In one of the most challenging media markets in the world, the Bundesliga recently took a big step to raise the profile of the league in North and South America by opening an office in New York City.
As part of the new hires that the Bundesliga International announced for their office in Manhattan, executive Melanie Fitzgerald is a key component. As their Head of Americas, she sat down with World Soccer Talk to share her vision of how to increase the popularity of both the Bundesliga and the second division of professional soccer in Germany, 2. Bundesliga.
On paper, the Bundesliga should be one of the most popular soccer leagues on US television. It has one of the best matchday atmosphere anywhere in the world. The quality of soccer on display is entertaining. It’s the league with the most goals per average in Europe. And it has a proud history of being on US television during the “dark ages” of soccer (1976 to 1988).
But the league has struggled to gain a foothold among the English-language audience in the United States. The timing of the office opening in New York City as well as the appointment of Fitzgerald to head up the efforts in the Americas along with Arne Rees to manage media contracts couldn’t have come at a better time.
“The group that’s going to be in New York are people from within the market that know how to engage fans,” said Fitzgerald. “That’s going to be our job. We’ve got to encourage more fans to know about the league and to tune into the league.
“Saturday and Sunday morning is an excellent time slot. Now it’s just a matter of the fans who are used to watching football in that morning [to] watch the Bundesliga as well.”
The strategy that Bundesliga International will employ to try to break through centers around four key strategies.
“It’s the unique storytelling, supporting our clubs, working from the grassroots level and really building that brand overall. Hopefully, if we all do our jobs right, that’ll lead to growth.”
While the Bundesliga is more relevant in the United States than in the past, one of the toughest challenges the league faces is going up against the Premier League, a marketing behemoth that has almost the exact same kickoff times and is at least five times more popular as the Bundesliga when it comes to TV viewership in the United States.
“It’s a challenge, but we like to look at it as more of an opportunity,” said Fitzgerald. “We’re not trying to come in and say that ‘We’re now going to be at the same level as the Premier League [in the United States],’ nor are we trying to beat the Premier League.
“We have all of these players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and even James Rodriguez — players from within the region that are seeing the Bundesliga as a league to be part of, as their path to the next World Cup.”
The United States is one piece of a global campaign by the Bundesliga International to raise awareness of the league worldwide, explained Fitzgerald.
“DFL, which is the Bundesliga league, used to focus on the international market but more from the TV rights perspective. Since then, they rebranded and became Bundesliga International led by our new CEO, Robert Klein. And they identified target markets around the world where they wanted to have a physical presence.
“Bundesliga is a global brand, but in order to have an impact in certain markets, it felt that it was really important to have a physical presence. So, they had an office in Singapore for the past six years. They then identified the Americas with a key focus on the U.S., Mexico and Colombia — which is very player driven. And then we are looking to open an office in China in the early part of next year, and potentially some other markets as well.”
In our own experience interacting with the Bundesliga in the last several years, the league’s marketing and communications efforts were handled out of Germany. But in a wave that has seen clubs and leagues from overseas opening offices in New York City such as Barcelona, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Kashima Antlers, the Bundesliga is now open for business in The Big Apple, which is a statement of intent and a welcome sign that the German top flight league is serious about the market.