FEATURES INTERVIEWS

TALKING TO SURESH LETCHMANAN, BORUSSIA DORTMUND’S MANAGING DIRECTOR FOR ASIA

Talking to Suresh Letchmanan, Borussia Dortmund’s Managing Director for Asia, on all things Bundesliga and its popularity in the region.

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Borussia Dortmund are currently flying high in the Bundesliga, leading the league and playing attractive football under the guidance of new coach Lucien Favre. In addition to their on-pitch successes, BVB have also made major strides off the field, with their ambition of becoming a major player in the Asian market. The German giants recently entered into a partnership with seven-time Thai League champions Buriram United – widely considered to be the strongest team in South-East Asia – in a move that should have major benefits for both parties. In light of this event, Football Chronicle had the chance to speak to Dortmund’s Managing Director for Asia, Suresh Letchmanan.


Dortmund has been making an effort to expand into South-East Asia, as this partnership follows the opening of an office in Singapore. What makes this region an interesting prospect for your club?

The launch of our Singapore office in 2014 was the club’s first representative office outside Germany and we remain proud of it. Since then, we had regularly flown former players to make appearances and host training camps within the region, while the first team have also made trips to Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and China in the past few years. We also made further inroads to establish club/youth corporations in Malaysia, China, Singapore, Japan and Thailand, while also entering into a partnership with both Bangkok Airways and MIAT Mongolian airlines as we continue to set footprints within the region.

South-East Asia is a region with so much untapped potential – football is number one in many countries, and interest in the Bundesliga and Borussia Dortmund in particular continues to grow from strength to strength. We have been blown away by the support we have received on our travels here to play in pre-season games and most recently with our legends team against Buriram United. This very much demonstrates our commitment to growing and further developing our BVB brand in these markets.


What makes the Thai League and specifically Buriram United an attractive business partner?

Thai football as a whole is developing at an incredible pace and the success of the local league and the national team has been a major factor behind this. Top clubs such as Buriram United and Muangthong United regularly play in front of full houses while the league sponsorship partners such as Toyota and Chang have opened new financial opportunities for clubs, owners and players.

Our partnership with Buriram United reflects our belief that both clubs can work together and continue to grow both on and off the field. Buriram United, like BVB, are leaders in their field, renowned for their history, strong sense of community and relentless pursuit of excellence.


What are the similarities between Dortmund and Buriram United in regards to youth development and appeal to fans?

Both teams have a similar philosophy in development as far as the use of technology, sports’ science and management in their youth programs, while also working hard with their local communities to promote the clubs’ values by trying to play attractive open and attacking football.

The clubs have also built very strong fan bases around our hometowns. At our Signal Iduna Stadium, the “Yellow Wall” is the largest grandstand in Europe (25,000) and average attendance for our home matches are one of the highest in the world. The club and Bundesliga as a whole are huge advocates in making football as accessible as possible to the fans – tickets for the “Yellow Wall” are €15 per match. Every matchday, Borussia Dortmund fans follow a ritual. They gather at the city centre, discuss football over beer binging and start walking towards the Signal Iduna stadium. During the walk — which takes around half an hour — the hue of yellow and black, the club’s colours, gets prominent [as their] chorus louder. Club flags unfurled and beer pints still in hand, emotions run high as kick-off approaches. It’s goosebumps by just talking about it.

Buriram United is the best supported team in the Thai League and boasts its own hardcore fans, “GU12” (the 12th Man). Home matches are played at the affectionately known “Thunder Castle” in front of a full house and outside the ground on match days, there is vast open space where families picnic and friends gather for pre-match beers. We had this experience recently during the legends match to see the fans cheering not just for their own team but also cheering for BVB. It was spectacular.


What kind of tangible outcomes can we expect to see come out of this partnership?

The clubs will work together to develop players at youth level. Starting from U9 and going up to U19, the clubs will discuss ways to develop youth players and give them the opportunity to press for places in the senior teams. With this deal in place, young players from Buriram United will also have the opportunity to become involved in exchange programs and experience life at a top professional, European club. Local coaches will also benefit from the partnership as we look into sharing our BVB philosophy, technical expertise and knowledge.  


How do you see Dortmund’s position changing in the Thai market as a result of this deal?

We have close to six different partners in Thailand alone and this partnership with Buriram United further indicates our commitment and desire to have Thailand as our biggest market in South-East Asia. Our Asia representatives are in Thailand on a monthly basis, to have touch points and remain close with our existing partners, including the sports and footballing authorities. Apart from expanding our commercial reach, our other objectives are also to work and interact closely with our fan club in Thailand who are doing an amazing job to promote BVB in the market as well as to share our BVB DNA, and youth philosophy to schools and universities on a regular basis, emulating what BVB has done in Germany with our youth programmes.


How are the club’s expansion efforts aligned with the Bundesliga’s larger strategy to build a global reputation among football fans?

We are constantly working with the Bundesliga in and around all our activities in Asia and we are pleased that they have also an office here in Singapore. We connect on a regular basis and keep each other updated on our plans and efforts to establish further visibility of the league and the BVB brand in the region. I’m confident to say that we have seen a huge increase of following for BVB in the last four to five years as we can see more people wearing the black and yellow shirts on the street and attending our viewing parties, which we organize regularly here in South-East Asia.

BY GIAN CHANSRICHAWLA