He also spoke on various things including the structure of Indian football during the interaction.
Like its contemporaries, the Bundesliga is also trying to expand its fanbase in India. The German top flight recently announced a two-year deal with broadcaster Sony Sports Network, that will allow all Bundesliga matches to be shown live for the Indian audience. But, unlike the other top leagues, the Bundesliga aims to go beyond just fanbase and revenues. “The ultimate goal is to develop Indian football and fulfill dreams of talented Indian players of playing in top European leagues,” said Bundesliga international CEO Robert Klein.
Although it remains a distant dream for now, India’s Subho Paul can claim to have come closest to living it. The young Indian forward was one of 15 players selected for the FC Bayern World Squad. As part of the team, handpicked by German legend Klaus Augenthaler from around the world, Paul had the opportunity to train under top German coaches.
This, however, is just the beginning said Robert Klein during a virtual media interaction, where the tie-up with Sony to broadcast Bundesliga matches in the Indian subcontinent was announced.
“India has got a very big potential in football. Obviously, you are a cricket nation and very good at it. Kabaddi has done an excellent job. But, football is the third fastest-growing sport and I think it will continue to be because it is so easy to play. All you need is a ball…and you’re on your way,” said the Bundesliga International CEO.
“Also, the exciting developments in terms of the structural reform of Indian football with the Indian Super League as your top league and the I-League, which is going to have promotion and relegation. It is creating a structure that can be developed down to the grassroots,” he added.
Indian players playing in Bundesliga
Klein also spoke on the partnerships between the Indian clubs and Bundesliga teams and explained how it will help the sport grow in India.
“The tie-ups like Borussia Dortmund (with Hyderabad) and RB Leipzig (with FC Goa) are also an indication of the potential for development and for us, it is great to see. We want our clubs to come here, but we also want Indian football to develop. The ultimate goal, for me, would be to have an Indian player coming into the Bundesliga or Bundesliga II. But, it will take a bit of time,” he gushed in response to a question from Khel Now.
“However, even in the last two 2-3 years, there has been a real step up. The football fans (in India) are wide and large specifically in the Northeast, Kerala and in Mumbai, which is becoming a hotbed. So, we need to focus on those areas first and then work together. I think these are exciting times for Indian football.”
Ownership structure in Bundesliga
The Newcastle United takeover by the Saudi Arabia-backed consortium has polarized opinions on club football’s future. It has made Newcastle the richest club in the world. Robert Klein was asked if the Bundesliga might need to allow rich owners to have stakes in football clubs.
“The Bundesliga are well-renowned for the 50+1 rule, which gives the fans and members a big say in terms of the development of the club. It has worked very well for us. It allows us to keep a community aspect with our clubs, which is why you see our stadiums consistently filled. The fans and the members are living this. More than football, it is a relation,” he said. “In terms of sustainability, it is very positive and it will also serve us well in the future.”
Bayern Munich’s supremacy in Bundesliga
One of the things that make it difficult for the Bundesliga to attract new audiences is the apparent lack of competitiveness. Often it is termed as a one-team league. That’s true to some extent admitted Klein, when informed about Bayern’s record-extending ninth consecutive league title win last season. The last time a team apart from Bayern Munich, lifted the Bundesliga was way back in 20211-12, when Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund won their second consecutive league title.
“Bayern have gone on an unbelievable run which has required a lot of hard work and skill to get to that level. Luckily, in the last 2-3 years, the league has been much closer,” said Klein, reflecting on the previous seasons. “So, I believe that Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Leipzig and Wolfsburg are consistently pushing Bayern, but haven’t got there yet. We are hopeful that in the coming seasons these (teams) will deliver a close and exciting race to the end and may the best team win,” he added, hopefully.
How Bundesliga is dealing with bio-bubbles & restrictions
Robert Klein also gave a brief view on how the Bundesliga planned and successfully orchestrated the resumption of football post the COVID-19 halt last year.
“Taking a step back, COVID-19 has had a huge impact around the world,” he said. “In India, in Germany and across many economies. But, even during these very delicate times, we were the first league back last year on May 16. We made a lot of learnings through that time, as to what regulations need to be put in place. What directives do we give to our production staff, to the teams and also to the people working around the teams. Now, as the fans return, we have regulations with them also,” Klein sighed.
He also spoke on how the clubs ensured the regulations put in by the states were implemented. That has helped the league in many ways to prepare for welcoming fans back to the stadiums.
“Germany has a federal-state system. We work very closely with the states to ensure that the local legislation is implemented for the protection of everybody. Therefore, we have been able to learn a lot in the last 15 months,” he said. “We have also shared a lot with other leagues in exchange. I believe that we are in a situation where we have good guidelines to welcome fans. Hopefully, we can fill our stadiums as soon as possible.”
Where Bundesliga stands in comparison to other top leagues
Despite Bayern’s success in the UEFA Champions League recently, the Bundesliga’s growth has been arguably quite steady in comparison to the Premier League or Serie A, which have created a huge audience in India. Klein offered insight into how research shows otherwise.
“In India, the Premier League has certainly been longer here and is doing a great job. All of the leagues are working in the right direction. Any tie-ups between teams or leagues or any developments or activations done are helping football in general, in India. In terms of Bundesliga, research shows that we are the fastest-growing league,” he noted. “We are the league with the most engagement, which is the most important aspect. We are going to continue on this path.”
Partnership with Sony
Robert Klein also stressed on Bundesliga’s two-year association with Sony. He shed light on how this partnership will help the German league and also Indian football.
“We have a two-year exclusive deal with Sony for the Indian (subcontinent) market and are delighted to be in partnership with them. We spent a lot of time discussing different potential partners for the upcoming two-year cycle,” Klein continued.
“But and crucially beyond this, we have ambitions. What we mean by that is around the matches, we have the possibility to do public viewings and the ability to work and bring events on the ground, so that we can engage with the Indian sports fans and the Indian football fans. That will help grow the Bundesliga and football in general, in India.”