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FOX’s Bundesliga TV ratings give ESPN+ a starting point

With no promotion or effort from FOX Sports, the two Bundesliga matches that aired on FS1 this past Saturday averaged 298,500 viewers. The highly anticipated derby between Dortmund and Schalke averaged 365,000 viewers, which was followed by the more “user-friendly” kick-off time of 12:30PM ET for Frankfurt-Borussia Monchengladbach that netted 232,000 viewers.

Looking at the English-language viewing numbers in isolation, the metrics from FOX Sports give us a clear view of how the English-language only broadcasts performed.

Looking at the numbers, is the glass half full or half empty?

Since 2015 when FOX Sports acquired the rights, the vast majority of Bundesliga games on FS1 have failed to crack the 100,000 viewers per game number. So, the 298,500 number is a considerable increase. Sidenote: Don’t be surprised if you see FOX Sports’ PR department touting a huge increase in order to spin these numbers.

To be fair, the numbers on FS1 are poor. Given that there were no other sports on television, and that the Bundesliga is currently the only soccer league broadcasting on television, these numbers should have been much, much greater. Whether the numbers are a reflection of the low morale among soccer fans in the United States right now given the plight of the national team or are indicative of the mountain that the Bundesliga has to climb to win mass appeal, it’s unclear. But with no sports or soccer on television last Saturday, these English-language metrics are disappointing to say the least.

And of course, there’s the FOX factor. For years, World Soccer Talk has been writing about how much of a disconnect there is between FOX and soccer fans, and how the sports network doesn’t understand how to broadcast soccer. But despite our years of criticism and the fact that FOX Sports “mailed in” their coverage of the Bundesliga last weekend, the low numbers can’t be blamed solely on FOX Sports.

DateGameBroadcastersTotal avg. viewership
5/16/20Dortmund-SchalkeFS1 & FOX Deportes407,000
5/16/20RB Leipzig-FreiburgFS2 & TUDN121,000
5/16/20Frankfurt-GladbachFS1 & TUDN273,000
5/17/20Köln-MainzFS1 & FOX Deportes205,000
5/17/20Union Berlin-Bayern MunichFS1, UniMas & TUDN583,000
5/18/20Bremen-LeverkusenFS2 & FOX Deportes62,000

I believe there is a bigger issue underfoot, and that is one of dramatically changed consumer viewing habits — both short-term and long-term. Short-term is based on how all of our lives have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 coronavirus. We’re not in the same mode as our daily work/life habits used to be. We’ve changed. Long-term, our viewing habits aren’t the same either. We’re streaming more content across our tablets, smart TVs, laptops, phones and other devices.

Taking us back to the Bundesliga from this past weekend, FOX Sports made two major mistakes. One, they don’t have a robust streaming platform that aired the Bundesliga games. Their current one, FOX Soccer Match Pass, has already announced its shutting down. The service is so bad and unreliable that they forgot to air the start of Monday’s Bundesliga game to their paid subscribers. And second, in this day and age where our lives have been turned upside down, FOX Sports did little to zero promotion that they were airing the games.

SEE MORE: Schedule of Bundesliga games on US TV and streaming

And this is a lesson that all of the broadcasters should recognize. You can’t just put programming on television and expect an audience to tune in. You have to find ways to market to them to make them aware. Not everyone follows the @FOXSoccer or @Bundesliga social media accounts. You have to be disruptive in your marketing, make talent and executives available for interviews and mount a public relations campaign, at the very least.

While FOX Sports failed us, the 360,000 ballpark for the Bundesliga is a good barometer to measure where the German league is currently in the United States (Sunday’s Union Berlin-Bayern game also averaged 361,000 viewers on FS1). With ESPN+ acquiring the rights to the Bundesliga from the 2020/21 season that will begin later this summer or early fall, ESPN and the Bundesliga know that there’s a strong foundation to build from. With more effort, they will see better results.

When the Spanish-language numbers from FOX Deportes, UniMas and TUDN are added into the total averages, this past weekend’s numbers will look more favorable. However, it’s important to analyze the English-language numbers in isolation to see how they’re trending so we can see what the “jumping-off point” will be for ESPN+ and the Bundesliga.

The saving grace for the Bundesliga is the fact that they’re the only soccer on U.S. television for the next three weekends, so the opportunity is there for these numbers to increase before the baton is passed to ESPN+.

SEE MORE: Beginner’s guide to the Bundesliga

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  1. Spunky

    May 20, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    My cable package doesn’t include FS2. I’m going to miss the upcoming Berlin derby this Friday (FS2), and the bars aren’t open in NY yet.

    I’m not going to miss Fox’s random coverage. They needed to commit to FS1 to keep coverage consistent for fans. I’m also a big fan of Ian Paul Joy, he is super passionate and fun for Bundesliga, but Fox management hardly kept him around.

    Looking forward to ESPN+. It’s only $5 and I won’t have inconsistent coverage issues.

    Americans aren’t familiar with Bundesliga players. I think it’s up to the Bundesliga and the player’s agents to get their players marketing contracts to improve their visibility in America. Ronaldo and Messi did it successfully. Other than those two, soccer is unknown in the USA.

    • nosferatu

      May 21, 2020 at 2:58 am

      I get FS2, but in standard definition on Spectrum, which is kind of appalling here in 2020. They also took away Fox Soccer Plus a couple months ago, turning it into a $10/month subscription channel.

      And now I see they (or Fox–it’s unclear) aren’t making any replays of games available on the Fox Sports app. Before the lockdown you could watch replays of games as long as they aired on channels you received (for instance, I’d be able to see games from FS2–and in high definition on the app), but now they give you nothing. I don’t know who I should be mad at, but the fact that I pay for an expensive cable subscription and can’t watch these replays is pretty ridiculous–especially when I’m hungry for games and would watch a bunch if possible. This is the kind of thing that makes me happy they’re moving to ESPN+.

    • Karl

      May 27, 2020 at 11:26 am

      Thank you for noting the consistency. I look forward to the ESPN+ transition so I have access to all Bundesliga matches (save for 4 per year on linear cable) as well as the DFB Pokal since it looks like it’s going to continue being the main European league for American players. The non-German soccer is just gravy to me but my likelihood of watching a Serie A match will increase dramatically and hey, I might (I mean probably not, but maybe?) even watch an MLS game once I subscribe.

      As for “but the casual fan” arguments I’m seeing, I think you’re only going to see more “niche” (call it sub-500k?) audience sports rights move to streaming across the board. The costs (both direct production costs and opportunity costs of other programming) for such small audiences are not worth it for cable networks compared to the direct to consumer subscription revenue from the small audiences that care about it.

  2. Azer

    May 19, 2020 at 10:21 pm

    Putting the Bundesliga on ESPN3 would be much better than ESPN+ It’s more accessible, the DFB Cup is there too. I wonder if Disney told the Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert about ESPN3 when he signed the contract or kept it a secret. We need to tell him or anyone at the Bundesliga who’ll listen. I will contact the Bundesliga.

    • Blue Lou

      May 20, 2020 at 2:43 pm

      You don’t think they made more money by putting it behind a paywall, genius?

      • Azer

        May 20, 2020 at 10:31 pm

        You’re missing the point. ESPN3 is more accessible, no additional payment required, all you need is good internet access. Just click and watch. In one of the Podcasts, not that long ago, Chris and Kartik mentioned this very issue. Think about it.

        • Monte Reed

          May 21, 2020 at 9:28 am

          If they put it on ESPN 3, why have ESPN+? I expect in a few years when all contracts have expired, ESPN 3 will disappear and everything will transfer over to ESPN+. As an ESPN+ customer, the sooner this transition happens, the better ESPN+ becomes. The one SerieA match a week and the 4 Bundesliga matches per year on one of the main ESPN channels is to make sure we still subscribe to cable (as a FuboTV subscriber I do not get ESPNs).

  3. Paul

    May 19, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    I am a critic of FOX coverage of the game regardless of league going way back. However, I will say that they have made some major improvements from where things stood even a few years ago. They are still behind others coverage of footy, but the gap is closing.
    I too am happy to see Bundesliga move to ESPN+. To me, the movement of channels and content to online is inevitable and quite convenient in this day and age, and all of my tv’s are hooked up with Roku’s and AppleTV’s so “channel access” isn’t an issue.
    Besides, having access to all Bundesliga matches live and on replay for $5 a month is a steal of a deal, plus access to other leagues. If you are a Bundesliga fan, I see this as a win-win.

  4. John

    May 19, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    FOX lost UFC a year ago.

  5. DB

    May 19, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    Bundesliga deserves to be on ESPN+, hidden away in the menus, like all the other leagues the service carries. It will find viewers but for match replays rather than live matches. EPL will continue to be the monster, with all other leagues scrambling for crumbs. People can only watch one match at a time and if it’s not a Premier League match, it’s more likely to be one of the big Spanish clubs.

    Fox had a chance to do something special with Bundesliga last weekend and decided instead to go cheap and cut their losses. Tells you all you need to know about them. Let them be the home of racing and MMA and allow soccer to go where it can be handled appropriately (and ESPN+’s league-feed is the appropriate use for the viewership it will get).

    Now if we can just move national team broadcasts off Fox….

  6. John

    May 19, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    They will be worse on ESPN+ going head to head with EPL on being on a subscription service. Whatever Serie A is getting on ESPN+ is where the Bundesliga bar is.

    • Eddie

      May 20, 2020 at 12:56 pm

      I don’t know if the premier league will go to ESPN plus or stay with NBC sports.

  7. JP

    May 19, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Chris, you may say that there’s no hatred towards Fox, then you write this…

    “Since 2015 when FOX Sports acquired the rights, the vast majority of Bundesliga games on FS1 have failed to crack the 100,000 viewers per game number. So, the 363,000 number is a considerable increase. Sidenote: Don’t be surprised if you see FOX Sports’ PR department touting an increase of “more than 250%” in order to spin these numbers.”

    So you’re preemptively calling it “spin’ IF Fox does tout the factual 250% increase?

    Now I don’t think the increase has anything to do with Fox, for sure. As we all said when Bundesliga announced it’s return, a bump in ratings was expected given they’re the only live sports in town. This did happen.

    Do not believe this new bump is indicative of what ESPN+ can expect however. Going up against EPL and La Liga (not to mention other traditional American sports) will make this almost impossible. The market for soccer viewers isn’t infinite, and right now Bundesliga is probably 3rd at best on the food chain. Add the fact it’ll be streaming and not on TV to grab the casual viewer flipping channels, the situation becomes even more difficult. I myself enjoy the Bundesliga when given the chance, but most often I’m choosing Serie A or La Liga if given the choice. The vast majority who prefer EPL are an even tougher sell.

    • Monte Reed

      May 19, 2020 at 12:38 pm

      I’m part of the bump, I watched matches in every time slot this past weekend. I watched more Bundesliga this past weekend than I have my entire life. As of right now, I do not plan to watch Bundesliga next season on ESPN+ since I rather watch Serie A if I have ESPN+ app on. But, with several upcoming weeks with no other soccer league on I might start following them.

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