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Bayern and BVB lead domestic boom

Ross Dunbar, DüsseldorfFebruary 16, 2015

With its sustainable model and focus on fan engagement, the Bundesliga has become one of the top football brands in Europe. Ross Dunbar reviews the developments in the league from the SpoBis conference in Düsseldorf.

FC Bayern München USA Reise August 2014
Image: picture alliance/augenklick

German football's boom is permeating overseas. According to a recently-published report from the German Football League (DFL), Bundesliga matches can be watched in 208 of FIFA's 209 territories - only North Korea missed out on the league's flagship match between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in October 2014.

Domestically, the Bundesliga continues to be the best-attended league in European football, with each game pulling in 42,609 supporters on average - over 6,000 more than the English Premier League. This means that 90 percent of all available seats at every ground are filled.

The second division – which includes many well-supported clubs like Kaiserslautern, Fortuna Dusseldorf and St Pauli – also enjoyed the highest average attendance of all second-tiers around the globe in the 2013/14 season.

It's that kind of tradition, coupled with atmospheric stadiums that were reshaped by the 2006 World Cup held in Germany, that sets the Bundesliga apart from its European counterparts. Now, everyone wants a slice of the pie – and Germany's top clubs are helping the commercialization process at the DFL.

Bayern breaking barriers

In April 2014, Bayern Munich opened a headquarters in New York City, employing a team of four employees to expand the club's current operations before arranging a glamorous pre-season friendly against the Major League Soccer All-Stars.

Jorg Wacker, Executive Board Member of Bayern Munich and head of the international strategy, told the Sports Business Summit in Düsseldorf recently that it was "important to emphasize that it's a marathon and not a sprint."

In the forthcoming year, Bayern – and the DFL – will shift their attention towards broadcasting, with FOX Sports set to screen the Bundesliga on their international channels with a potential reach of 85 million, another 35 million on top of this season's broadcasters GolTV.

While the current annual income from international TV contracts sits at 70 million euros (80 million dollars), the arrival of broadcasters from the United States, especially, will see that figure surge to almost 150 million euros. That is still a long way behind the figures for the English Premier League, where more than half a billion euros enter the English game.

As Bayern press forward in 2015, China will become the central market for the German champions. The club will tour there this summer, whilst the process of opening a bureau in Beijing is underway with merchandizing and e-commerce pinpointed as areas for growth. Bayern's representatives are also on the verge of agreeing a deal with current partners DHL and have made steps into language-specific territories and social media platforms.

Borussia in the Far East:

SpoBis-Kongress in Düsseldorf Hans-Joachim Watzke
Hans-Joachim Watzke was the star attraction at SpoBis in DüsseldorfImage: picture-alliance/Norbert Schmidt

Dortmund are big business. It's reported that more than 1,000 fans from the UK make the short jump across the English Channel for each home game rather than watching domestic football in their own country. The club's dramatic revival from bankruptcy to back-to-back title wins - coupled with their run to the Champions League final in 2013 – has propelled Dortmund to household name status in European football.

This season, Dortmund's struggles have seen them drop into a relegation battle. However, that doesn't affect plans for the club's long-term growth, according to head of sales and marketing, Carsten Cramer.

Yet there's an embedded sense of modesty with the club; there's a realization that turning attentions abroad shouldn't compromise the connection with the local community and the 82,000 fans who pack out the Signal Iduna Park every week. "We're ambitious, but we realize we cannot compete with Real Madrid and Manchester United," said Cramer in Düsseldorf.

South East Asia has been identified as Dortmund's target market with Singapore - dubbed 'The Switzerland of Asia' in 2013 by CNBC, WSJ and others - identified as the spot for the club's new bureau. Dortmund will make use of the headquarters of club sponsor Evonik with four employees in the region. 'Head of Asia' Suresh Letchmanan will work with three German staff with Dortmund connections.

"We aim to show them a super-intensive football experience," Cramer said.

Japan, though, remains a prime target for Dortmund, and the signing of Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa in 2010 from Cerezo Osaka sparked huge interest in the Southeast Asian country with127 million inhabitants.

The club will play a friendly there this summer with partnerships already formed with local sports media, including a two-year agreement with sports website "HIS Japan."

To potentially see long-term results though, Borussia Dortmund will be concerned with the short-term goal of salvaging European football next season.