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Continuing on from Part 1, Rahul Warrier spoke to Kevin Sim, Head of Asia Pacific for Bundesliga International, on the league’s focus on Asia.

Is there a big market for Bundesliga in Asia? How does it compare to the other big European leagues?

Absolutely. Football is undoubtedly the number one sport in Asia, and the global game captivates the interest and excitement of the continent. Considering the sheer size of the market, and that the interest in football is exceptionally high and is growing, it is no wonder why so many football clubs and leagues are interested in Asia. In that respect, we are excited about our growth prospects as we believe the Bundesliga is exceptionally positioned to grow here.

The Bundesliga is primed for international expansion thanks to the strong financial standing – the league is the second highest revenue amongst the top five European leagues, having crossed the €4 billion mark in terms of revenues, and 34 of the 36 clubs (Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga) have positive EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation). More importantly, we have achieved this without selling out our unique identity in search of growth, and majority Bundesliga clubs remain owned by fans.

We have a strong pan-regional partnership with Fox, and we have been able to further grow our fanbase by complementing this through other digital and social media initiatives. For example, we channel a lot of our efforts on engagement (as opposed to pure reach), and our engagement per fan in Asia is the highest as compared to our competitors on social media channels. On Weibo in China, we have more than 2.6 million followers. In 2018, the Bundesliga was awarded as the number 1 European League in China for the fourth consecutive year.

Last but least, no other league in Europe has been credited with developing and giving opportunities to Asian players, and the Bundesliga is the preferred port of call for many Asian players hoping to make it to Europe, for example, we have no less than eight Japanese players playing in the top division including Japanese stars, Shinji Kagawa and Makoto Hasebe, as well as a host of Korean players including 18-year old Korean starlet Wooyeong Jeong who signed for Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga already possesses a natural affinity to Asia and we will work to further strengthen what is already a strong natural relationship to the Asian fans.

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How have the recent changes in coverage increased the league’s popularity in Asia, after new TV deals in India and the Far East (with Fox)?

Thanks to our partnership with Fox, Bundesliga is now available across every country in Asia and is further enhanced by local broadcasters such as SkyPerfectTV (Japan), PPTV (Thailand), JTBC (Korea) Hang Meas (Cambodia). We are also increasingly available through digital platforms like PP Sports in China, Hotstar in India and ON.CC in Hong Kong, and this has allowed us to grow strongly across Asia.

How do tournaments such as the International Champions Cup help to spread the Bundesliga brand beyond Europe? Bayern’s strategy in Singapore in 2017 was seemingly well thought out. Dortmund have their own office in Singapore too.

Fans naturally want to watch their favourite teams and players live, so the International Champions Cup has helped Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund play more regularly globally in US, Asia, Oceania and Europe, and certainly this has helped Bundesliga grow and engage with our fans.

Unique to the Bundesliga, due to our structure, we work very closely with our clubs to offer our fans and media in Asia more access to engage with the clubs and our players. Thanks to Bundesliga and our clubs having regional and local offices in the region, this has allowed us to better coordinate our efforts, and we are now stepping up by bringing more legends and the Meisterschale as well as the Bundesliga experience to different countries more regularly, as well as teams to visit or play matches in Asia.

Having offices and personnel in-market also helps to enhance our digital engagement in Asia, by better understanding their interests and habits, which in turn allows us to build a closer relationship with our fans in Asia. This strategy is paying off i.e. in China with winning renowned Mailman’s Red Card Award. We will tap on the local knowledge and presence to further intensify our localisation and digital efforts by collaborating with local digital media to better serve the local football fan.

How do you plan to compete with the Premier League’s popularity in the region?

Each league has its own DNA and appeal so we don’t see ourselves in a race with any other league. We believe the Bundesliga is truly unique and is the most authentic league for fans of the game. We stand by our mantra, “Football As It’s Meant To Be” with most clubs “owned” by fans, where football is available and accessible to everyone – young, old, men, women and across all race and religious beliefs, and football is a common thread that connects us to our family and values, something that is important and widely cherished by Asians.

The Bundesliga and Germany have rich football cultures, and each of our clubs has a strong, distinct fan culture and passionate fan base. With packed stadiums, the most goals scored amongst top European leagues, and heavy investment and focus on youth and technical skills, the Bundesliga continues to be the most exciting and innovative league. We are confident these characteristics resonate strongly with our fan base here in the region, and provide a great platform for us to build new relationships as well.

The Bundesliga was the first league to set up a regional office outside of Europe and Singapore serves as the regional headquarters for Asia Pacific, and we will be opening our China office by early next year, to build closer relationships with our partners and important stakeholders in the region, but most importantly to build a closer relationship with our fans in the region.

We are working hard to better serve our fans by bringing more on-ground experiences to the region, such as Bundesliga Legend tours or public viewings, and by increasing our digital activations with our partners, by offering more localised content on Bundesliga and our clubs.  

This is further enhanced by our clubs like Bayern, Wolfsburg and Dortmund who already have offices in the region, and we are working closely with them to collaboratively increase our presence and allow fans to better understand the distinctive and authentic football culture that German football has to offer.

One fact is certain: the Bundesliga are keen to continue their growth outside of the country. If they cannot compete with the Premier League in a traditional sense, their model provides much more value elsewhere to the fans. The unpredictability in the league (barring the title race) makes it all the more compelling; they now need strong showings in European competition to back it all up. It’s an exciting time for the league. If you’re looking for entertainment in football, it’s best to follow the Bundesliga.