The Bundesliga will probably always live in the shadow of the Premier League in the United States. NBCSN brought England’s top flight into the mainstream with their terrific broadcast package a few years before FOX purchased the rights to the Bundesliga. Before FOX the only (legal) way to see Bayern Munich, Borrusia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen or VFL Wolfsburg was to have access to GolTV.
Since the start of the year, FOX has underwhelmed a lot of Bundesliga fans with their coverage of the league. To be fair to them, they own a lot more rights to various sports and competitions than NBC does. But to the average Bundesliga fan, it has always seemed like the Bundesliga was second fiddle to other FOX properties.
After the first half of the season, Bundesliga ratings on FOX were poor. The league average for viewers in the united states was about 55,000 per match. There was the occasional spike over 100k, but by and large, only the most fervent Bundesliga fan was tuning in. Now In February, Fox has a chance to start turning things around. With college football finished, the NFL done (as far as FOX broadcasts are concerned) and the MLB still 2 months away; FOX can start putting more effort into the Bundesliga.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 3, 2016
Saturday, two of the biggest teams in Germany play and it will be broadcast on FOX. Not FOX Sports 1 or FOX Sports 2, but the regular network. Last week was the first time that a live Bundesliga game was shown on the network. Viewers were treated to an exciting game between historic clubs Stuttgart and Hamburg. However, this week it will be Bayer Leverkusen hosting Bayern Munich. With all due respect to Stuttgart and Hamburg, neither team has the same pulling power as Leverkusen or Munich.
Interesting enough, the big draw for this game for US viewers isn’t Bayern, it’s Bayer. The reason for this is fairly obvious, Hispanic viewers are likely to tune in to see Mexican superstar Javier Hernandez. Chicharito has been in tremendous form for Leverkusen. He’s been one of the league’s best strikers, and just won Bundesliga player of the month for the third straight month.
3 in a row!
— Bundesliga (@Bundesliga_EN) February 4, 2016
Since joining the Rhineland club, Leverkusen has seen their viewership numbers grow about 250%. Since Hernandez is playing the best he’s ever played, it makes Leverkusen an attractive team to watch.
Bayern is no slouch either, they have a strong fan following in the US, with fan clubs all throughout the country. Putting these two teams on network television, in a time slot with no Premier League match to compete against should result in the highest rated Bundesliga match of the season. So what does FOX do next?
As previously mentioned, February and March are quiet times for FOX. There will be some competition with college basketball, but this should be when FOX heavily promotes the League. Saturday’s game between Hamburg and Stuttgart was a good start. The game attracted 468,000 viewers, so this Saturday that number should be well over a half million.
Sustained viewership is the key. Many people think of the Bundesliga as a one team league, and yeah, Bayern will most likely win their fourth consecutive title. Leagues in America pride themselves on parity. The worst teams get the best draft pick, for example. So the Bundesliga’s lack of recent title winners is a marketing problem. That being said, FOX can work around that.
FOX should be focusing on the big advantage that the Bundesliga has over other European Leagues, and that’s the amount of American and Mexican players. Chicharito will be talked about at great lengths on Saturday, and that will bring in a huge Hispanic audience. But what about the Americans? Unfortunately for USMNT fans, Julian Green won’t be playing on Saturday, he’s still spending his time with Bayern’s reserve team. Other Americans will be playing this weekend, though. In all, the Bundesliga has double the number of American players that England has for example. FOX needs to advertise that more. Instead, FOX mainly runs the same commercial promising “more goals, more passion.” The tagline in the United States should be, more Americans.
FOX also needs to look at how NBC handle game coverage. NBC’s commentary comes straight from the stadiums. While it’s fairly obvious most of the Bundesliga’s commentary is coming from a studio thousands of miles away. It’s the small details that make a big difference.
Building around the actual games needs to be more content developed by FOX. NBC has a well made, behind the scenes look at Crystal Palace. Occasionally, like last week’s profile on Robert Lewandowski, FOX will air a Bundesliga special. The problem is, it’s usually content made by the Bundesliga itself, not specifically for an American audience. Lewandowski is a great player and he’s great for marketing, but in the US, it’s more likely a profile on someone like Fabian Johnson or John Brooks would generate far more interest in the league.
The Bundesliga does a wonderful job of marketing, just look at their wonderful youtube page. But they’re a German league, putting out English content for the whole world, FOX needs to be the ones banging the drum for the Bundesliga in the United States, otherwise, why did they buy it? Saturday will be their chance to make big progress. Leverkusen and Bayern should put on a great show. Their first meeting was a 3:0 win for Munich, but it was a tactical masterpiece by Pep Guardiola who only had one healthy centerback. Coincidently, Bayern head into tomorrow’s matchup with only one healthy centerback. FOX hopes it’s a good game, they’ve got a lot of money riding on it.