Bundesliga eyes dominance in China from new Beijing base
Germany's Bundesliga has its sights on becoming the number-one soccer league in China, and will take a giant stride on that path when it officially opens its Beijing office on Monday, Robert Klein, chief executive of Bundesliga International, the worldwide commercial rights sales arm of the German top flight, has told Sportcal.
The Bundesliga formally announced its Beijing plans in January - it was first reported by Sportcal in October – with the office to be headed up by Patrick Stüber, senior audio visual rights manager at Bundesliga International, who has been with the DFL, Germany's professional league, since 2007.
Stüber has now been joined in the Chinese capital by Sunny Fulian Sun, as head of marketing and business development, who joins from a rights acquisition role at Tencent, the Chinese internet giant.
The third and final staff member, for now, is Bo Zhong, who relocates from the league’s own digital media content company DFL Digital Sports in Cologne.
The trio will work closely with the league's media partner PPTV, the Suning-owned streaming service, which has a five-year, $250-million rights deal in place, as well as with the six top German clubs that are represented in China: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04, VfL Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Speaking exclusively to Sportcal on the sidelines of the Sportel Asia convention in Macau this week, Klein said: “We have over 21 players from Asian countries in the Bundesliga, that’s 21 different stories.
“We want to be the number-one league in terms of engagement with fans and audiences in China. To do that we have to be on the ground and extend into long-term partnerships, as we have done on the media rights side with PPTV last year.”
While research has shown that Chinese fans want live content, the Bundesliga will not even consider taking a regular-season game or the annual Super Cup away from German soil.
Instead, Klein said the ‘live’ focus will be on staging pre-season friendly matches and perhaps an exhibition tournament in China, which will be on the discussion table at a stakeholders’ meeting next month.
He explained: “In the summer there are multiple games planned, even outside of the ICC [the International Champions Cup, the established pre-season tournament played in cities worldwide]. This is what we want… Most games look to be in China, but some are planned for Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand, although they are still to be confirmed.
“We will work on friendlies and ideally we’ll have a ‘Bundesliga Cup’, where will bring a regular event with, in my mind, a couple of Bundesliga teams and a couple of local teams. And we’ll do it consistently over the long term.
“At the beginning of April, we have our first strategic workshop with the clubs and Suning PPTV. That is really the kick-off in terms of clubs who are on the ground and those that want to come out to say, ‘what do we want to do outside of classic media rights?’ Now with the office on the ground, we’ll create a plan and at the very least we’ll do one thing of size next year and not just talk, talk, talk.”
The Beijing office is the Bundesliga’s third international operation after the Americas headquarters that opened in New York last October and the Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, which opened in 2012.
The New York office is now “executing locally”, Klein noted, with “active conversations taking place with all media partners in the region because we are slowly but surely turning our head to the next sales phase.”
The Bundesliga’s wide-ranging TV rights deal with Fox, an agreement that spans major territories in North and Latin America, expires at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Klein said: “We are having early discussions. In terms of tenders, we set a schedule which tends to kick in 12 months out, depending on different territories and market conditions.”
The impending sales process in USA comes as a number of the country’s top young stars are making a name for themselves in the Bundesliga, such as Weston McKennie (Schalke), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig).
Klein continued: “We have six or seven coming through. With them [USA] having the World Cup in 2026, we think there is very interesting arc with the Bundesliga bringing through American talents and keeping onto them, and being part of the potential development of a successful US men’s national team. From a story perspective, it is incredibly exciting and something the US audiences have already said they want more of. We will deliver that through the right partner.”