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Exclusive Interview: The CEO of FC Ingolstadt 04, Dietmar Beiersdorfer, Discusses Effective Leadership in a Football Club.

Roger Hampel

FC Ingolstadt 04 Dietmar Beiersdorfer
FC Ingolstadt 04 Dietmar Beiersdorfer

FOT: Jürgen Meyer / KBUMM // Instagram @juergenkbumm

Dietmar “Didi” Beiersdorfer played for Hamburger SV, SV Werder Bremen, 1. FC Köln, former Serie A-Club AC Reggiana and the German National Team. He won the DFB Pokal, the German Cup, with the HSV and Werder and the German championship with the club from Bremen.

After his career as a player, he finished his studies in economics while already working for KPMG. From there he went to HSV as sporting director and vice president, and he started his career as one of the top managers in soccer business. He signed homegrown players like Heung Min Son, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Jonathan Tah, Josha Vagnoman and Tyler Adams which had a value increase of more than 200 million Euros. Among others, Luciano Spalletti, André Villas-Boas or Martin Jol were coaches on his side and he built teams with players like Hulk, Axel Witsel, Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Daniel van Buyten, Thierry Henry, Vincent Kompany, Mladen Petric or Jerome Boateng.

He established one of the first multi-club structures with Red Bull and led the traditional clubs Hamburger SV and Zenit FC into the UEFA Champions League. Dietmar worked as advisor for several sports start-ups and in the sports science sector. Now he is in charge with FC Ingolstadt 04 as CEO, where the global automotive company Audi AG is one of the shareholders.

Roger Hampel (Founder, Football Business Journal): Dietmar, thank you for taking the time for an interview with Football Business Journal.

Dietmar Beiersdorfer (CEO of FC Ingolstadt 04): Thank you for having me.

Roger Hampel (Founder, Football Business Journal): You work for more than 20 years in leadership positions in the international football business. What drives you? What is your motivation?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer (CEO of FC Ingolstadt 04): I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to work in soccer business. Probably, there is no other environment with such emotionality, speed, changes, and possibilities for development. It is always my claim to improve the club, considering together with my teammates, besides the short-term basis, as well the mid- and long-term prospective, to be successful surrounded by great people with an open mindset and preserve the club’s specific identity. Shaping and observing the development with positive and challenging periods drives and motivates me.

Insights from Multi-club Structure and Traditional Club Success

Roger Hampel: You built one of the first global multi-club structures and you were successful in traditional soccer clubs. Which insights have you gained?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: On the one hand, there is no obvious difference. It’s about being successful on and off the pitch. You want to develop players, coaches, specialists, and further employees, build prosperous teams, and increase values. On the other hand, there are two different frameworks. Within a multi-club structure context there are investors as shareholders and important stakeholders. You can use synergies in several soccer-related and non-soccer related fields and think cross-linked. At the traditional clubs, members and fans have more power. Your focus is on one club. All steps of positive development have to be taken within smaller scope. In principle, you can work successfully in both structures. Having experienced both approaches as a main actor, is tremendously valuable to me.

FC Ingolstadt 04 from a Business Side

Roger Hampel: FC Ingolstadt 04 was playing in the Bundesliga as recently as 2017. You have a rich background in building projects on different levels. How do you plan to apply your experiences to the club’s strategy and operations?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: At FCI we are very ambitious, but we know that we must make progress gradually – nevertheless, as fast as possible. For this we’ve implemented our holistic strategy and performance orientated processes as a fundament. This includes our vision to be one of the 30 best clubs in Germany, our mission to focus on both soccer and our social responsibility for our region and our strategic fields of action. Based on the before mentioned, we defined strategic goals, subgoals and measures. This helps us to structure our processes, have a clear outlook and track our performance.

Roger Hampel: With AUDI AG, one of Germany's leading companies headquartered in Ingolstadt, playing a pivotal role as a partner of FC Ingolstadt 04, could you shed light on how this partnership have influenced the club's development, strategies, and community engagement?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: Our partnership with AUDI AG is not only very important, it is vital for us. In all openness, without the commitment of AUDI AG to professional soccer in Ingolstadt and their support as our shareholder and corporate citizenship partner there wouldn´t and will not exist a solid professional soccer club in Ingolstadt. AUDI AG is a shareholder with delegates in the advisory board. Together with our members and presidium, they are driving forces of the club’s development. We have the joint goal to accomplish a modern, performing club in Ingolstadt, the No. 1 sports and social platform in our region. Aiming to give something back to our city and the whole region, in developing young people, prove diversity and social attitude on and off the pitch, give orientation and take responsibility through our CSR-initiative “Schanzengeber”. We are incredibly grateful towards our shareholder for this support.

FOT: FC Ingolstadt 04 via Instagram / @dieschanzer

Roger Hampel: Could you discuss any significant partnerships or collaborations that have been pivotal for FC Ingolstadt's growth and success?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: I want to name Peter Jackwerth, for sure! The FC Ingolstadt 04 is a young club, having its 20th anniversary today, the 5th of February 2024, what a coincidence… and he was one of the founders, bringing two clubs in Ingolstadt, ESV and MTV, together. He was and is the engine, believing always in the development and success of the club. His personal engagement since years paves the path. But it is also crucial for me to say, that every partner since then was or is an important component for our club.

Roger Hampel: You have mentioned a holistic strategy. Considering the impressive performance of your U19 team, which currently ranks highest among all Bavarian teams, even surpassing Bayern Munich, what is your strategy for integrating this talented youth into the first team?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: We structure and execute the transition from our youth academy to the first team as seamless as possible. Our coaches are strongly connected and discuss the youth players in the spotlight on a regular basis. Although our U19 team played a decent first half of the current season, there is a noticeable difference between practicing and playing in the U19 and in the first team. One decisive aspect is providing the youth players with training time in our first team. Speed of action, physical strength, and fast decision-making under opponent, space, and time pressure are main factors that differentiate youth soccer at the highest level to pro soccer. Integrating highly talented youth players from our academy into our first team roster is one central aspect of our sports strategy and our overall business model as a soccer organization. Ideally, our homegrown players have impact on our first team’s performance, enhance their abilities on and off the pitch, and increase their market value. The latest example is Merlin Röhl, current shooting star at SC Freiburg and Germany U21. Our club provides an exceptional stage for young soccer talents to prepare their next career step in a soccer-focused and ambitious environment.    

Roger Hampel: What is the club's main goal for 2024 and the upcoming years, not only on the pitch, but also off the pitch?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: Our goal is to maintain continuity and gain more stability while improving our performance in each area of the club. We want to be competitive with all our teams at all levels, means especially that we will head back to the 2. Bundesliga, because beside the sportive development and upcoming possibilities, these revenues are very important for us. In any case we need to align our missions “focus soccer” and “social responsibility for our region” without compromise. Therefore, the execution of our initiated strategy process will play a major role during the upcoming months.

The Future of Soccer and Key Elements of Effective Leadership

Roger Hampel: What will be the next game changer in the soccer departments at the clubs?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: Data and scientific approaches become more and more important. You always have to be open for innovative tools and new ways. I’m convinced that AI will have a tremendous effect on scouting, performance, and match analysis. The perfect fit between using smart selected innovative tools and evolved personal or club competency will give clubs a significant advantage in decision making and time. As well off the pitch in bonding people and companies in any kind to the club. As members, sponsors, even as investors. The right mix between technics and personal respectively club attitude and approachability. Despite all innovations – people matter the most!

Roger Hampel: From your experience, what are the key elements of effective leadership in a football club?

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: As I said in the beginning, as a leader of a football club you should be able to understand and internalize a club’s culture and identity. In listening and observing patiently and attentively, you feel the club and you know, where it has been, where it currently stands and in combination with your competencies and experience where and how you need to proceed. Simultaneously, you have to be reliable, inspiring and forward-looking, to take the people on the common path. Of course, professional soccer is tough competition, so you absolutely need a performance culture in all aspects and departments, which is not negotiable. But you also have to convey the joy on your work.

Roger Hampel: Thank you very much for your interview, Dietmar!

Dietmar Beiersdorfer: It was a pleasure, Roger.


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