It’s too easy to blame FOX Sports for the poor TV ratings due to their failure to begin promoting its coverage of the Bundesliga just two weeks before the season even though they knew they’d be televising the games since 2013 when they acquired the rights.
The reality is that the Bundesliga TV viewing figures are more a reflection of the current interest level in German soccer compared to other leagues. A significant handicap for the Bundesliga is that it has a weekend schedule that almost identically mirrors the Premier League, the most popular English-language soccer league on US television. So, for the Bundesliga to thrive, it needs to change the viewing habits of Americans who are addicted to watching the Premier League on NBC Sports. That is a monumental task.
To be fair, both the Bundesliga and FOX Sports are starting from ground zero.
German soccer has been invisible from the mainstream after years of being shown on GolTV, which was a poor marketing and distribution decision by the German authorities. At the same time, FOX Sports hasn’t cultivated an audience of soccer fans that are used to watching hours and hours of club soccer on its network. The soccer coverage on FOX Sports is too sporadic — a US friendly one night, UEFA Champions League every two weeks on a Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, a MLS game on a Sunday evening. The result is that wall-to-wall weekend soccer coverage on FOX Sports is non-existent. Compare that to 8-hours of non-stop Premier League coverage on any given Saturday on NBCSN.
No wonder FOX Sports and the Bundesliga are having a difficult time trying to attract soccer viewers.
The TV viewing figures for Bundesliga games on FOX Sports are painful to read (see below):
Saturday, August 29
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen, 12:30-2:30pm ET, FOX Sports 2, 53,000
Stuttgart vs. Frankfurt, 9:30am-11:30am ET, FOX Sports 2, 4,000
Friday, August 28
Wolfsburg vs. Schalke, 2:30-4:30pm ET, FOX Sports 1, 85,000
Sunday, August 23
Ingolstadt vs. Borussia Dortmund, 9:30-11:30am ET, FOX Sports 1, 76,000
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Mainz, 11:30am-1:30pm ET, FOX Sports 2, 17,000
Saturday, August 22
Hamburg vs. Stuttgart, 12:30-2:30pm ET, FOX Sports 1, 90,000
Hoffenheim vs. Bayern Munich, 9:30-11:30am ET, FOX Sports 1, 71,000
Cologne vs. Wolfsburg, 9:30-11:30am ET, FOX Sports 2, 6,000
Sunday, August 16
Wolfsburg vs. Frankfurt, 9:30-11:30am ET, FOX Sports 1, 50,000
Saturday, August 15
Borussia Dortmund vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, 12:30-2:30pm ET, FOX Sports 2, 42,000
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hoffenheim, 9:30-11:30am ET, FOX Sports 2, 34,000
Friday, August 14
Bayern Munich vs. Hamburg, 2:30-4:30pm ET, FOX Sports 2, 32,000
Based on the above numbers, here are two observations we can glean from the data:
1. FOX Sports 2 is a barren wasteland.
The best the Bundesliga has done on FOX Sports 2 thus far has been the 53,000 viewers for a Bayern Munich game — and that’s for Germany’s most popular team. If you want to guarantee a minuscule viewing audience, then FOX Sports 2 is it.
The two main issues for FOX Sports 2 are (1) there are several major TV providers who don’t offer the network, and (2) for those soccer fans who are fortunate to even get the channel, many of the TV providers are only offering it in SD.
2. The Premier League > Bundesliga.
It’s no coincidence that the highest viewing audiences for the Bundesliga so far this season on FOX Sports have happened when there wasn’t a Premier League match at the same time (90,000 on a rare Saturday where there was no 12.30pm ET Premier League kickoff, and 85,000 on a Friday where the Premier League doesn’t have games scheduled; at least not until next season).
The bad news for FOX is that many of the people who are interested in watching the Bundesliga are already fans of Premier League clubs. And the number of times in the next few months when there’s no Premier League match being shown at the same time as a Bundesliga game is few and far between.
SEE MORE: Read Susie Schaaf’s weekly Bundesliga column on World Soccer Talk.
Interestingly, FOX Sports has informed Soccer America that they’ll be broadcasting a Bundesliga match on Sunday, September 13 on the over-the-air FOX network before or after NFL broadcasts (depending on local markets). The match will be the game between Bayern Munich and Augsburg from the day before (which will be shown live on FOX Sports 1).
The move by FOX Sports is a desperate one to artificially boost the numbers. The short-term benefit will be an opportunity to issue a press release to brag that they’ve set a record for the most-watched Bundesliga match on US television. The long-term strategy will be to hope that they can win over mainstream sports fans and encourage them to seek out future Bundesliga games on FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2. Plus, FOX Sports may decide to follow a similar strategy to broadcast more Bundesliga games on the over-the-air FOX network on a delayed basis during NFL season.
Why is the move by FOX Sports desperate? While the same strategy worked for FOX when they set an all-time record viewing audience of 1.6 million for a Premier League game shown on tape-delay in 2011, FOX had already cultivated an audience of soccer fans who were watching EPL games on FOX Soccer. For example, the number of people who watched that same game live on FOX Soccer was 360,000. In contrast, with FOX Sports’ coverage of the Bundesliga, they have been unable to surpass 90,000 viewers, which is pitiful in comparison.
But maybe the Bundesliga game on the over-the-air FOX network is the boost that FOX Sports’ coverage needs to generate more interest in future coverage? While we’ll see what impact the game on FOX has on future Bundesliga matches on FOX Sports 1 and 2, it doesn’t change the fact that the Premier League is the Bundesliga’s worst nightmare when competing for TV ratings. In order to inflate the numbers, tape-delayed German soccer broadcasts that don’t compete with Premier League games may end up being the best strategy moving forward.
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