Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2015/16 - Progress On and Off the Pitch

May marked the end of yet another unbelievable season of football all around Europe; Leicester City defied the odds to win their first ever Premier League title, only three points separated the top three in Spain with Barcelona prevailing on the final day and in Germany, Bayern Munich won their fourth title in a row.

Despite Bayern's title win, the story of the season has to go to the BayArena where Bayer Leverkusen progressed tremendously. Leverkusen have a deep history in German football having been founded way back in 1904 but are one of the few teams still to register a Bundesliga title despite coming close numerous times. However, this could all change in the future as the club has just enjoyed their fourth top four finish in a row -- thanks to an 8-game winning streak at the end of the season -- meaning that the BayArena will be hosting Champions League football once more for 2016/17.

The club is certainly taking huge strides on the pitch thanks to a number of internationals that will be making their way to the Euros and Copa America but it is their off-the-pitch growth that has surprised many. Leverkusen now have nearly 3 million fans on social media, around 17 million video views on Facebook and the brand seems to be expanding faster than ever. This growth is not inside Germany because they have been a household name in their home country for years so where is the sudden increase coming from? The Americas.

The club's Facebook page increased in followers by nearly 20 percent in January alone and the page now has 110,000 fans from the U.S., where their support was previously small, and you don't have to look far to find the reason for this sudden spurt in interest. Messi is the most famous/popular player in the U.S. currently but many believe that second in this list is Javier Hernandez (Chicharito), the Mexican striker. Hernandez endured a tricky few years at Manchester United and despite becoming a fan favorite, he struggled to progress under Louis Van Gaal. After a short loan spell at Real Madrid, he joined Bayer Leverkusen where he has rejuvenated his career and found top form once again. Hernandez finished the season with 17 goals -- behind only Lewandowski, Aubameyang and Muller -- and led the team to third place in the league.

Jochen Rotthaus, Director of Marketing and Communications at Bayer Leverkusen, has said, "Our sporting directors placed Javier on our wish-list three years before we signed him. The drive to get him to Bayer 04 was not only motivated by on-field performance. The rewards of our internationalization efforts that we are seeing through his commitment to Bayer 04 is something we very much appreciate. We have a duty to make the best of this situation and to strengthen the reputation of our club abroad in the best way possible."

"The club and the Bayer 04 Leverkusen brand is always at the forefront of our efforts," he continued. "If one player can help us reach our goals faster, then of course we will work with them to do so and such has been the case with Chicharito. With 700,000 of our 2.8 million fans on Facebook coming from Mexico, it's clear that he's had a great impact, but our professional efforts are contributing to this as well -- if he were to decide to leave the club, it would not change our strategic marketing plan globally that we have been following."

Rotthaus also said that the club realized that Chicharito was having an impact to their online channels very quickly and that the inquiries regarding the player were rushing in thick and fast. He noted how they instantly realized that this would present a number of opportunities as well as challenges.

When asked what the future held for the club, Rotthaus said, "With regards to athletics, Bayer 04 Leverkusen has developed tremendously and is one of the three most successful German football clubs of the last 15 years. We must preserve this and continue to live up to the modern internationalization challenges as they present themselves. This means doing things wisely and strategically off the pitch, such as we have been successfully growing our brand for a year in North America. We are pursuing a similar plan in East Asia, which will also be an important target market for us in the future. In this gigantic, global sports market, it is not easy to get attention and be heard, but we believe in the strength and appeal of our Bayer 04 brand, and we're building a sustainable and highly-professional approach. The response we've seen this far has encouraged us. It's all about getting the platform and attention needed to reach the minds and hearts of football fans and to find a permanent place with them. The second step will be to locate partners that will see Bayer 04 as having the potential to give themselves an added value and decide to use our platform as a sponsor."

There is no doubt that the future is bright for Bayer Leverkusen; they have Champions League football once again next season and they have a number of top players representing their nations at either the European Championships or the Copa America over the next few weeks. It remains to be seen whether the club can build on recent successes both on and off the pitch but once thing is for sure, they are certainly teaching the world a lesson in how to build a brand and how to go about things the right way.