EPL vs Bundesliga: Why hype is the major trump card

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Premier League vs Bundesliga. There are many ways to look at this comparison, and in recent years – many perspectives have been covered.

Lets start with…

Price of tickets. No comparison. The cheapest adult season tickets available for Bayern Munich costs 62 pounds. This is Bayern Munich we are talking about here. Arsenal, on the other hand are charging their fans 985 pounds for the same thing! I shouldn’t even have to drop you some figures about how many European Cup titles Bayern has won over Arsenal (none). Okay, perhaps Arsenal is an extreme example – let me give you another one. Bundesliga’s most expensive adult season tickets belongs to Schalke at 148 pounds. Compare that to the cheapest among the English clubs, Manchester City – and its double the cost at 299 pounds!

I recall reading this powerful quote by former Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness: “We do not think of the fans like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everyone.”

So powerful.

You know what, lets stop at one. I can go on – performance in Europe, emphasis on home-grown talent, highest attendance. But you already know that.

So what’s missing? Why does the Premier League beat their German counterparts in the popularity contest?

Let me share a story with you. Exactly 11 months ago, I was invited by Bundesliga for a broadcasters workshop in Dusseldorf. They flew out 1 representative from the US – ESPN, one from Europe – Eurosport, one from Asia (me), and one from Africa (SuperSport – yes they’re called that too). The purpose of this workshop was to start a dialogue internationally and find ways to improve their product. In short, the Bundesliga want to bridge the gap between them and the Premier League, especially in the TV world.

The session was scheduled to be 6 hours – from 9 in the morning to 4 in the evening. You know, this was serious business. Each representative was given an hour to present how the Bundesliga as a product is consumed by the public, and how we (the broadcasters). It was fascinating to hear each broadcaster share their approach in their part of the world.

The presence of African players like Aubameyang has helped increase Bundesliga's popularity in the continent
The presence of African players like Aubameyang has helped increase Bundesliga’s popularity in the continent

The Bundesliga is a big deal in America, especially for their Latin territories. Its big enough for them to send a team to the stadium for pitchside live coverage. It is equally huge in Africa – because there are many African players there and that, for obvious reasons, is their focus. So when they have to select matches for live studio presentation, they usually favour Borussia Dortmund matches because Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is there. Schalke too because Kevin Prince Boateng is there. And they even have former Ghanaian defender Samuel Kuffour as a studio pundit. Yes, the Bundesliga is big in Africa BUT, it’s still a distant second to the Premier League. Then there’s Eurosport. Which gives the Bundesliga a huge platform in their markets with legendary goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, Christian Ziege, Jurgen Kohler and Lothar Matthaus as their regular pundits. It doesn’t get any bigger than that!

Then it was my turn. I went last – and after the 3 broadcasters spent over an hour showcasing their love for the Bundesliga, I felt out-of-place. Because let’s face it, the German league in Malaysia is unbelievably tiny in comparison to the English game – purely in TV terms. But after sharing Astro’s approach, the Bundesliga team began the discussion about the appeal of their league vs the Premier League. The real important reason why the 4 of us were brought over to Germany for: why? what’s lacking in the Bundesliga? What can they do to improve the product?

The four of us all agreed that language is a factor. I know it sounds petty but the lack of English-speaking content is an issue. Whether it was a pre match or a post match interview in the tunnel, the viewers are able to ‘feel’ closer to the action by understanding the content. Voice over translations and subtitles are just not the same. And strangely, the feedback was echoed by the league – but all they can do is encourage the teams to assign an English-speaking player for interview purposes but not ASSIGN one. They face a dilemma too.

Premier League clubs' regular trips to Asia certainly markets their league effectively
Premier League clubs’ regular trips to Asia certainly markets their league effectively

The other thing I brought up was the ‘catch up’ situation. Every year we get English clubs popping by to play a friendly match as part of their Asian Tour. When was the last time a Germany club played in KL? If I can recall correctly, Bayern Munich was here 14 years ago. Or at least that’s what Dietmar Hamann told us when he was doing some TV work with Astro. But that makes a huge difference. Imagine if Dortmund came down to play a Malaysia XI – the stadium would probably not be full BUT their fanbase in Malaysia will triple overnight. Bayern Munich, Schalke, Leverkusen – all need more activation to boost their presence and regularly so as well. For it to make any kind of impression vs the Premier League. It will take years, but with every year the product improves, the competition improves too.

A simple example – on Matchday 1 of this season’s Champions League, the Liverpool vs Ludogorets match rated higher than the Bayern Munich vs Man City match! Wow – you simply cannot explain this, because in terms of the bigger contest, the Group E tie wins hands-down BUT that viewership figures told a different story. Strange but true.

So despite having all the stats to support the case that the Bundesliga is the strongest league in the world, they are no competition to the Premier League when it comes to the hype. And as much as people say “it’s all hype” and that the quality is depressing compared to the Bundesliga, let me tell you how important the “hype” is. Hype is half the battle won. Hype is having people talk about the league day-in-day-out. Hype is having corporations wanting to invest in the product. Hype is having millions of fans wearing your jerseys. Hype is everything.

People believe the hype.

I may not, but I’m the minority.