If it’s not MLS, it seems that FOX Sports isn’t interested in giving other soccer leagues it has the rights to much coverage or publicity. That’s the message the TV network is sending to soccer fans in the United States.
After FOX Sports lost the rights to the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League all inside the last 12 months, the only European soccer league the U.S. broadcaster has the rights to is the Bundesliga, which FOX has had since 2015. While not broadcasting any other European club soccer competitions, you would expect the broadcaster to be able to focus more attention on the top-flight German league than ever before, but the opposite has been true.
Frustratingly for soccer fans in the United States, the past few weeks have seen FOX Sports broadcasting more Bundesliga games on FS2 than usual. While the number of games on FS2 is on a par with last season, FOX Sports has eliminated much of the typical pre-game, half-time and post-match studio analysis that we’re used to seeing on the network. It’s reached the point where soccer fans switch on a Bundesliga game not knowing if there’ll be any studio coverage at all.
So far this season, there’s only been one Bundesliga game televised on the over-the-air FOX network. Presumably there will be a few more games televised on big FOX before the season ends, but in comparison to the 2015/16 season when FOX televised more than eight matches on over-the-air FOX, it seems that the level of commitment by FOX to the Bundesliga is sinking.
We reached out to the Bundesliga and FOX Sports for comment, but before we get to that, there’s other concerning news.
As is the norm for every major broadcaster in the United States that televises soccer, the broadcaster’s public relations (PR) department will reach out on a weekly basis with updates on coverage, schedules and press releases to encourage the soccer and TV industry media in the United States to promote the coverage of a league. However, that isn’t the case anymore with FOX Sports’ coverage of the Bundesliga.
The last time FOX Sports issued a press release to promote their coverage of the Bundesliga was more than 18 months ago when it distributed a media alert on August 14, 2017.
And since 2015, the amount of press releases issued by FOX about the Bundesliga coverage has dropped from a high of 13 in 2016 to zero in 2018. At the same time, while the FOX Sports PR department has effectively given the Bundesliga the cold shoulder, the PR department has been focusing all of its soccer-related efforts in trying to pump up MLS, US Men’s National Team and US Women’s National Team (see chart below).
Number of soccer press releases issued by FOX Sports:
The irony is that this Bundesliga season has been the most entertaining one in years with a more open title race, an influx of American youth getting valuable minutes as well as many exciting high quality games.
FOX’s seemingly decreasing interest in promoting their coverage of the Bundesliga hasn’t gone unnoticed by soccer fans in the United States.
— Travis Timmons (@tptimmons) February 23, 2019
Yesterday they had a weather cancellation of NASCAR so showed replay of old event instead of switching to any live sporting event. I think most fans want some kind of certitude about their sport on TV, I switch on FOX Deportes before FS1 now for Bundesliga.
— ?????? ???????? ?✍️ (@MartinMulcahey) February 24, 2019
World Soccer Talk reached out to the Bundesliga for comment to find out what the league is doing to try to encourage FOX Sports to broadcast more of the league on FS1 and over-the-air FOX.
“We have a very positive and open partnership with FOX who have been key to increasing coverage of the Bundesliga in the USA,” said Bundesliga Executive Vice President Strategy Arne Rees. “With such a competitive marketplace, especially within the US, we are always pushing our media partners to do more in terms of coverage, marketing and promotion. We understand that all of our partners have their own strategic priorities, but rest assured we are working hard to ensure the Bundesliga gets the coverage it deserves as we continue our drive to reach as many fans as possible across the world.”
FOX Sports declined to comment.
TV distribution for @Bundesliga_EN in ?? jumped from only ~13m households (on @GolTV) to (almost) 85m by moving to #FoxSports for 2015/16. But only true if carried on FS1 (83m). Reality is #Bundesliga mostly ends up on FS2 (53m) or #OTT service “Soccer Match Pass” ($140/season). https://t.co/yZRACjGhpg
— Yannick Ramcke (@yannickramcke) February 24, 2019
The challenge for FOX Sports is that the Bundesliga isn’t a top priority for the broadcaster. When the rights were acquired for the start of the 2015/16 season, it was part of a global deal that was thrust upon the executives in the United States. FOX Sports in the United States didn’t proactively acquire the rights for the region, so there hasn’t been the buy-in since day one from the executives in Los Angeles.
At the same time, FOX Sports has treated the Bundesliga as filler. For example, prioritizing wall-to-wall coverage of NASCAR over the German league. As a result, almost all of the Bundesliga games televised on English-language TV during the past few weeks have been slotted on FS2, which has a much smaller distribution as well as not being available to many cable subscribers in the United States.
The Bundesliga and FOX Sports find themselves in a catch 22 where viewership for NASCAR is greater than the Bundesliga on FOX Sports. So from a business point-of-a-view, it makes perfect sense to broadcast the NASCAR over the Bundesliga on FS1. The challenge, however, is that it’s a vicious circle for the German league. The Bundesliga can’t grow its audience if it continues being cast aside on FS2. And timing is an issue too. Oftentimes, the most exciting time of the season is January and February when the races for the title and Champions League qualification heat up. But for the Bundesliga and FOX Sports, it’s also the time of the year when NASCAR monopolizes much of the TV time on FS1.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the actual studio talent (when used) and commentators have been working diligently to make the Bundesliga coverage as strong as they possibly can. When the talent is on-air, their commentating and analysis have been better than they’ve been before on U.S. television. But the studio talent and commentators can only do so much. Without the help of the FOX Sports company itself trying to increase the awareness of the coverage, the Bundesliga will continue to be overlooked and underserved.
The Bundesliga just isn’t a good fit for FOX Sports, and FOX is not a good fit for the German league.
FOX’s current contract for the US rights to the Bundesliga ends in May 2020.