Interview with: Kevin Sim, Head of Asia Pacific for Bundesliga International

Mr Kevin Sim, Head of Asia Pacific for Bundesliga International, tells Goal Singapore how Bundesliga is being popularised here in Singapore

1) Obviously the Bundesliga has started, tell us what can fans expect different from this season, compared to the last one?

I think definitely there are a lot of changes (in the league). The traditional powerhouses Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have had new coaches.

With new coaches, it will be interesting to see if Bayern are able to continue its success because it has managed that a lot over the last couple of years under Pep Guardiola and as well as Carlo Ancelotti and Jupp Heynckes.

For the new season, (Niko) Kovac is a new coach and it will be interesting to see if they (Bayern) can keep up that level of performance. And in terms of Dortmund they have hired a very good coach in Lucien Favre and it’s interesting to see what he would do with a very talented squad. Undoubtedly the talent is there and obviously they (Dortmund) have signed some new players (also) to go with that new philosophy.

(Moreover) there’s the two newly promoted clubs that are coming in with rich tradition. (Fortuna) Dusselsdorf and (FC) Nürnberg. The two clubs have a long tradition and will be interesting to see what they do and how they perform.

The last season itself was the closest race for the European places as well as in terms of the relegation battle. So, who is going to survive in the top-flight also adds to the excitement. (Also) if you look at all the top clubs like RB Leipzig, (TSG 1899) Hoffenheim, (FC) Schalke 04. Those are the clubs that are going to challenge the two powerhouses (Bayern and Dortmund) given that there’s upheaval at both sides.

(Conclusively) it will be interesting to see who comes out on top at the end of the season. So that’s one thing fans can expect to be different but what will be the same is the level of excitement in the Bundesliga, and in terms of the quality of football. You look at the sheer number of talent coming through adds to the excitement as each club is stacked with young talents that play a brand of progressive football

2) Germany's top flight has grown considerably in Asia and in particular Singapore. What is in your opinion the unique selling point of the league?

There are two unique selling points of the league. One is that it is the most authentic league for fans of the game. The league itself is owned by the fans, we believe in the philosophy or rather our mantra which is ‘Football As Its Meant To Be’ and the stadiums itself are always full. We have the highest attendances amongst global football leagues.

For example we had a few guests who recently attended a Dortmund game and they came back and said on social media that the (experience) was the most exciting atmosphere at a football game, they have ever been to. Accessibility of the game also (plays a huge part) through cheap ticket prices and so it creates an environment where football can be consumed in an exciting way.

(Two), it’s one of the most exciting leagues as I mentioned due to the sheer amount of talent that is coming through the investment of youth development and technical skills. And last but not least for Asia, due to that focus on youth and technical skills, it has given a whole generation of Asian players to break through in the Bundesliga. We have 20 players from Asia playing in the Bundesliga and 2. For Bundesliga, that is more than all the other European top flights combined.

 If we look at players like Shinji Kagawa, (Makoto) Hasebe, and Hee-chan Hwang from South Korea there’s a whole host of Asian players, and Germany has become their preferred destination.

3) From your part, what is being done to popularise the league here in Singapore?

There are a few stages to this. Last year in July, we were the first European league to have an office in Asia. In 2012 we set up DFL Sports Enterprises, and so we were the first (European) league before any other to have a presence in Asia. That was the first step.

But now we are also looking to bring more events here (in Singapore). With the re-structure, we are looking to have more of a physical presence here in the region. This will mean having more legend tours, club tours and trophy tours that gives fans more opportunities to be more familiar with the Bundesliga as well as its clubs.

Obviously physically we can’t be in every market, so what we are doing is to increase steps into producing more digital content. Through the use of technology to offer more digital content we hope to have a deeper connection with our fans.

This means creating more local content and using it to better engage with our fans across the region. For example, a success that we have had is in China, where we were voted by the Red Card Award as being the number one among European soccer league in the Chinese online media for four years in a row. This is a sign of what we are going to do for the rest of Asia.

 
4) In Singapore most football fans are fixated on the English Premier League. Now do you see the Bundesliga maybe one day usurping the Premier league and becoming the number one league of choice here?

For us we don’t see ourselves in a race with any other league because we believe the Bundesliga is the most authentic league for fans of the game. And secondly we are a league with our own qualities. If you look at the league, there is never a dull game. Statistically speaking we have the most goals amongst all European leagues and that is an important indicator of how exciting it is.

(Additionally), if you look in terms of development as well as the sheer number of Asian players, it makes the games even more exciting to follow. So we are not necessarily looking to compete with the other leagues. What we have is a natural affinity to fans in Asia and so what we are doing now is to step up in terms of increasing the relevance with the fans in Singapore as well as across the region via bringing more tours.

For example in Singapore, just this year alone, we brought Roman Weidenfeller during the World Cup. (Also)  we brought Lars Ricken, (Bixente) Lizarazu, and the (Bundesliga) trophy here in Singapore. We are taking more steps to bring opportunities for fans to engage with us and so we are confident we are in a great position to grow.

 
5) Borussia Dortmund. It is a club which is of no stranger in the echo-system of Singapore football especially after their partnership with Warriors FC. How important is such partnerships not just for Bundesliga and Dortmund, but in uplifting Singapore football?
           

Firstly the aim of such partnerships is to give back to the grassroots, in developing football at that level. But I think it is also from a development standpoint I think it increases the interest in the game.

But more importantly, it gives us a chance to engage with football on a number of levels. So for example the Chinese and the Germans have a co-operation signed in 2016 and that was a partnership that was signed at the government level. And on the second level the DFB (German Football Association) and the DFL (Deutsche Fußball Liga) then sign a partnership together with the Chinese ministry of education and as well as the Chinese league.

So what that does is then improves the general quality of football and what that does also is increase the number of Asian players that are able to participate (in the Bundesliga). I believe there is a lot of opportunities to learn from the German football model which has seen a lot of success and which focusses on technical development, as well as structure.

Having partnerships like this is able to impart important knowledge and know-how to the local scene and improve the development and obviously have an exchange of football ideas and concepts, which will allow hopefully more players to step up to play in Europe and at the highest level.

6) What does the future hold for the Bundesliga in Singapore? 

I think we are very excited about the outlook (here in Singapore). The reason for that is because we are in a strong position to expand. If you look at the financial standing of the league, we just reached four billion dollars and are the league with the second highest revenue in the world.

At club level, 34 out of 36 clubs have positive EBIDA (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). So that puts us in an incredible standing for international expansion but more importantly, we have done all this in a sustainable way without selling out our values evident by the fact that most of the clubs in the league are owned by the fans themselves, because of the 50+1 rule.

That means German football is in a very healthy state. Most German clubs now have an office in Asia. Dortmund has offices in both China and Singapore. Bayern and (VfL) Wolfsburg have offices in China. So with that, the clubs themselves are looking to expand in Asia and for us we are planning to open a new office in China.

As we take more steps to bring in more events to the region combined with our use of technology to produce content, we will be able to better engage with our fans. (Thus) it makes us have an optimistic outlook for the future of the Bundesliga in Singapore.