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Bundesliga’s OTT service to be ‘complementary’ during forthcoming rights cycle

Bundesliga Pass, the over-the-top subscription service that has been developed by Germany’s Bundesliga, will primarily be used as a “complementary” service, with the lion’s share of coverage worldwide set to remain with broadcasters in each territory.

The German Football League (DFL) revealed in August that it had been working on its own direct-to-consumer offering to showcase live games from the top-tier Bundesliga from the 2020-21 season onwards.

The move was viewed as a self-defence mechanism by the league to arm itself with more leverage in rights negotiations, in addition to developing the property in some markets, but raised the question as to how many markets the league would, in reality, retain the rights to showcase itself.

Speaking to SportBusiness here at Sportel Monaco, Robert Klein, chief executive of Bundesliga International, the league’s worldwide rights sales arm, said: “We’ve got great partners in 211 markets. Therefore I anticipate that we’re going to continue deals with these partners or similar players.

“The Bundesliga Pass is in an initial sense more a complimentary offering and what lies on there is a very good question. You need compelling content to make sure that people are going to be coming back.”

A provisional price point of $7.99 per month has been set for the direct-to-consumer service, but the exact pricing would be dependent on the market in question. Free (non-live) content could also be offered and with Klein and his team encouraged by research backing up the appetite among a young demographic for lifestyle stories on players and clubs, along with a range of data.

Expanding on the OTT offering, he stated: “Any professional league now has to have the possibility to offer their own direct-to-consumer [platform] for a number of reasons.

“It can be to go into a territory where you believe the product can actually stand on its own two feet. It could be to have a supporting offering alongside a traditional partner there because there is so much content that we produce and fans that ask for it as an alternative. And also as a defensive mechanism.”

“Therefore the Bundesliga Pass is ready to go at the right time if and when we need it in a number of territories.”

Bundesliga Pass has been devised with the intention to stream all Bundesliga games, plus live games from the second-tier 2. Bundesliga, and also showcase around 8,000 hours of archive content.

Bundesliga International is now actively going to market (or will soon do so) with its rights outside of Europe, China and USA (where a six-year deal was recently struck with ESPN) given the existing agreements expire at the end of this season. The rights sales processes are now particularly “live” in Asia, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa.

The rights sales vary in nature between invitations to tender that are issued and direct conversations with broadcasters.

The recent ESPN+ agreement was evidence of Bundesliga International’s willingness to embrace a rights deal that priorities content distribution via OTT. Just four games per season are expected to be shown by ESPN’s linear channels.

Klein said that Bundesliga International would look to agree similar digitally-focused deals elsewhere subject to the “partner, the territory and what is on offer”.

He added: “With the ESPN deal the home of Bundesliga will be on a digital platform (ESPN+) but it’s part of a much bigger ecosystem. They have 93 million unique users on a monthly basis on their digital platforms.”

A broadcaster’s “storytelling” role has become a key component alongside the delivery of the live content, he added.

Asked about the league’s appetite to sell rights on to agencies, Klein pointed to the increased sales capacity at Bundesliga International and the desire to have a direct relationship with a broadcaster, but did not rule out awarding rights to agencies for the forthcoming cycle.

He said that agencies would still have a role to play “in the right circumstances” and if they can “deliver a better result and better relationship”, but that they would need to work alongside the league’s in-house arm in selling the rights.

In 2018, Bundesliga International terminated its agreement with the MP & Silva agency to sell the broadcast rights in 34 European countries until the end of the 2020-21 season.

On that note, he underlined: “We will also be very careful to make sure of course that they can provide the financial securities that we need.”