As the last and final European soccer league that FOX Sports has the rights to in the United States, the German Bundesliga is unfortunately on the receiving end of FOX’s declining interest in the global game.
Sure, FOX Sports still have the rights to FIFA World Cup tournaments, Gold Cup and Major League Soccer, but if the match doesn’t have the words FIFA, MLS or SUM attached to it, there’s a noticeable decline in attention. The ‘why’ is difficult to ascertain. They’ve long given up on trying to appeal to the passionate soccer audience. In this case, the logical explanation is to follow the money. And with the Gold Cup and MLS, all roads lead to the FIFA World Cup and the enormous potential to generate massive sums of advertising dollars (if the US teams qualify). Anything outside of the FIFA/MLS/SUM triad is simply not a priority for the executives at FOX Sports.
Take, for example, their exclusive English-language U.S. rights to the Bundesliga, which is a prize possession that returns this weekend. Any other sports network would be salivating at the prospect of broadcasting live action. After all, sports is gold right now.
Instead of showcasing the games on the over-the-air FOX broadcast network, we were dismayed to learn that FOX decided to broadcast the games across FS1, FS2 and FOX Soccer Plus. Then this week we discovered that FOX Sports will use the world-feed this weekend instead of featuring their own studio talent and commentators. That means no pre-game show. No analysis from FOX’s American soccer talent to put the games into context for the casual sports viewers who might stumble across the channel. No Keith Costigan and Ian Joy commentating the games.
Apparently, FOX Sports see these games as simply fulfilling its contractual obligation. (Not surprisingly, the Bundesliga decided to switch their broadcaster partner for next season to ESPN+, and the Bundesliga CEO has publicly stated his disappointment with FOX’s commitment level to the league).
There’s no doubt that finances are stretched at FOX Sports given the declining ad revenue as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus. On top of that, in the first quarter of 2020, the loss of live sports among cable and satellite providers fueled an overall drop of 1.8 million pay-TV subscribers — the biggest drop on record. The numbers for Q2 (April, May and June) are expected to be even worse.
The lack of live sports is the key factor in driving the number of people cutting the cord. And when consumers cut the cord, that means a dramatic decrease in the subscriber fees that TV networks receive from cable and satellite companies.
So with subscribers cutting the cord and ad revenue dropping, you would expect FOX Sports to come out fighting and put their best effort into broadcasting these games. Call in the big shots like John Strong to commentate a game. Have their studio talent analyze the game from their home studios. Heck, do something.
Despite financial difficulties, it should be mentioned that FOX Sports are utilizing their talent to broadcast a weekly soccer news and discussion show via remote broadcasts from the homes of Stu Holden, Rob Stone and Alexi Lalas. FOX Sports are putting more effort into that show (FOX Indoor Soccer) than they’re putting into actual live sports. (Meanwhile, TV ratings for FOX Indoor Soccer have been abysmal).
FOX has raised the white flag and given up. With no games on the FOX network and no talent being involved, FOX Sports will simply flip the switch and use the world-feed direct from the Bundesliga which means promo reels at halftime instead of highlights and discussion.
FOX’s lack of effort is a kick in the teeth to the Bundesliga who have poured enormous amounts of time, money and resources trying to break into the American market including opening up an office in New York City. You have to wonder where the Bundesliga would be now if they had a better, smarter TV broadcaster. After all, this is one of the best leagues in the world. While not perfect, the Bundesliga has the foundation to appeal to American audiences. And with the league having a head start on playing again, now would have been the ideal time for FOX to make more of an effort instead of “mailing it in.”
SEE MORE: Beginner’s guide to the Bundesliga