Three-quarters of the audience in a football stadium does not understand the moves. And still, they all attend. An essay about the idea that classical music could also be suitable for the masses, as the problem is not because of music’s complexity but through its elitist status. A contribution by Benedikt Stampa who has led the Konzerthaus Dortmund as its managing director and intendant since 2006, turning it into one of Europe’s leading concert venues within a short period of time. Since 2012, Dortmund belongs to ECHO, the consortium of Europe’s most important concert houses. He has also developed path-breaking classical formats such as Junge Wilde, Pop-abo, Zeitinseln, and Exklusivkünstler, all of which are drawing a new generation of public to classical music.
I am a great fan of classical music, and that since my youth. Depending on which stage of life I was in I was magically drawn to the poetry of music, later by its structure, and at some point by the sound and the subtle differences of each interpretation. Later, I also became interested in the uniqueness of the venue where a symphony of Gustav Mahler, or a recital of Frédéric Chopin’s music, was performed. And, to be honest, I always found the stars and interpreters, those who stood between the work and me, as important. Over time I’ve become acquainted with the great interpreters and like any fan I know a lot about them and how they play.
Listening to classical music was and is a part of my life – just as soccer is the eternal obsession of a true soccer fan. A fan can’t live without his match. He grows up with it; perhaps he plays himself, but at the very least he is an observer on the sidelines. And a person who, at some point during his or her youth, held a ticket for the south tribune of the BVB stadium in Dortmund will always be a part of the club and its matches.
The fan as the cornerstone
This is the point where the football-marketing machine comes in. The marketing of football is naturally made up of the entire package. Football is known the entire world over, a game where almost everyone can actively or passively contribute something to it. But the game as such would have never become a global brand or have made its mark on the global market, or have experienced this huge boost, if each club didn’t have its emotional fan base standing behind it. They guarantee the economic cornerstone and the commercial potential for expansion. There’s already a broad corporate consensus to talk about the “love affair” for football. The market uses that to its advantage, and its players are wide-awake.
However, without an appropriate mechanism for marketing, without the commercial globalization of the individual emotions, the game wouldn’t have achieved its dominant position. The success has been well planned and executed.
Now, it is not the case that every football fan is an expert in the matter. In his book “Samstags um Halb Vier – Die Geschichte der Fußballbundesliga” (“Saturday at Half Past Four – the History of the German Football League”) the author and historian Nils Havemann documents the rapid rise of the Bundesliga from its early beginnings up to the current era of the Champions League. Back then hardly anyone could have imagined the extent of how football would develop with business. In fact, there was widespread opposition to the formation of a uniform league with professional clubs. People were worried about the spirit of the sport and the soul of the game. An amateur was regarded as the guardian of good football. Public subsidies were gladly accepted. They guaranteed the league its nonprofit status. Football was also viewed from the point of view of the early endorsers as a “sacred cultural heritage,” which should be protected. Commercialization could only damage it. Even today there are still some clubs that are unable to grow and develop because they aren’t able to successfully merge the market together with subsidies.
The formation of the Bundesliga in 1963 was a first step towards the commercialization and corporatization of football, but it was only through the foundation of the DFL (German Football League) in 2001 that marketing was able to take off properly. From then on the product “Bundesliga” would be centrally marketed. It was able to assimilate resources and develop common strategies. The marketing pillars were the sale of national and international broadcasting rights and merchandising. The DFL created the common platform upon which the joint selling arrangement of rights found its proper place. The big game could begin.
In the time that followed a lot of money was earned and more was spent. A lot was also happening at the European level. The UEFA launched the Champions League in 1992. Initially seen by fans as nothing more than a commercial money machine, today it is a worldwide spectacle that brings millions of viewers together in both the stadiums and on television and has a turnover of billions of Euros. Today, the players from Real Madrid are almost as familiar to German fans as the members of their local home team. The expansion seems, despite numerous crises, limitless.
Commercialization creates interest
It should be noted that, through the commercialization of football over the past years, entire societies have become interested in the subject. Today, it’s impossible not to have football as a part of the general public discourse; it has, according to Nils Havemann, taken its place alongside culture.
The strange thing is that most fans don’t “understand” football at all. 75% of the people go to the stadiums for the experience, rather than for the moves, explains Havemann. They want to see their team; they want to feel the emotional rush of the moment. But who really wants to “read” the game like a trainer? That’s something for experts. In short, the fan knows a lot about football, the players, the statistics, and the background, and yet, grossly exaggerated, they don’t understand the game.
And this is where “classical music” comes into the game. 3% of all households actively take part in concert life. That’s not much, at least when viewed from the market share of football. But 88% of all Germans are interested in concerts, reports a current FORSA survey. This already sounds different.
But what prevents these people from listening to a live concert of classical music, or, in other words, what must I do so that those 88% who are interested become future concertgoers? Put bluntly, we must learn how to make fans out of those who are potentially interested. Tomorrow’s visitors should be emotionally targeted today. Because of this, classical music should be putting more emphasis in creating public awareness. In other words, away with the defensive attitude that classical music is a niche product.
Complicated but not elitist
Of course, a symphony of Bruckner is complicated, and a symphony of Shostakovich is strenuous. We shouldn’t make our “product” easier than it is. We should rise to the challenge of classical music. We shouldn’t degrade ourselves, but instead we should think in broader terms. Holger Noltze adamantly points out this phenomenon in his book “Die Leichtigkeitslüge” (“The Lie of Simplicity”). “Understanding” a complex piece of music in terms of intellectual penetration of is not something that happens immediately. It takes years. One can first have an emotional response to music and then learn how to understand it over time. In other words, classical music is complicated, but not elitist. This apparent contradiction can be resolved if we go into the (common) marketing campaign without betraying that our “product” is classical music.
A football fan doesn’t need to “understand” the game to get excited about it. He achieves satisfaction from the moment, from the unfolding story, the exchanges, as well as the communication before and after the game. His devotion even survives the occasional bad game.
I think there are many parallels between these contrasting worlds. We have only scratched the surface of how we could potentially market classical music. With this digression into the world of football I want to give a nod to how these developments, when placed at the forefront, can be accelerated.
If we understand the mechanics of marketing, if we understand that successful clubs have not sold out football, but instead in the best cases have maintained the brand promise of “true love” (the slogan of BVB Dortmund), we can learn a lot from football. I am a classical music fan and want to share my passion with as many people as possible. 3% is simply too little.
Author/Source: text by Benedikt Stampa, translation by Erik Dorset
Picture showing FIFA World Cup-qualification 2014 Austria vs. Faroe Islands by Commons Wikimedi