MUNICH (Reuters) - Germany’s Bundesliga will attract legions of new armchair fans around the world this weekend when it becomes the first of Europe’s major soccer leagues to resume after a two-month shutdown due to the coronavirus.
In normal circumstances, the German game, dominated in recent seasons by Bayern Munich, lacks the marketing pull of England’s Premier League or Spain’s La Liga, which boasts the world’s two biggest clubs in terms of revenue - Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Yet even with a subdued atmosphere given the absence of passionate fans, with all games being played behind closed doors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Bundesliga can use the spotlight to show its worth to devotees missing live action around the globe.
“With the Bundesliga as the only league to be broadcast on TV, I expect we will have an audience of a billion,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told SportBild magazine on Wednesday.
In Britain, BT Sport is showing all nine Bundesliga matches live this weekend, including the Ruhr valley derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04.
The return of live action will also enliven the advertising industry, with the prospect of big audiences set to drive up rates for commercials during matches.
Misha Sher, vice president for sport and entertainment at MediaCom, a WPP agency that buys ad space for clients, described it as a “huge deal” at a time when people have so much time on their hands.
“Football fans will tune in and watch top level football because they’ve been deprived of that for months,” he said.
“And it’s not like they have options. I expect there to be huge demand to be around that inventory,” he added.
In Scandinavia, all Bundesliga games will be available on the Viaplay streaming service with selected games on pay-TV channels, said broadcaster NENT.
“We know how strong the appetite for live sport is, so we are delighted to offer top-class football to our viewers once again,” said a NENT spokeswoman.
Gambling companies also welcomed the resumption of top-level soccer in Europe, with British bookmaker William Hill describing it as encouraging in an update on its business on Friday.
Games will be played in empty stadiums with only about 300 essential staff and officials attending. Players have been told not to spit, celebrate in groups, or touch hands with team mates.
Some clubs will use music and cardboard cutouts of fans to liven up the atmosphere at matches and Sky aims to compensate its television audiences by offering recordings of fans’ gasps, cheers and chants.
Highlights this weekend include league leaders Bayern away at Union Berlin on Sunday with Dortmund, four points behind the Bavarians, playing Schalke on Saturday.
The attention might boost the Bundesliga’s marketability in the longer term. Bayern, Dortmund and Schalke are the only three German clubs to feature in the top 20 in the annual Deloitte ranking of soccer clubs by their revenues.
The funds due from broadcasters Sky, ARD and ZDF and other television stations for the remaining matches of the season were one of the main drivers for the Bundesliga to end its coronavirus-induced forced break.
In Germany, the DFL even granted the broadcasters a discount if they paid part of the agreed instalments before the Bundesliga re-started.
The total amount involved is just under 300 million euros ($324 million) and without that some clubs in the first and second division could find themselves in financial difficulty in coming months.
Additional reporting by Kate Holton in London and Helena Soederpalm in Stockholm; Writing by Madeline Chambers and Keith Weir; Editing by Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge