but the club did win the UEFA Cup in 1988 and the DFB Pokal in 1993.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the club came close to winning a title, but four times, in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002, the club missed out on the title. In fact, in 2002 the club finished second in the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB Pokal earning the nickname Vizekusen.

"We are competitive," Carro says. "There are not too many teams ahead of us in the Bundesliga. It is all a matter of power, resilience and opportunity. You need to be there if others struggle," Carro says.

For him, it is not necessarily about winning the title in the upcoming season. Instead, the club's growth is about two major goals.

"On the sportive side, we want to qualify for the UEFA Champions League every season, it is as simple as that," Carro says. "On the business side, by now we already belong to the most modern and well-established European Football clubs. But we are very ambitious, seek to improve on a high level and want to position Bayer 04 Leverkusen as a global football brand within the upcoming years," Carro says.

Establishing Bayer Leverkusen as a global brand, therefore, is as much about the work on the pitch than the work in the boardroom. "To achieve these goals, we’ll need to take on different and challenging topics, such as digitalization, internationalization, modern infrastructure and sponsoring," Carro says. If we do our work appropriately, we will very likely be successful," Carro concluded.

Manuel Veth is the editor-in-chief of the Futbolgrad Network, which focuses on football in the post-Soviet space, the Bundesliga and football in the Americas. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth 

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