Bundesliga's Fox deal aims to capture hearts in Asia

More fans pack stadiums across Germany every matchday than in any of the other top European football leagues.

This, however, is not the fight that the Bundesliga is trying to win.

Its average attendance in the 2013-14 season was 42,609 - ahead of the English Premier League's (EPL) 36,631.

La Liga and Serie A? Not even close.

But tens of thousands of kilometres away lie the battlegrounds that the Bundesliga is now vying for - the hearts and minds of football fans across Asia.

MAINTAINING ITS OWN FOCUS

At the end, we do not look so much at what is this country or that country doing. It makes more sense to focus on our own strengths.

CHRISTIAN SEIFERT, chief executive of the German Bundesliga

It announced on Saturday plans to raise the profile of the German league across the continent with a five-year deal with Fox Sports.

Bayern Munich legend Lothar Matthaeus will visit Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from Aug 13 to 16 to promote Fox's coverage of the Bundesliga's opening weekend.

In South-east Asia, however, the EPL reigns supreme. The fans who turned out en masse to watch Arsenal, Everton and Stoke City when they were in town for the Barclays Asia Trophy last month were proof.

Almost a third - more than 1.2 billion people - of the EPL's global audience come from Asia.

The EPL found that out in a fan survey after the 2011-12 season. It claimed then that it had a cumulative audience of 3.95 billion fans over the season. On average, the EPL draws a television audience of 12.3 million per match, towering over the German product's two million per match.

There is room to grow, and Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert said the success of German clubs' Asian tours - including Borussia Dortmund in Malaysia and Singapore - shows that the league is getting more popular in the region.

He said: "Dortmund told us (the fans' reception) was just great."

He added that their Champions League final appearance in 2013 has raised the club's profile significantly.

Germany's World Cup win last year also helped, Seifert said, because 15 members of that squad still play in the domestic league.

He said: "The win in the World Cup is always a very good thing for every country, as long as the players play in your league.

"When France won in 1998, it had no real impact on the French league because all the players like Zidane and Deschamps did not play in their home country."

Recent continental success would suggest that the Bundesliga boasts the better sides.

Bayern have made at least the Champions League semi-finals in each of the last four seasons, beating Dortmund in 2013's all-German final.

In the same period, only Chelsea's record comes anywhere close, the Blues having won the competition once and made it to the semi-finals one other time.

Where the Bundesliga cannot compete, however, is money.

The EPL's staggering television rights deal - £5.136 billion (S$10.9 billion) for rights between 2016 and 2019 - puts the Bundesliga in the shade.

Its current deal with Sky Germany, which runs till 2017, reaps an average of €628 million (S$946 million) a season.

But Seifert believes the Bundesliga still can thrive without taking on the EPL head on, saying: "At the end, we do not look so much at what is this country or that country doing. It makes more sense to focus on our own strengths.

"We have to have a system that is world class in developing young players because this is the nature of the game, that young kids start to play football and become stars.

"On the other hand, we want to give our clubs the financial opportunity that they can also buy some good players from other leagues. I think we should be one of the three strongest leagues in the world no matter how you measure it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Bundesliga's Fox deal aims to capture hearts in Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe