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Over Beers With Fans, Bayern Munich Delivers a Personal Touch

Bayern, as ever, is in the vanguard. In recent years, it has become a commercial juggernaut. It rakes in more money from commercial activity than any other club in the world, apart from the Qatari-backed Paris Saint-Germain, and it has established satellite offices in New York and Shanghai to press its interests far from its home base in Bavaria.

That success, and that reach, are sources of great pride. Two days before Müller’s trip to Waging, Bayern held its annual general meeting. It reserved the Audi Dome — the home of Bayern’s basketball team — for the occasion.

For what was, essentially, a board meeting, the attendance was stunning: As many as 6,000 Bayern members were in the arena, with another couple of thousand in a tent outside. Red banners, the sort on show at Bayern’s soccer home, the Allianz Arena in Munich, were draped over the railings. Half the audience arrived dressed in replica jerseys.

Most were there to restore Uli Hoeness, the man many see as the father of all that Bayern has become, to his post as president after he served a jail term for tax evasion. Bayern, like most German clubs, is mostly fan-owned. Members can vote on all appointments. This, though, is a distorted democracy. Hoeness was the only candidate for president. He was duly voted in.

More than that, they had come to marvel at the scale of the club they support. For three hours, various Bayern figures ran through the financial data for the year: the number of members signed up, the amount of money raked in from shirt sales and TV deals. Pie charts and revenue graphs flashed on a big screen. Each one drew a gasp of appreciation. Some earned a round of applause.

It was an evening for the church of Bayern to celebrate the empire the club has built, the lands conquered, the people converted, the spoils won. It was Bayern, the corporate behemoth, laid bare, deservedly crowing about its wealth and its reach.

Nor is it about to stop. Bayern’s drive for growth is relentless. With America and China scouted, the club is now planning an expansion into Latin America. It has toured China in preseason, where its every game is shown live on CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, and it spent last summer in the United States.

Increasingly, Müller’s assertion — that the two things people across the world associate with the modern Germany are “Oktoberfest and Bayern Munich” — rings true.

“The club’s goal is to be all over the world,” he said.

That all of those fans at the Audi Dome — like those packed into the Strandkurhaus — do not feel alienated by that inexorable ambition, though, says much about the club. Supporters in England, especially, regularly complain that their teams overlook them as they seek to exploit newer, more lucrative markets across the world.

That is not a charge often leveled at Bayern, and Müller’s trip to Waging illustrates why. Every year, the club holds a lottery for about 3,000 fan clubs across Germany and Austria. Some 30 are chosen to receive a visit from a player, a coach or a member of the board, on a convenient weekend before Christmas.

So while Müller was howling with laughter at the fan film in Waging, defender Mats Hummels was in a village near Nuremberg, and the Polish striker Robert Lewandowski was in a different one outside Ingolstadt. Other teammates had fanned out across the country.

Müller is the most appealing — “He is the player every fan club wants to visit them, because he is from Bavaria, and because of what he is like,” Hohenrein said — and while he embraces the visits, some club newcomers, he admitted, find that getting used to them takes a bit of time.

“If you are from Spain or Brazil or wherever, maybe at first you say, ‘I have to do what?’” he said.

But they all go with the same message: that no matter how big Bayern becomes, or how far and wide it spreads, its roots remain here, in its heartland. “For me, it is important we are a local club,” Müller said.

“Every Bayern fan is a part of the club, but we have to take care of our fans here, not to forget them on our way to becoming international. It is important Bayern keeps that. It is the same with Oktoberfest, when we have the photo shoot with the lederhosen. These are the things that make the club special.”

If he has to give up an afternoon to strengthen the bond between the club and its place, he does not mind. The chance to laugh at Philipp Lahm? That’s just a bonus.

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