After one month of no Bundesliga soccer due to the annual winter break, German soccer returned to US airwaves last weekend with a match between Bayern Munich and Hamburg. The game was shown live on FOX Sports 1. There was very little competition on other networks. Plus the game had the advantage of being shown during a historic snow storm across the United States, which meant that many more people were off work at home with nothing to do.
Yet the Hamburg-Bayern game failed to crack 100,000 viewers.
For the 92,000 people who watched the game on US television, it was another example of a very entertaining and open match — a game that soccer purists and mainstream sports fans could both enjoy. But if the most supported German team in the United States can’t surpass 100,000 viewers for one of their games, what hope does the Bundesliga have on US TV?
As it was, the Hamburg-Bayern wasn’t the most watched Bundesliga game on US TV last weekend. Hoffenheim against Bayer Leverkusen was. A total of 52,000 watched Saturday’s game on FOX Sports 1, while 78,000 watched it on FOX Deportes. But even with the Chicharito factor in play, it still took two networks showing the game to crack 100,000 viewers which should be setting off alarm bells at FOX Sports studios in Los Angeles, California.
So what is it? Is the Bundesliga not generating the interest level among soccer fans, or is FOX Sports doing a poor job at marketing it? The answer lies somewhere in between.
This Saturday, FOX Sports unveils the first of eight live Bundesliga matches it’ll be televising on the over-the-air FOX network. But if you hadn’t read the numerous articles on World Soccer Talk about it, you’re unlikely to know that the first game is being played featuring Stuttgart-Hamburg. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen zero promos, advertisements, press releases and interviews promoting this weekend’s game. It’s almost as if FOX knows that by doing nothing to promote this game, they’ll still get an audience of 900,000+ watching because it’s on over-the-air broadcast television. Those numbers will help juice up their future press releases, but it does little to grow the game or the league in this country.
At the same time, the Bundesliga is doing FOX Sports no favors. The simple fact is that the vast majority of Bundesliga games kick off at the same time as the Premier League, and with the Premier League being one of the fastest growing properties on all of US television right now, the Bundesliga coverage keeps on hitting a brick wall.
Take, for example, last week’s Bundesliga viewing audiences on FOX Sports:
Hoffenheim vs. Leverkusen; 130,000 viewers combined on FS1 and FOX Deportes; Overlapped with Norwich-Liverpool and 6 10am-Noon ET Premier League games.
Cologne vs. Stuttgart; 8,000 people watched the game on FOX Sports 2; Overlapped with same Norwich-Liverpool match and 6 10am-Noon ET Premier League games.
Monchengladbach vs. Dortmund; 23,000 viewers on FOX Sports 2; Overlapped with West Ham-Manchester City (which was viewed by approximately 976,000 people).
Frankfurt vs. Wolfsburg; 105,000 combined on FS1 and FOX Deportes; Overlapped with Everton-Swansea and Arsenal-Chelsea.
Schalke vs. Werder Bremen; 47,000 viewers on FOX Sports 1; Overlapped with Arsenal-Chelsea game (which was watched by approximately 755,000 people).
As you can see from the above numbers, when the Bundesliga is competing directly against the Premier League juggernaut, it’s simply no competition despite how entertaining German soccer is. And that’s the biggest challenge for the Bundesliga. Its schedule almost exactly mirrors the Premier League. And beginning next season, the Premier League will begin playing Friday games, which will overlap with the Bundesliga once more.
That makes this Saturday’s Stuttgart-Hamburg game more puzzling. By the luck of TV scheduling, the only major soccer game it’ll be competing against is Liverpool vs. West Ham in the FA Cup, and that game is being shown on FOX Sports 2 (which most of us know is a network dud in TV ratings). So even though Stuttgart and Hamburg aren’t powerhouses in German soccer, FOX Sports should be doing everything it can to promote this Saturday’s game on FOX. It’s one of the rare Saturdays when there’s no Premier League matches being played, and it’s an ideal opportunity to introduce US soccer fans to the incredible atmosphere and TV production that the Bundesliga excels at.
Yet, there’s nothing from FOX.