For a long time now, the German Bundesliga has been competing not just on the pitch with its rivals from the top European leagues. The playing surface is now bigger or, better put, has been globalised. Spain’s La Liga, the English Premier League or Serie A in Italy are, like the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL – German Football League), trying to attract increasing worldwide interest for their national championships. The leagues have long been trying to open up new markets to generate new fans, new sponsors and increased revenue from the marketing of the foreign television rights.
The spearhead from a German point of view is made up of FC Bayern Munich which has already opened up offices in USA and now this year is intensifying its efforts to expand in Asia. In a few days – in the middle of July – the record champions will set off for China for a one-week training camp ahead of the upcoming Bundesliga season. Three friendly matches are also on the schedule – against amongst others Valencia and Inter Milan. However it is now up to other German clubs to follow suit and support the measures to market the league on a global scale.
“The clubs know that the whole league will profit the activities,” said Jörg Wacker, Director of Strategy at Bayern and the person responsible for the internationalisation of the club. The English have been successful in first and foremost transporting the Premier League as a brand to Asia. Following in its wake are now the clubs. Since 2003, three first division clubs from the island and a one from the region have been playing for the bi-annual Premier League Asia Trophy. Alongside top teams, lesser ones like Portsmouth or Hull City have also travelled to the Far East. Matches have already been played in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. The Premier League’s internet website is now in completely in Chinese characters.
The Bundesliga is a comparatively late starter – but is catching up. “In the last few years there has been amazing growth but we still lag ten or 20 years behind the other leagues,” said Wacker, who was recently in Beijing to open an online shop for fan merchandise with club boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. England and Spain however are well ahead when it comes to television times and the number of fans. In China it is not necessarily television that is attractive. The English tried to force the prices for the TV pictures up significantly but it is said the state television, CCTV, blocked their demands.
China is nevertheless important for the German clubs along with other Asian markets. The interest of hundreds of millions of football fans in the country is centred on foreign clubs. One just has to do is tap their enthusiasm.
The standard of the domestic league is second class at the moment and the national team isn’t yet capable of playing consistently to a good level. Wacker therefore sees a foundation for rapid growth. “The people in China have a lot of respect for Made in Germany. It is a plus point we should take advantage of.”
However the Bundesliga has to expect setbacks. Schalke 04 made the bitter experience that Chinese television obviously did not want to broadcast its planned friendlies in the People’s Republic. One has to work hard to improve one’s level of recognition. The German club deleted the China trip from its schedule.
It came as a surprise. The Royal Blues have been a regular over the past years in the Champions League and even stood in the semifinal against Manchester United in 2011. They also have a highly talented Chinese youngster in Hao Junmin in their squad. The club recently also entered a partnership with the capital city club Beijing Guo'an and wants to regularly send coaches to help school the juniors.
Alongside the Bavarians, Borussia Dortmund is the only other professional German club to make the trip to Asia during their preparations for the new season. Dortmund played Kawasaki Frontale in Japan on 7 July (2-0 win) and then Johor Southern Tigers in Malaysia on 9 July. BVB stars Shinji Kagawa and Marco Reus have pop star status in Japan. However there are now thoughts of staging the German Super Cup between the league champions and the cup winners in China – just like the Italians.
The DFL is backing the Bundesliga’s expansion plans and provides support in any way it can. “There has to be continual activity so that the Bundesliga is always in the news in China and Asia,” Bayern will undoubtedly be taking the next step and open an office shortly in China. Dortmund has been represented in Singapore since 2014. They are basically the first measures to keep them in the news and minds. However other clubs should be following suit but Schalke’s example shows that it is not easy filling the “Go East” motto with life.