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The architect of Bayer Leverkusen’s record-breaking season has said the club’s success should help German football build a global audience to narrow the gap with the English Premier League. 

The team, which is owned by chemicals company Bayer, brought an end to Bayern Munich’s 11-year reign as Bundesliga champions and went on to complete the domestic double with victory in the German cup final on Saturday. 

“Our league title helps attract more fans in Germany but also internationally because the Bundesliga shows it’s an interesting competition”, said Simon Rolfes, Leverkusen’s sporting director and a former player who made almost 300 appearances for the club.

“This big success and winning trophies is always important for the development of a league,” the 42-year-old added.  

Bayern Munich’s years of dominance had often been cited as one reason the German league had struggled to build an international following at a time when competition in some other European countries has been fierce. 

Peer Naubert, chief marketing officer for Bundesliga International, said Leverkusen’s success had helped drive match attendance and TV viewership to “all-time highs”, and that the league was planning to step up its global marketing campaigns to “exploit this situation”.

Leverkusen completed the domestic season without losing a single match. Across all competitions, the team went 51 games without defeat, surpassing the previous record for European football set by Portugal’s Benfica almost 60 years ago. 

Although Leverkusen’s unprecedented winning streak finally ended last week with defeat to Italy’s Atalanta in the Europa League final, Rolfes said the club’s remarkable season under Spanish coach Xabi Alonso had captured the attention of football fans around the world.

Rolfes was responsible for hiring Alonso as head coach and for building the squad of young players that includes in-demand stars such as Florian Wirtz and Jeremie Frimpong. 

The team’s “attractive style of football” was an important factor in winning over new fans, the former player said, while its “performance culture” meant Leverkusen would continue to challenge at the top of the league in future seasons.

The club’s “sustainable” business model — based on unearthing cheap talent rather than bringing in expensive signings — meant player sales were possible, Rolfes said.

“If we have to sell a player, we try to use it to grow as a club,” he said. “We invest in new players, young players and try to develop them, and create transfer value.”

Like other European leagues, German football has been pushing to build its presence in international markets to help boost the value of its media rights, which are way below that of the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga.

Bar chart of Overseas TV revenue in 23/24 season, €mn showing German football lags rivals on international broadcast rights

Fernando Carro, Leverkusen chief executive, told the Financial Times in February that German football should let clubs bring in outside investors to make the league more dynamic. However, the Deutsche Fussball Liga was forced to ditch a planned deal with private equity following fan protests.

The DFL’s efforts to sell its next media deal is currently on hold pending legal action from DAZN. The sports streamer claims its higher bid for the domestic rights was rejected unfairly, while the DFL says DAZN failed to adhere to the rules of the auction. 

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