Live sport is back, but Bundesliga emphasises need to think outside the box
By Jonathan Rest
The coronavirus-enforced lockdown of sport worldwide has underlined the need for rights owners to have a more comprehensive offering to their broadcast partners to sit alongside – and potentially fill in for – the live action, a senior executive at the Bundesliga has told Sportcal.
The German top flight got back under way this weekend following a two-month hiatus because of the pandemic, and is set for global eyeballs over the next few weeks as other sports leagues and competitions around the world plan their resumptions.
The Bundesliga is carried by more than 70 broadcasters in 200-plus territories in deals struck by Bundesliga International, the league’s worldwide commercial rights sales arm.
The league shut down on 13 March, and while its return has been largely welcomed, it has only come about following safety stringent measures being imposed.
Robert Klein (pictured), chief executive of Bundesliga International, told Sportcal: "We've worked very hard as a league to take the right steps. The health and safety of players and staff is our primary focus, and we work very hard with the clubs and local governments, who ultimately decide on each of the medical procedures, to ensure that we get the best system in place."
Since shutdown, Klein and his team have had “almost daily contact with our international broadcasters, mainly on how to provide them with content in this period without live football.”
With sports-specific broadcasters particularly starved of content, the Bundesliga was quick to open up the archives and think outside the box.
Klein explained: “We were providing archives - the best games over last 20 games - but also created new concepts, such as the Bundesliga Home Challenge (pictured below), an esports competitions across the teams. We even had a referees’ team. It was taken up by the majority of our broadcasters and also performed very well, with two million unique users each weekend.
“We also launched digital initiatives ahead of the resumption in terms of how to pick your Bundesliga team and a new Instagram filter that helps fans make snap decisions around their social channels.”
Bundesliga International was launched in Frankfurt in 2017 as a successor to DFL Sports Enterprises, as the league sought to step up its international ambitions, and oversees media rights, marketing of digital content, central sponsorship rights and trademark licenses, as well as the global marketing of the league.
Klein said: “We recognised that by setting up Bundesliga International the live football topic is going to remain the core of what we offer and what the fans are looking for, but media partners need much more to develop their business beyond that.
“They are looking at regular engagement, minimising churn and acquiring new subscribers. So they need content marketing formats, they need to be able to bring events to their markets.
“We have Bundesliga Experiences, so people can interact directly with the league. Right now that is admittedly on hold but this concept of delivering a more comprehensive rights package so that activation and events and engagement beyond the live comes into the offering has resonated and definitely one of the reasons people want to engage with the Bundesliga.
“We sincerely hope it [a pandemic that forces the closure of the league] does not happen again but in the event you want to be able to offer alternative, entertaining solutions or archives to your partners should the need arise.”
Since the Asia-Pacific headquarters opened in Singapore in 2012, one of the key elements of the Bundesliga International business over the past few years has been the escalation of its regional offices.
The Americas HQ opened in New York in October 2018, followed by the China HQ in Beijing five months later, while there is also an operation in India in partnership with IMG Reliance, the joint venture between IMG, the international sports and entertainment agency, and Reliance Industries, the Indian conglomerate.
With those offices established and activating locally, the league does not expect a significant coronavirus-related impact on its international business.
Klein said: “Timing-wise we were lucky because we have had people there locally for some time who have been able to engage with our partners and fans who at this special time have been requesting and looking for alternative content. So the international footprint has set us up pretty well.
“In our international business, we have media rights which is big part of the financial revenue but being on the ground we are there for a reason, which is to engage with our fans and with our regional and territory businesses.”
The resumption of the Bundesliga was headlined by the Revierderby, with Borussia Dortmund thrashing rivals Schalke 4-0 on Saturday afternoon.
It was the most watched Bundesliga match on record for Fox Sports 1 in USA, while according to advertising giant Interpublic's Futures Sport + Entertainment agency, the average audience for the Bundesliga on Saturday for UK pay-TV operator BT Sport was 34 times higher than the season average, and higher than the average audience for an English Premier League matches for the broadcaster.
BT Sport said the Dortmund game had a linear TV audience average of 500,000 and a peak of 625,000, while with digital platforms included, there was a total reach of 1.4 million.
With all eyes set to be on the Bundesliga for another couple of weeks at least, the audience numbers are expected to remain strong.
Klein said: “Without a doubt the whole Covid-19 is having an impact on businesses internationally. If you are talking about media partners they have challenges within themselves but what is certain is one of the best ways to get subscribers back and to build your business is through top-flight international football.
“We hope more sports fans worldwide will watch the Bundesliga and appreciate the football, then hopefully we will be able to continue the relationship with them in the longer term.”