Since being installed to head up marketing efforts at Bundesliga International, the global commercial rights division of the top-tier German soccer league (DFL), Peer Naubert has overseen a period of significant growth.
Initially joining Bundesliga International in 2018, he was tasked with setting up a global marketing framework for the league, which has delivered strong results over the past five years.
When Naubert took charge of the commercial partnerships team in 2019, commercial revenue stood at €42 million. He claims that figure has now grown 2.5x over the last four years.
“We are the fastest growing league in terms of awareness, interest, and following,” he tells GlobalData Sport. “We have heavily increased the revenues from commercial partnerships.”
Following a brief spell as marketing vice president of the DFL, Naubert was named as chief marketing officer of Bundesliga International in June 2022.
By October of that year, his remit widened as he assumed the responsibilities of chief executive Robert Klein on an interim basis after he left to join IMG Media.
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Despite a period of change and a combination of commercial and operational responsibilities, Naubert has navigated the transition with his team and delivered short-term success while developing a long-term growth plan.
“The initial focus was trying to develop growth in regard to international media rights and commercial partnerships,” he explains.
“We were able to create significant growth over the summer because we were able to grow our revenues by 50% on average in all the open markets we had for this season. This is due in no small part to an incredible team spread around the world, working with partners and broadcasters to deliver the right product for each market.
“In comparison, other leagues lost revenues, but we were able to significantly grow ours. Short-term growth was priority number one. The second was developing a long-term growth strategy to make sure that we also increase our revenues on a long-term basis. We have a very clear idea of how and where to grow.
“The other priority was also supporting the investment or private equity process as much as possible because the international media rights and commercial partnerships were significant revenue streams in that regard.”
Overseas media rights
The sale of global broadcast rights accounted for most of the Bundesliga’s revenue uplift from international activities as it maintained the value of its product.
Before this season, the Bundesliga was receiving in the region of €170 million from international broadcasters annually. That figure is set to top the €200 million mark this year after several deals were struck over the summer for the new rights cycle.
This saw the German top-flight overtake some rival leagues and it soon expects to only be behind the English Premier League and Spain’s LaLiga in terms of international rights income.
Commercial revenue is likely to increase further with new sponsorship deals in the offing and a specific target has been set internally.
“We’re focused on executing the growth strategy to make sure we hit €300 million total revenues for commercial partnerships and international media rights next season,” Naubert says.
“We also want to set ourselves apart with our media rights growth from other leagues and try to close the gap at least towards LaLiga.
“We are the fastest growing league since 2021 in terms of takers for international media rights after the Premier League. We are in a good shape.”
Despite being in a healthy position, Naubert admits, however, that the journey has not been easy. Like the entire sports industry, the DFL has had to bounce back from a challenging period.
“This [revenue increase] is a result of what we started five years ago now paying off after tough times,” he shares. “We don't need to shy away from that. We had tough times in previous years, especially in 2020 and 2021 for obvious reasons.
“We had the pandemic and in China and the Middle East and North Africa we were struggling slightly, and this was heavily impacting our revenues on the international media rights and now we have managed to rebound.”
The Bundesliga has international broadcast deals in place in almost every major market for at least the next three seasons.
In recent months, new and extended deals were agreed with BeIN Sports (Asia-Pacific), Next Media (Vietnam), Abema (Japan), Sony Pictures Networks (India), Canal Plus and New World TV (Sub-Saharan Africa), and DAZN (Canada).
All the agreements cover the 2023-24 to 2025-26 rights cycle, except for Next Media which has a deal through the 2027-28 season.
“Creating a marketing strategy for a sports league is not easy,” Naubert says. “We gained so much knowledge, insight, and experience over the past five years because we had lots of learnings and positives as well as some challenges.
“This helped us to really understand what works, what doesn't work and now we are in a position where we can harvest the fruits which we started seeding in 2018.
“We have also adapted to the changing times, seeing the way that our audiences consume football has called for a change in approach. A perfect example is the Bundesliga Goal Arena – a dedicated show that switches between games to bring fans all the goals and major incidences from concurrent games on a Saturday afternoon.
“Already 17 of our broadcast partners, including the likes of ESPN, Viaplay, and Sony Sports India, have incorporated that into their Bundesliga offering, and we are seeing very positive feedback.”
Several agreements were additionally concluded in Brazil as Bundesliga International adopted a new strategy in the market with coverage across linear, pay-TV, and digital platforms.
International soccer content portal OneFootball renewed its deal with the league, while YouTube channels Canal Goat and CazéTV will also show games.
Naubert outlined a need to adapt to changing consumption habits to increase reach in certain territories.
“In Brazil, we were adapting to the local market reality,“ he says. “Every market is different but each market we go into, we're analyzing the situation because the times are not as they were in the past where we would just go into a market and sell to a pay-TV partner.
“It's much more about having a very smart combination of the biggest possible reach while making sure you’re getting substantial revenues at the same time. In some markets, it's maybe a more digital focus, in others it’s a more linear or pay-TV focus.
“The market reality is more of a combination, but we are delighted with the outcome in Brazil as we are able to grow both the reach and revenues, ensuring the Bundesliga remains the most-watched European league in Brazil by far.”
Expanding reach is a key component of Bundesliga International’s wider strategy as it seeks to compete with other major leagues.
With the evolution of technology and digital media, it’s now essential to find ways to grow your brand outside of the live product.
Non-live content has become key in increasing fan engagement and Bundesliga International is strategically seeking to connect with audiences directly with some local support.
In recent months, the league has agreed content partnerships with digital platforms in the US (Minute Media), India (Khel Now), and the Middle East and Africa (Footballco) to grow its following in those markets.
“Content partnerships are one of the key areas for us to grow in the digital space and we use them for the top of the funnel to make people aware of the Bundesliga,” Naubert explains.
“Those partnerships are meant to be mutually beneficial. We provide content to those partners, and they provide reach to us, and this helps us reach out to the right target groups in specific markets to make sure they know about the Bundesliga.”
To effectively carry out its plans, the Bundesliga is seeking more buy-in from its clubs in terms of global marketing efforts to separate itself from other top European competitions.
Andreas Jung, Bayern Munich’s chief marketing officer, recently called on clubs other than the Bundesliga champions and Borussia Dortmund to develop more of a presence in global territories, particularly in terms of pre-season fixtures when all the top teams typically ramp up their commercial activities.
The league believes a collective effort is needed in this regard.
“In previous years, I wouldn't paint such a similar black picture as Dortmund or Bayern have over the summer. But there's no doubt that more clubs need to come to the party.
“We are working to invite more clubs and to change the incentives but also understand their needs, the demand, and to inform them that what they’re currently doing is not enough.
“We as a league are conducting more than 600 different marketing activities per season across the globe and we are inviting all the other clubs to come to the party and support the general growth strategy of the Bundesliga internationally.”
In the English Premier League, more than half the 20 clubs embarked on global pre-season tours with matches played across several markets including the US, Australia, Asia, and Europe.
The English top-flight stages pre-season tournaments annually and held matches in the US for the first time this summer as part of the inaugural Premier League Summer Series which featured six of its clubs.
The Bundesliga could soon go down the same route.
“We have supported the clubs to go abroad and had experiences of German teams playing each other, for example in the US and China, and we are definitely exploring all opportunities, including the possibility of mini-tournaments,” Naubert says.
“We're always thinking whether it makes sense to send four Bundesliga teams somewhere to play each other or maybe to do a three-plus-one to have a local hook. We're currently exploring those ideas and will hopefully soon announce a couple of new concepts.”
With broadcast deals wrapped up across the globe, the focus for Bundesliga International will now switch to identifying new commercial partners in key markets.
The league is well on the way to reaching its €300 million revenue target, but emphasis will also be placed on securing mutually beneficial partnerships that provide more than just monetary value.
“In terms of our growth strategy for commercial partnerships, we are looking at the Premier League because we really like their model of working with a very limited number of partners and we will grow that area, but only with partners where we can create something together, like the AWS partnership, for example.
“This is the true sense of a partnership to create something together, grow together, and profit from each other.”