Launch of Bundesliga's Beijing office within months as NYC operation opens
By Martin Ross
Bundesliga International, the worldwide commercial rights sales arm of the German top flight, plans to open its Chinese office at the start of next year, complementing the New York operation that formally opens tomorrow, and will handle activities across the Americas.
The Chinese office will be in Beijing and serve as the third international operation after the Americas headquarters and the existing Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore (opened in 2012).
Bundesliga International is also looking to finalise a partnership on the ground in India, and has not ruled out more geographical expansion.
Asked about the possibility of adding more offices, Robert Klein, chief executive of Bundesliga International, told Sportcal: “We are permanently investigating new opportunities and emerging markets with high football potential are of special interest. But we do it the German way in a market-by-market analysis so we make sure we can deliver highest quality standards in our international expansion.
“At the moment our new set-up helps us to achieve better our ambitious goals, covering many territories with the offices in the Americas, Asia-Pacific, China and the German headquarters. But I cannot promise that China will be the last office to be opened.”
The Americas office is located in Midtown Manhattan and ‘goes live’ tomorrow with guests including former Germany captain and US national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann gathering for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The office is spearheaded by Arne Rees, the digital media expert who made his name at both Uefa and ESPN, the USA-based sports broadcaster, and Melanie Fitzgerald, who moves from her position as director of international media at Major League Soccer.
The recruitment of three staff to support Rees and Fitzgerald is currently ongoing.
Klein (pictured, centre) noted: “Based on this common tradition and our observations of growth in general football interest and in Bundesliga in particular, the time is right to make our mark on the region. Bundesliga International aims to capitalise on that momentum and the move builds on our commitment to grow Bundesliga’s reputation and significance in the Americas.
“As the success of the Singapore office in Asia has shown, a close link to the markets is important. An on-ground presence can significantly help and accelerate the building of our brand in the way the Bundesliga wants to approach markets in the future - reaching a larger audience and increasing visibility, awareness and popularity by leveraging its existing reputation in the region and executing localisation of content and activities, fan engagement and digitalisation properly.”
Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich have opened offices in both New York and Shanghai in recent years as part of their own international plans. Clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Eintracht Frankfurt, St. Pauli, Bayer Leverkusen and Mainz have also undertaken stateside tours.
German clubs will also be able to work with the Bundesliga International team on-site in Beijing in a move that marks a strengthening of the league’s commercial and political relationship with China.
In November 2016, the DFL, the Germany professional league, was part of a wide-ranging agreement between Germany and China to help the growth of soccer in the world’s most populous country. The initial five-year partnership also involves the Chinese Ministry of Education and the soccer associations in Germany and China, and followed talks between German chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The forging of closer ties helped Bundesliga International secure dramatically improved media rights revenues from China, signing a five-year $250-million rights deal there with PPTV, the Suning-owned streaming service.
An area of major focus for Bundesliga International’s New York operation will be its broadcast rights in the Americas, with its wide-ranging deal with 21st Century Fox, an agreement that spans major territories in North and Latin America, expiring at the end of the 2019-20 season.
Discussing the stress the Bundesliga places on local-language digital content in order to improve engagement with fans worldwide, Klein said: “It’s all about localisation, digital development and fan engagement as those activities are fundamental for the new approach of the Bundesliga internationally.
“Hence, we permanently invest into these fields and improve our local fan engagement by delivering localised content and marketing activities as latest figures show (e.g. social media growth of 100 per cent in Latin America in last season).
“Technologically, we always look for latest innovations and new solutions to improve our services for fans, such as delivering on average 30 to 40 automated localised clips per territory per match day extracting local relevant content (e.g. all shots on goal by Bayern Munich’s James Rodriguez, all corner kicks etc.) with the help of artificial intelligence.”