Last week, Bundesliga International opened an office in New York City, its first on American soil and second outside of Germany. The office will focus on building brand awareness for the league and its clubs while developing media and marketing partnerships.
Arne Rees, Bundesliga International’s executive vice president of strategy who will help lead the New York office alongside Melanie Fitzgerald, believes that now is the perfect time for the launch.
“Soccer has grown pretty steadily over the last 20 years. The last seven to eight years, it has really accelerated in terms of interest. [The growth] was primarily driven by the top European leagues,” he said.
As an English-speaking league, the Premier League not only had a language advantage, but its deal with NBC, signed in 2013, helped drive awareness of the brand early, boosting its presence by making viewing matches not only accessible but high-quality and appealing.
A lot has changed in recent years and, while the Premier League is still considered the leader by many, other leagues are starting to encroach on its long-held territory. Bundesliga, for example, has a deal with FOX Sports that has helped the league’s visibility since its signing three years ago.
“[It] has really upped our profile and the audience we get put in front of and so we are now essentially sitting in second place behind the Premier League,” explained Rees.
While there is a strong media deal in place and a growing brand awareness, the German league understood establishing a presence on the ground was an essential next step in its growth.
“You can do certain things [from afar], especially in today’s time where everything digitally connected. You can do it from Frankfurt, but there is a last 10 percent that is really hard to replicate, and you need to be in-market. So for us, where we are now and with the amount of interest in us, it was the perfect moment to open this and give it now a major push,” said Rees.
Bayern Munich, the current league champion which opened an American office in the U.S. in 2013, is an example of what can be accomplished with through an on-the-ground presence.
“When they landed [in New York], they had eight fan clubs in North America, and three years later they have 136 or 137, roughly. That’s a huge increase,” explained Robert Klein, CEO of Bundesliga International. “They have built up the relationships socially and digitally. They have done really amazing things and they are telling their story 24/7.”
Bayern has been working with the Bundesliga through this process and will continue to be a resource to its new neighbors in New York.
While Bayern is well-established domestically, other German clubs are lesser known. That being said, both Rees and Klein believe the clubs understand the value of the American market and intend for the Bundesliga’s new office to serve as a sort of coworking space for them as they pursue their individual objectives stateside.
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Raising awareness is key. Tours for clubs, both big (like Borussia Dortmund) and small (like second division team FC St. Pauli), have proven to be a good experience, and the Bundesliga sees that as an instrumental part of boosting fans’ awareness. That being said, Rees made it clear that Bundesliga won’t take the same approach as Spain’s La Liga, which announced plans to bring a regular-season game to the states annually through a new deal with Relevent Sports.
“We’re not going to play a game here,” he emphasized.
Instead, the league intends to build fan relationships and lean into what makes the German league special. Lothar Matthäus, a Bundesliga legend, cites strong American players in the Bundesliga as one of these things, specifically emerging star Christian Pulisic.
“I think he can be one of the best players in the world,” Matthäus said. Having lived and played in Germany for the majority of his life, Matthäus knows the American soccer market as well, having briefly resided in New York years ago as a player for the MetroStars. He has seen firsthand growth the sport has made here.
“Twenty years ago, I was running in Central Park and I saw only American sports played and now when I cross Central Park, I see kids playing soccer,” he said.
Now is the right time to be here, and Bundesliga is excited for the opportunity to tell its story and share with soccer fans why it believes it is the best league in the world.
Among these things, Rees stresses, are affordable tickets compared to many of the other top leagues, full stadiums, community-owned clubs, and an overall fan-centric league, arguably the best fan experience in Europe, and, of course, fantastic football.