At the beginning, there was just a thrilling idea. Now, 55 years after the first-ever Bundesliga matchday in 1963, the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga and its clubs, media partners, licensees, and other stakeholders are already used to benefitting from what has turned out to be a quickly-growing modern masterpiece: the German Football Archive (DFA). A football treasure trove, combining footage that had laid undiscovered for decades, stored on thousands of film rolls in the archives of former media partners and the estates of beloved football greats—such as former national coaches Sepp Herberger and Helmut Schön—with current match video, all stored on state-of-the-art technology. A true wonder of the sports world.
The original goal of DFL and the German Football Federation (DFB) was to gather all available film of German football history with its rich and exciting tradition and digitize the footage in the highest-possible quality to preserve it for future generations of football lovers. But that was only the starting point in DFL and DFB’s joined quest to create a project of a magnitude that is unique in the world.
From the initial idea in 2002, it took five years just to resolve the complicated rights situation. Since the inception of the Bundesliga in 1963, about a dozen different television partners had held broadcasting rights and footage licenses, and when the rights had been secured, the technical requirements and logistical set-up needed for a venture of this size posed an even bigger challenge. Operated by Sportcast, a 100 per cent DFL subsidiary and the host broadcaster of Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, the project also required a very close and trusting cooperation with all involved broadcasters and media archives that provided footage.
In 2007, digitisation of the historic football footage kicked off, and along with the transfer of thousands of hours of memorable moments from sometimes brittle analogue video of more than 10 different formats, such as Super 8 or 16 mm, the capture of highly detailed metadata began, outlining precisely which players are present in each scene and highlighting the action shown. This allows for easy access of each desired scene later on, thanks to especially developed software for user-friendly online searches. Users can directly access up to 300 clearly defined events (such as freekicks, assists, saves, yellow cards, and so on) per game.
Frankfurt-based football historian and seasoned football writer Udo Muras is full of praise not only for the wealth of historic football footage the German Football Archive provides, but also for the precise metadata and the easy searchability of the online database: “When the DFL commissioned a DVD series to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bundesliga, the German Football Archive played a leading role. As a football historian, I was tasked with finding narrative events. There was no better partner for such an endeavour, as the DFA could provide pictures for almost any Bundesliga event. Long-unresolved questions could finally be answered, such as the question whether there were any full-length matches broadcast during the first Bundesliga season. (There were, albeit time-delayed.) For today’s journalists, the DFA is an invaluable source.”
When the German Football Archive finally launched in 2011, after years of intense digitisation and metadata-processing, it contained approximately 40,000 hours of football footage, along with tens of thousands of metadata files. But that was only the beginning. Today, there are 138,000 hours of football footage available, spread over 184,000 video files, representing 32,400 football matches not only of Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 dating back to 1963, but also including the national teams’ and DFB Cup matches since the 1950s as well as third division bouts and women’s Bundesliga. To store and render such immense amounts of data, the DFA entertains two data centres with 48 physical and 56 virtual servers, with combined capacities of 980 TeraByte disc storage and 11 PetaByte tape storage. The PetaByte storage alone provides the equivalent of 16.5 million CD ROMs. Let that sink in for a moment.
Yet it doesn’t stop here: Every year, this immeasurable collection grows by an additional 9,500 hours, though the process has gotten easier. Since the beginning of the 2011/2012 season, all footage captured in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 stadiums is being sent to the German Football Archive in Cologne via satellite and fibre optic lines, along with the tracking and scouting data of all games. All the information is instantly available to the clubs as well as to broadcasting and multi-media licensees.
Strictly a B2B service at this time, the German Football Archive thrives to be a helpful tool regarding archival content for DFL and DFB licensees and stakeholders, but Sportcast will continue to develop the growing material collection for utilisation in the ever-changing multi-media market, always keeping an eye out for future demands and the next thrilling idea.