LaLiga’s decision to host league games in the United States was received to mixed fanfare. As modern football evolves, so does the need to engage with overseas fans in far-flung nations, where the biggest European clubs retain a massive following. To disengage with the local fans, those that attend home and away all season, in the desire to engage with fans mainly in for the individuals rather than the team may seem counter-productive. And yet it may be the future of football.
Regardless of the benefits to the league’s brand, there is no doubt that having a league game triggers asymmetry in the fixture schedule, but that is only a minor issue in comparison to the treatment of the fans. To marginalise those that sustain the domestic game is a major risk played, especially when you take into account the need to bring teams big enough to generate interest overseas. With Real Madrid opposing the idea, and several smaller teams unlikely to be welcome to the idea in account of unhappy ideas, Javier Tebas, the La Liga chief, has a battle on his hands.
Head eastwards though, and you have a league that is run in stark different to its competitor. In the rush for global popularity, the Bundesliga might be LaLiga’s main rival behind the Premier League. Football Chronicle had the pleasure of speaking to Kevin Sim, Head of Asia Pacific for Bundesliga International.
LaLiga’s decision to host games in the USA has divided opinion. What are your thoughts on that, and is that a path you see other leagues (and potentially the Bundesliga) following some time down the line?
Conceptually I understand why LaLiga is keen for such a move as it will help to expand internationally and commercially would open up new markets, such as the United States and Mexico. The Premier League had similarly attempted a decade ago to hold a “39th game” outside of the UK. Both have resulted in strong, public reactions from multiple stakeholders.
Such a contentious move is complex, and any decision would typically require long and careful discussion and buy-in from each and every stakeholder, from clubs, players, UEFA, FIFA. Ultimately, I believe any decision is down to the fans, as moving any games away from its home would dilute the authenticity of the match experience and potentially alienate its own supporters, who pay season tickets and club memberships to support the clubs.
For the Bundesliga, we will stick to our roots and focus on organic efforts to building closer relationships with our international fans, such as by increasing number of club tours, Bundesliga Legend tours and experiences. We will also look to expand on our grassroots efforts, such as football schools, academies and clinics that will grow interest in football and our unique football culture, and enhance that by increasing our digital outreach efforts.
What do you think about the upcoming Bundesliga season?
The start of Bundesliga season is always exciting as it’s a fresh start for all teams fighting for the title. Bundesliga matches are always exciting thanks to our fans – with low ticket prices, standing terraces meaning all matches are played before the highest average attendances of any professional football league. That creates a thrilling and breath-taking atmosphere and I do not expect any less for the upcoming season.
Other than packed stadiums, the Bundesliga also has the most goals scored amongst top European leagues. The reason for this is our clubs’ strong investment and focus on youth and technical skills, which is why the Bundesliga continues to be the most exciting and innovative league.
Bundesliga is undoubtedly home to the world’s top young talent, and there is a long pipeline of exciting young, wonder-kids to watch: Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz and Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Timo Werner (RB Leipzig), Christian Pulisic, Julian Weigl and Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Joshua Kimmich, Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka (Bayern) and World Cup star Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart). The list goes on.
In recent years, Bundesliga is also developing attacking football and is a fertile breeding ground for exciting new football ideas, evident from the attractive football played by Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, as well as Europe’s youngest and up and coming coaches Julian Nagelsmann and Domenico Tedesco. Naturally, top billing matches, like Der Klassiker and the Revierderby, also garner huge interest and excitement of German and international football fans alike.
Does Bayern’s continual dominance of the league and the domestic transfer market hinder the league’s popularity? It’s a bubble where the race for second is much more intriguing. Can anyone challenge them on and off field?
All great teams go through cycles of success and failure, and Bayern has seen a lot of success in recent years thanks to Jupp Heynckes, Carlos Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, so it will be interesting to see if Bayern can defend its title, who are undergoing a transition, with new coach Niko Kovač.
In that respect, Dortmund enjoyed a fantastic start to the season under highly respected coach Lucien Favre, who won three ‘Coach of The Year’ awards as he led Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach to success before heading to France. Favre is known for attractive football and has brought out the best from talented players and was credited for bringing Marco Reus through the ranks and revitalizing Mario Balotelli – so it will be exciting to see how far he can bring a youthful but talented Dortmund team.
Hoffenheim, Schalke, together with Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig will likely be the ones challenging Bayern and Dortmund for the title and there is always one team challenging the established one as a surprise, maybe Wolfsburg or Mönchengldabach can also play important roles throughout the season.
That wraps up Part 1 of the interview. Keep an eye out for Part 2, which looks at the Bundesliga’s focus on Asia.