TSG Hoffenheim, FC Cincinnati enter into partnership

The transatlantic soccer agreement will allow the Orange and Blue to collaborate with the German side on and of the pitch.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Miller

Hoffenheim, Germany and Cincinnati, Ohio share similar soccer stories. Both clubs in these cities operate in the shadows of much larger markets and compete against more established counterparts, and both have at some point in their histories made a meteoric rise from a lower division to the top flight in their country. And now TSG Hoffenheim and FC Cincinnati are going to combine their shared experiences and enter into a strategic partnership which both clubs hope will be to their collective benefits.

“Obviously, Cincinnati has a tremendous German heritage, so the opportunity to partner with a Bundesliga club was certainly attractive,” said FCC president Jeff Berding via videoconference call on Friday. “We are a young club. There certainly was interest out there (from other clubs), but we felt confident with the shared values between the two clubs. Their club is so community-driven. They also use innovation and sports science, using data in the front office. That’s an area where we really want to grow.”

Hoffenheim, which has a population around 3,200, is located near the French border, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Frankfurt. TSG Hoffenheim was founded in 1899 but didn’t evolve into its modern form until 1945. It wasn’t until 2008 that Hoffenheim reached the Bundesliga. But in just 28 years, the club went from the eighth tier of German football to the Champions League.

Being such a small village but having to play alongside Bundesliga behemoths such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim had to find any possible advantage it could. Local entrepreneur Dietmar Hopp, a former amateur footballer and founder of software giant SAP, invested heavily in the club. SAP and TSG have been partners since 2013, and since then the club has become a model for technological advancements in world football.

“Hoffenheim is a very small town,” said FCC general manager Gerard Nijkamp, via videoconference call on Friday. “They have to do things different. I think a partnership with FC Cincinnati and Hoffenheim is the right fit because innovation is a driving force in how the two clubs operate. This is a relationship that will be beneficial to both clubs not only on the pitch but also off the pitch.”

This is the first time FCC has collaborated with another top-division club in another country. The partnership envisions that both clubs collaborate in an open-source style framework to advance development and social progress in four areas of focus – knowledge, talent, business and brand/corporate social responsibility. The ultimate goal of the partnership is to build resources, create new opportunities and open up new revenue potentials for both clubs.

“This is an exciting day for FC Cincinnati,” Berding said. “We’re so pleased to have this partnership with Hoffenheim. These are two clubs who prioritize innovation in decision making, both on the pitch and in the front office. We view this partnership as a terrific opportunity to identify new opportunities. We look forward to pursuing joint ventures on the business side and in the community that allow for both clubs to grow and build value not only in their respective markets and countries but also globally.”

With the West End Stadium due to open next year, Berding hopes the partnership with the German side will help create new business opportunities between the two cities. Hoffenheim is known for being a community-minded club that has been at the forefront of social issues. This is something Berding and FCC have promised here, and the club has several initiatives already underway in the West End and other areas of the city.

“They use the platform of soccer to make the world a better place,” Berding said of Hoffenheim. “That’s always been one of our key pillars. There are a lot of similarities in club values. We hope to bring jobs, people, talent and investment to our region. Any time we have the opportunity to promote Cincinnati through FC Cincinnati, we’re certainly going to do that.”

Through this partnership, FCC and Hoffenheim plan to combine efforts to create greater efficiency in both sporting and business operations. Some highlights of the partnership will include a mutual exchange in scouting efforts, a sharing in utilized technology and a reciprocal evaluation of the clubs’ methodologies in philosophy and sports performance.

“We not only wanted to find knowledge and expertise, we wanted to find clubs abroad who could help us develop,” Nijkamp said. “We looked at potential partners. I believe as an organization, we can learn a lot from Hoffenheim with their experience in the Bundesliga, and they too can learn from us as a growing club in Major League Soccer.”

Additionally, the partnership will mutually benefit each organization in terms of talent development opportunities for both players and staff alike. Unique playing and training opportunities will be provided to players from each club, while staff will have opportunities to exchange knowledge on training methods, talent identification and player development.

“This is a very special day, to in my opinion go in the next stage in the development of our beautiful club,” Nijkamp said. “(Hoffenheim) is a club that does things in a different way, that we also want to do. They have 50 players who have come through their academy system to their first team or elsewhere. They have very talented coaches.”

With both clubs having a strong community focus, efforts revolving around social and environmental responsibility within the clubs’ existing framework will be an important element in this partnership. FCC and Hoffenheim, which finished sixth in Bundesliga last year, will look at opportunities to create social responsibility projects and work together to promote social advancement in a number of areas.

”We are delighted to have gained a cooperation partner in the USA’s growing football market,” Hoffenheim managing director Dr. Peter Görlich said. “Many shared values connect us with FC Cincinnati, including a commitment to social responsibility, a clear focus on elite-level sport and a consistently innovative approach. We are striving for a wide-ranging partnership that will not only focus on the football academies and the mutual exchange of innovations but will also bolster our companies with a brand and image exchange.”

And of course, there is the potential for exponential growth for FCC on the pitch as well. TSG Hoffenheim director of football Alexander Rosen indicated in a statement on Friday that there could be player exchange opportunities with this partnership, something Nijkamp eluded to as well.

“Yes, talent identification, not only from FC Cincinnati to Hoffenheim but also from Hoffenheim to our club,” Nijkamp said. “There are also players who aren’t ready to play in Bundesliga, one of strongest leagues in the world.”

”Cincinnati are an innovative club, who are currently building a fantastic new stadium,” said Rosen. “MLS is a highly interesting environment, as more and more young talents from the U.S. are making their mark in the European leagues. I am convinced that we will be able to profit from one another in various different ways. Looking ahead, it is possible that a player exchange between the two clubs may develop.”

Of course, this partnership brings the potential of a future friendly between the two clubs either at Hoffenheim’s 30,150-seat PreZero Arena in nearby Sinsheim or the West End Stadium. Berding said FCC would welcome that opportunity but that no plans were underway for a friendly next season with still so much uncertainty amid the pandemic.

“From the first days, we said we wanted to bring the world to Cincinnati and promote Cincinnati to the world,” Berding said. “This is a great way to promote Cincinnati and our club to Germany and to Bundesliga.”

TSG Hoffenheim, FC Cincinnati enter into partnership
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