If stadium attendance is any indicator for fan development world-wide, the DFL can certainly be pleased with fan development over the last years: The 2017-18 Bundesliga season averaged 43,879 tickets sold per match, an impressive 8% uptick from the 2016-17 season, making the Bundesliga one of the most successful sports leagues in the world. But the infatuation goes way beyond stadium walls, and borders.
Audiences from around the world are captivated by football made in Germany with its gripping on-pitch action, athletic masterstrokes, and more goals per game on average than any other major football league. With growing international interest, expansion into markets around the world, and consumer trends and fan engagement patterns that are constantly evolving, the DFL faces a broad range of challenges, Andreas Heyden (DFL Digital Sports, CEO) explained in his interview with James Emmett (Leaders Editorial Director) at the “Leaders in Sports” summit in New York City, pointing out a crucial difference between domestic Bundesliga fans and their international counterparts:
“In Germany, the average fan follows four clubs. He may be a hardcore fan of one or two, but there are many more clubs that he is interested in. Internationally, it’s similar, but they’re interested in other clubs from different leagues. Because of this, we need the clubs to be our international salesforce to drive the brand. Through the clubs, the fans get interested in the league. This can be done more easily through digital, because there are no boundaries as to which stories you tell.”
Heyden described DFL Digital Sports as an “agile organisation of about 70 staff members plus 150-ish freelancers, that focuses on value creation and development of new opportunities on various levels”. Heyden also talked about the future goals of DFL Digital Sports: “One of the main tasks is to support national and international tender processes, and these processes comprise of several components: How do we grow and reach engagement in markets where we want to achieve higher media revenues? What are the digital services that we could bundle into media licensing deals, such as games or B2B services and data? And how can we create new opportunities for partners?”
DFL Digital Sports is looking at ways to include digital assets, where appropriate, indicates Heyden, as he and his staff are working relentlessly on providing the necessary capabilities. For example, “We’re rebuilding the technical infrastructure, going away from vertical, monolithic systems to an open API infrastructure.” An important focus has been tailor-made content that’s customised and localised for each individual market and that also sensitively considers the market’s time zone. “We drill down on any data usage that we’re collecting,” says Heyden. And, as viewers around the globe increasingly switch from linear to digital content and to on-demand expectations, content presentation needs to adjust.
Among others, Heyden keeps an eye on the audience behaviour of “Generation Twitch,” that is millennials and other digital natives who seek to actively redefine the way we forge relationships and communicate, not only with our peers but also with businesses and entertainment, dubbed as such in reference of the Amazon-owned live-streaming platform Twitch.tv, that has recently expanded from its eSports roots to broadcasting traditional sports as well.
“I think this whole trend – or rather this whole reality – of people playing video games is in its core different from watching a Bundesliga game or watching a soccer game, because it’s given content and I’m not in control,” says Heyden. “If I’m a YouTube star or a Twitch star and I want to tell a story about how I experience a game and explain my style of watching, the content is much more personal, and anything that’s personal in the world of influencers is relevant to the young target group.”
Yet, interactive elements that plug into the desire to connect with the favourite club in ways that just watching a match can’t quite emulate are an area DFL Digital Sports is exploring in order to develop solutions for partners and to support them in connecting with younger target groups. After all, football isn’t just about the athletic feat, but it is also about sharing the emotional rollercoaster of happiness and disappointment, hope and desperation, action and relaxation with like-minded fans, and especially millennials desire to take a more involved role as viewers.
“We can’t just copy what is successful in the gaming world,” says Heyden. “We’ve been doing lots of trials for new content formats, but it is a real challenge.” Solutions Heyden’s staff is working on include personalising games – such as watching on-demand games only from a specific person’s perspective – and new opportunities to include AR and VR technology, among others. In the end, “it’s about customer proposition, it’s about taking the fans seriously, and it’s about understanding how they experience the Bundesliga.”
The full podcast interview from Leaders in Sports with Andreas Heyden can be found here: