There is a soccer club based in Germany that boasts a global fan base, songs made about them, and rock artists wearing their shirts on stage while performing at festivals, but this is not Bayern Munich or even newly popular darlings, Borussia Dortmund. The club isn’t even in the Bundesliga, the top-flight of the German soccer pyramid. The club hasn’t played in the top division since 2002. Instead, club currently applies its trade in the second tier 2.Bundesliga, playing in a moderate stadium in Hamburg. The club called Fußball-Club St Pauli von 1910 e.v., better known as FC St. Pauli, has become popular through its associations with the alternative rock and punk scene worldwide, espousing a club culture that is as anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist. Despite the club’s moderate success on the field, the club is widely recognized for having a distinctive culture and has developed a large popular following as one of Germany’s “Kult” clubs.
It all began in the 1980s when the club decided to embrace an image that was associated with the club’s location near the Reeperbahn area of Hamburg’s dock area. The club embraced the scene that surrounded them in the St. Pauli district, developing a brand image that embraced the alternative, left-leaning politics, and social activism. Furthermore, they adopted a rebellious, outlaw symbol for their unofficial club emblem, the skull and crossbones, a symbol associated with the St. Pauli district’s Baltic pirate past. The club was also the first German club to officially ban right-wing activities and hooliganism. With the club’s matches essentially turning into must attend events with a raucous, protest party atmosphere, St. Pauli has gone from having crowd averages of 1,600 in 1981 to selling out their stadium of 20,000 by the 90s. They are one of the few clubs outside the major ones in Germany with a 100% attendance rate, filling the stadium with the sounds of AC/DC, and celebrating goals by playing Blur.
FC St. Pauli has been able to market its club’s brand and ideology s into a popular club beyond the borders of Germany. Rock and punk bands around the world have embraced and partnered with the club essentially as “brand ambassadors,” such notable bands as the Dropkick Murphys, the Gaslight Anthem, and Turbonegro. Popular punk rock band, Bad Religion even plays at charity matches for the club, when they’re not busy playing festivals. Even other global brands, such as Nike, have sought to partner with the club to access the network of fans that the club can influence. In Nike’s case, they partnered with St. Pauli to make commemorative shoes. St. Pauli has been able to cultivate a strong brand image by adopting an ideology that they have firmly held onto, going so far as being the first club in Germany to integrate a set of Fundamental Principles, to dictate how the club is run, going beyond just the soccer, with its members frequently participating in demonstrations across the city. The brand that the club has cultivated by presenting a strong message has given it a fan base greater than a number of Bundesliga clubs, with fan groups around Europe, the U.K., and the U.S.