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.
|Date||Game||Broadcasters||Total avg. viewership|
|5/16/20||Dortmund-Schalke||FS1 & FOX Deportes||407,000|
|5/16/20||RB Leipzig-Freiburg||FS2 & TUDN||121,000|
|5/16/20||Frankfurt-Gladbach||FS1 & TUDN||273,000|
|5/17/20||Köln-Mainz||FS1 & FOX Deportes||205,000|
|5/17/20||Union Berlin-Bayern Munich||FS1, UniMas & TUDN||583,000|
|5/18/20||Bremen-Leverkusen||FS2 & FOX Deportes||62,000|
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.
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