German Soccer Rules Europe, Can It Conquer the World?

 

COLOGNE, Germany – Sprechen Sie Deutsch? That was the headline French sports daily L'Equipe splashed over its front page last month after Bayern Munich defeated – some would say destroyed – Spanish champions Barcelona last month to qualify for the Champions League final, where they will face their local rivals Borussia Dortmund.

For the 200 million viewers who will watch the first-ever all-German Champions League final on Saturday, the message is clear: European soccer now speaks with a German accent.

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While German teams have traditionally been only grudgingly admired outside the country for their (stereotypical) discipline and work ethic, the new wave of German clubs, led by Dortmund and Bayern, have won hearts as well as matches with a fast and flashy style of play.

Across the continent, pundits are already declaring Saturday's game in London's historic Wembley stadium as a changing of the guard. Out goes Spain, whose top clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid have dominated soccer for the past decade, in come Bayern and Dortmund of Germany's professional league, the Bundesliga.

That may be premature, but for now at least, German soccer is in the spotlight. Saturday's Champions League final, broadcast live in 209 countries worldwide, provides a unique opportunity for the Bundesliga to capture a global audience.

For German soccer's governing body, the Deutsche Futball Liga, the match at London's legendary Wembley stadium is the ultimate shop window to advertise its product, the Bundesliga.

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“I expect a significant increase in value (in international rights for the Bundesliga),” DFL boss Christian Seifert said at a recent sports industry trade fair in Dusseldorf. “The international revenue pie will grow, that much is certain, and we want a bigger piece of it.”

Currently, the Bundesliga earns around $92 million (€71.6 million) per season from TV rights sales outside of Germany. Starting from 2015, when the rights come up for renewal, Siefert is targeting a figure of between $130 million - $190 million (€100 million - €150 million) a season.

That would put Germany in a similar class to Spain's top flight La Liga,   which earns €150 million a season from international rights sales, or Italy's Serie A (€117 million) but still far behind the global rights champion, England's Premier League, whose current deal for international TV rights is worth a whopping $724 million (€562 million) a season for the 20 teams that play in the richest division in soccer.

“The English have a 20-year head start,” said DFL managing director Andreas Rettig in a recent interview with German newspaper the Rheinische Post, pointing out that just a decade ago, international revenue for the Bundesliga was zero.

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Top English clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have a truly global fan base built up over years of careful international marketing. The top Premier League clubs regularly play international exhibition games in China, South America or the U.S. English teams have been known to set kick off times for matches in the early afternoon to boost primetime viewership in Asia.

In terms of international exposure, the Bundesliga is still playing catch up. The German league opened its first Asian office, in Singapore, only last year and a YouTube channel targeting the league's “global fans” is still in development.  But it's through actions such as these, as well as international exhibition games including Bayern's tour of India last year, that Siefert hopes to boost the international share of DFL's media revenues from just 11 percent to between 15-25 percent in the coming years.

For the Bundesliga, Saturday's Champions League final is only the beginning of global marketing push. The real showcase comes next year with the World Cup in Brazil. It's there the German national team hopes to repeat its club soccer success by beating current champions Spain and claim the undisputed title of top soccer nation in the world.

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