Bundesliga: Aiming To Be Number Ein On The Pitch and Ubersee


Bundesliga: Aiming To Be Number Ein On The Pitch and Übersee

Germany's top football division Bundesliga is making bigger inroads into Asia, promising fanbase proximity and superior digital content. But is it enough to catch up with rival leagues? We speak to Bundesliga International CEO Robert Klein.

Die Mannschaft, the German soccer team has won more World Cups than both England and Spain combined but the Bundesliga cannot match the interest and passion amongst Asian fans for the Premiership and La Liga.

The English Premier League, is without question, the most popular league amongst fans in Asia, maintaining a dominant grip on popularity and television audiences for many years.

Spain’s La Liga, meanwhile is, inching closer; it produced the most Champion League winners in recent memory. This as the joy of Spanish football is heavily promoted through the league’s increasingly international outlook that help establish pockets of passionate fans around the world.

About one in five - or 188 million - chooses Bundesliga as their top league

But the order of top flight may set to change with the Bundesliga injecting some of its German methodological precision into marketing its brand of football to a wider audience.

“There are about one billion football fans in Asia. Over half of them surveyed by our intelligence unit say they are interested in the Bundesliga,” says Robert Klein, CEO of Bundesliga International.

“And about one in five - or 188 million - chooses Bundesliga as their top league,” he adds, underscoring the German league is not far behind in terms of preference among football aficionados.

Fans are, after all, the reason why brands invest in sponsorship and the undeniably lucrative but competitive Asian market, has the spending power to boot.

Bundelisga International CEO - Ready To Take Growth to Another Level

Set up in 2017, Bundesliga International is responsible for growing the elite league globally through the sale of media rights, sponsoring, licensing and digital services.

In short, it has to drum up Bundesliga’s appeal in new markets - although the effort is largely seen as playing catch up to other leagues that has taken a crack at Asia. (La Liga even started scheduling selected matches in lunchtime kick-off to catch viewers in Asia – a move that has angered some Spanish fans)

The Bundesliga, however, says Klein has what it takes to promote the brand further internationally.

“We have a brilliant sporting product, there is great excitement and we have the ability to tell the story around it.”

We have a brilliant sporting product, there is great excitement and we have the ability to tell the story around it

It has some achievements to back its ambitious goal to become the number one football league internationally.

The Bundesliga prides itself in producing the most goals amongst the ‘big five’, indicating of how exciting the matches can be.

The number of Asians who have played in the German divisions over the years is more than any other European leagues - seen helpful in creating stronger resonance among Asian fans.

German clubs also attract the highest average attendance in world football; its ability to connect with their fanbase is enviously desired by other clubs. “There is very close proximity and authenticity between the fans and the clubs,” says Klein.

But how can Bundesliga take the domestic fan-friendly identity across the world, make the games accessible and consumed in an exciting way?

Through offering more digital, localised content, says Klein.

“We do live production. We do digital production. We do data innovation and solutions for second screen. Everything is at our hands to create storytelling that we want for different regions and territories.”

“The important thing is to understand your fan base and not treat it all as one,” says the Swiss-based Klein, formerly head of global media rights at Red Bull Media House.

Bundesliga Expanding Localised Content to Build Emotional Connection Among Fans

Market-to-market approach cannot be overemphasised in a fragmented Asia. “We have identified the target market - where they are and what are their habits. And we have all these knowledge to serve them the content pieces they want,” says Klein.

You may want to watch the 90 seconds highlight, or the best shots, the goals, the assists - we have the technology that allows us to do that

“At the end of the game, you may want to watch the 90 seconds highlight, or the best shots, the goals, the assists - we have the technology that allows us to do that. You press a button and the content will be delivered to you.”

And then there is language. While football has often been seen as a universal game, the English Premier League brand, for its entertaining ways and superstar players, has had the upper hand through a language where fans, journalists, pundits are able to better read and understand.

This is why Bundesliga will be ramping up content in localised languages.

“So when we come to Malaysia, the content cannot just be English; it has to be in Bahasa Melayu too, so that the fans feel an emotional connection and are able to follow it much better,” says Klein.

“To get their attention, the only way (to do it) is to make sure you have compelling content and deliver it where and when they want them. Then, you can start engaging. It has to be more than just the live (game).”

Bundesliga To Foster Stronger Relationship with Asian Football Leagues, Clubs

The employment of varied strategies, including increasing physical presence through events, tours and partnerships, will give fans more opportunity to familiarise with the Bundesliga and its clubs.

And the league is sparing no expense to increase its presence in Asia.

In March, the Bundesliga opened up its first office in China. Late 2018, the league signed a strategic partnership with India’s IMG Reliance to develop and promote football at the grassroots level -  an entry point to build loyalty among young fans.

It also allows the Bundesliga to position itself as the natural destination for future talents that will emerge in India, China and Southeast Asia even.

A stronger German flavour, being closer to its fanbase, combined with the use of technology to produce targeted content may help the Bundesliga strengthen its appeal, but can it bring the absorbing excitement audiences yearn in a game?

At the end of it all, as much as football is about substance on the pitch - which all the three leagues have - it is also about communicating and reaching out to build emotional connections with fans. 

“They have not been where they used to be,” Klein comments on the Bundesliga’s performance in recent years. For the 2018/2019 Champions League, German clubs didn't make it past the last-16. “But we don’t think it will be too long (before we return to form).

“We have talented teams with the mix of superstars and youth (players) and already this year’s performance was better than last year’s,” says Klein.

He may be right; there is a renewed sense of exhilaration in Germany’s top division, often deemed as boring as there was no real competition against Bayern Munich - until now.

It appears the 2018/2019 title race will go down to the wire as a revitalised Borussia Dortmund is giving the six-time defending champions a run for their money - and perhaps, bring enthusiasm back to the league.

But whether the same excitement is felt across the seas, to give Bundesliga a real boost in Asia, remains to be seen.