Appealing to the modern football fan, particularly in Asia, goes far beyond just selling broadcasting rights to the highest bidder, according to Robert Klein, CEO of Bundesliga International.
In today’s market, the very notion of fans watching an entire football match for 90 minutes is far from certain, he says, and especially so in Asia because it’s mobile first and well connected across most of the region.
“That means the fragmentation of the market has probably come even quicker,” he explains. “As a rights holder, but also as a content developer, you’ve got to look very carefully at what that means from a revenue perspective, for brand building, and how you deliver your product.”
For Bundesliga, that decision-making is grounded in data, which Klein says is the central tenet to the league’s strategy in growing its already large Asian fan base – they have had boots on the ground in the region since 2012 but had broadcasting deals for many years longer.
“Most importantly, we’re talking about new and potential fans, and where to find them,” he outlined. “So we’re starting on a data-driven road that we will continue on, although we know there’s an emotional product in football, of course.”
That road consisted of establishing Bundesliga International in July last year, with an APAC regional office in Singapore. As part of it, Klein said the organisation has created a business intelligence unit to better understand and connect with the many disparate Bundesliga fans across different Asian countries that frankly, Klein admits, they didn’t know they had.
“There is a lot of competition [from other football leagues] and we need to bring the Bundesliga consistently to the fans here,” he says. “Most of them may not want to watch an entire match, particularly if the timing is difficult. So it’s about how you tell that story straight after or before the game.
“In any given market, we will have a structure planned over a season, to try and feed the Asian Bundesliga fan with the right content.”
With such a compelling product at its disposal, Klein said Bundesliga International is focused on providing all forms of digital content around the German football clubs that go beyond just the matches. Most importantly, though, it must be locally relevant to each Asian market individually, and Klein says having more local Asian language content is just the start.
Of course, having direct links to certain Asian nations helps, such as Japan, which has seen a steady stream of Japanese players join the Bundesliga for decades.
“If you’ve got six or seven Japanese players like we have, of which six are national team players, and you’re creating products that are relevant to that country, you’re going to be able to tell the story of a weekend, match or even a season, far better,” he says.
The obvious way to connect more with Asian fans is live events with the clubs and players, and Klein says there has been significant movement on that front in the region. However, he also warns of being seen as a transient brand, which is where the content and digital engagement comes in.
“It’s not just that the Bundesliga has come and disappeared again, it’s the constant message and connection,” Klein says. “We have a lot to play with in terms of marketing, digital content, bringing the clubs closer to fans through events and storytelling.”
A potential blueprint is Bundesliga’s success in China, where it is the most popular football league online. Klein attributes this to the league’s foresight in getting on WeChat and Weibo ahead of the others and building huge communities through targeted digital engagement.
“If you take that and apply it to an Indonesia or Vietnam you’ll get the thinking of what we’re trying to do. What we end up doing may be quite different, but we have the ability to do it,” he says.
The targets are ambitious and progress is already underway, says Klein. But of course, there are always potential game-changers that could mean a sharp adjustment of the Bundesliga’s carefully laid plans.
“It only needs a club to get a player from a certain country to change the direction,” he says.