DAZN: How Alex Schlüter carefully mapped out the route to success

By Martin Haase

Alex Schlüter knows what is important in sports streaming. Photo: Dirk Bruniecki

It used to be the "Netflix of sports broadcasts," today the name DAZN stands for itself. The six-year-old streaming service promises to be the place for "the best live soccer”. In addition to live shows, there are documentaries and magazines. Alexander Schlüter has helped shape the project from the very beginning. The presenter and commentator explains how DAZN got successful and what prospects he sees for sports journalism.

When DAZN established itself in Germany in 2016, the first question most people had was, "How do you pronounce that?". Today, the sports streaming company with a German headquarters in Ismaning near Munich is a well-known name for most sports fans. The company, which founded the platform under the name Perform Group in August 2016, has been called DAZN Group since 2019. The streaming provider is challenging the position of market leader Sky. In the battle for broadcasting licenses in particular, DAZN was able to prevail over the competition in some top-class soccer competitions and win the right to broadcast. Also the young streaming provider sets itself apart from the competition with its own style.

A central figure: Alexander Schlüter, who worked for the former Perform Group subsidiary Opta Sports (now part of Stats Perform) even before DAZN was founded in Germany. Schlüter joined in 2016 and left a lasting influence on the portal. First with the title "Lead In Vision," later as chief moderator and today as a freelancer, he moderates and comments on soccer and basketball games. Together with experts such as Austrian national coach Ralf Rangnick, he hosts the DAZN show "Decoded. Since the end of October 2022, he has also been in front of the camera for the format "Inside Football," an in-house production of the streaming platform on finance in soccer. Together with sports presenter and commentator Benni Zander, Schlüter can also be heard on the podcast "Kicker Meets DAZN.

DAZN as a scalable start-up

Joining DAZN was a lucky breakthrough for Schlüter: "It wasn't so easy for me in 2016 because I actually always thought freelancing was great. But I had a lot of preliminary discussions, so I could feel this 'thing with the four letters'. I knew then that this was the best thing that could happen to me. And I haven't regretted it." In the beginning, working at DAZN still had the character of a start-up, and a lot of things were flexible. "Certain tracks had already been laid. It was obvious that we had a few broadcasting rights, which were particularly important for the start. But what would a successful company look like? That journey would still be before us."

The headquarters of Perform Group (now DAZN) is located in the United Kingdom, but Schlüter and his colleagues hardly noticed its influence. "The British bosses said right from the start: no one knows the market in Germany as well as you do. And we trust you." Schlüter, back then employed as "Lead In Vision" -  in other words, a manager for everyone in front of the camera - worked on how DAZN should actually appear. "It was a huge thing for me to be able to help shape this as a permanent employee and ask: How do we actually broadcast? It begins with questions about whether we should be on first-name terms with viewers, what clothes we wear and - more importantly - what our focus is."

»Our aim is to tell the viewers something about soccer that they didn't already know. And not in an academic language, but in a way a buddy would do it in the pub.«

DAZN stands for a special depth of content, explains the 37-year-old. "Our viewers don't have posters of topless Mats Hummels and co. hanging in their room, they are rather interested in the tactic sketches of how Mario Götze scored the decisive goal in the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina." One of his tasks was to create a commentator's guide. This highlighted the key points that set DAZN apart from other sport broadcasts. The tone of address, the style of commentary and the approach to content were defined: "Our aim is to tell the viewers something about soccer that they didn't already know. And not in an academic language, but in a way a buddy would do it in the pub who happens to be heavily into soccer. That's something we can be proud of since it caught on and we've remained true to it to this day."

Keeping an eye on the target group

DAZN went live in Germany on August 10, 2016, during a hectic period for Schlüter and his colleagues: "We had already simulated live operation for a month without going live. That's why the launch didn't feel that different. It was more like a state of intoxication." It continues to this day - at least until the end of the season and the important games in international competitions. After that, it's time to take a deep breath. That's also important for the viewers, says Schlüter: "The fans want to enjoy the game and it would feel weird for them if the guy in front of the camera is stressed."

When it comes to the broadcast concept, DAZN is trying to reach a wider audience. This is happening not only through the growing range of live broadcasts - most recently DAZN secured the broadcast rights to the women's Bundesliga - but also by experimenting with in-house productions. For example, with the entertainment show "Tippitaka" with comedian Abdelkarim, which was put on ice after two months. Schlüter explains: "It's quite logical to try things out to get other target groups on board. Also from a content point of view: people are ambivalent and then we challenge them a little more with a show like 'Decoded'." Or entertain more loosely, which was attempted with "Tippitaka": "But this ia a field in which not every shot is right. In the current phase, we are learning what works and what doesn't." DAZN is at a point of reflection after the past six years where it needs to look back and analyze what viewers appreciate. But also where there is still potential. "The success of the next few years will be based on taking both into account," says the presenter.

Photo: Dirk Bruniecki

Characters generate recognition value and identification

One of the special features of DAZN is its young team. More programs also mean more staff – and suitable candidates have to be found first. To this end, the streaming service has been beating the advertising drum and has placed spots in its own advertising windows calling for applications for presenter and commentator positions. Was the campaign necessary because people no longer wanted to be in front of the camera? On the contrary, explains Schlüter: "The casting showed that there are a lot of people out there who have what it takes."

DAZN wants to use its own style to build a connection with viewers. "In the best case, they see Schlüter and realize that the moderation is heading in a direction they like. There are also people who wonder why I'm standing there again. I have to put up with that, too. But if it didn't work out with me in general, someone would have kicked me off the company by now."

Ultimately, the presenters and commentators embody what DAZN is all about: the combination of staying true to oneself and trying something new. It's not about one person representing DAZN as a brand to the outside world. But rather a common style with different personalities. "On the one hand, viewers know what Alex Schlüter stands for, but on the other hand, Laura Wontorra, for example, brings a completely new style to the table.

Finding the right balance

Schlüter has a vision for his future as a sports journalist: "Talking about things in sport that have less to do with the sport itself. I think it's the holy grail to do a soccer show in an entertaining sense, for example to talk about sports while being casually entertaining. With very few exceptions, no one has ever managed to do that."

What does he personally sometimes miss out on in sports journalism? "There are too few 'how questions' asked." For example, in American football, it's common for commentators to explain how exactly a particular play could have led to success. "There's still a lot of potential in soccer. I'm always coming across new things that I need to understand and I believe that viewers can also be challenged a little more." For Schlüter, DAZN has found a good mix in this regard, which should also be the goal: "At some point, the final station arrives and then the passengers should say that they forgot the time because the journey was so enjoyable. That's not easy to achieve, but it's the only way to approach every production. And I also draw my personal motivation from that."