Lukewarm start for the Bundesliga on Fox – TV ratings

The Bundesliga made its debut on Fox in 2015 with much fanfare. Do the numbers add up to make the experience worthwhile if we analyse TV ratings?

If the Premier League on NBC is the high school quarterback that everybody wants to watch and hang out with because he is cute, cool and stylish, the Bundesliga is more like the geeky kid. He is a bit shy but once you get to know him, he is the coolest dude.

With a half season of the Bundesliga on Fox behind us, we can certainly draw two conclusions from the overall ratings:

  1. Chicharito is an audience magnet;
  2. There is a LOT of room to grow because overall ratings are tepid.

The Bundesliga began its American marketing project in earnest after having struck a deal with Fox to broadcast and stream live matches with the start of the 2015 season. The deal will last until 2020. It is part of a five-year global (Americas and Asia) deal between the DFL (Deutsche Fussball Liga) and Fox Sports.

Germany helped its cause by winning the World Cup in 2014 and growing its international fan base. Behemoth FC Bayern and other clubs increased their global draw with Dortmund, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Leverkusen organizing international tours.

Weak numbers

The total reach of FS1, FS2, and Fox Deportes was certainly a big factor and potential multiplier for the Bundesliga when inking the deal.

With three channels available for broadcasting: FS1, FS2, and Fox Deportes, Fox pretty much covers a whole match day with nine fixtures. All matches are available for streaming as well through the Fox Soccer 2 Go app, which requires a subscription of $139.99 per year or $19.99 per month.

However, competition is stiff with NBC Sports throwing its marketing might behind the Premier League and averaging about 550000 viewers per match. In comparison, the Bundesliga scored just 55000 for the first 17 matches of the 2015-16 season. That is just one tenth.

Fox began its marketing blitz of the new Bundesliga crown jewel with a fizzle, I think. Attention during the summer of 2015 remained fully focused on the Women’s World Cup in Canada (which was successful) and the Gold Cup, where the USMNT did not meet the high expectations.

Several blog outlets, including Bayern Central, were however wondering about Fox’s seriousness. Their articles alerted executives on the latent demand and U.S. Bundesliga fans expecting big things.

This latency shows in the graphic below.

TV ratings
Large variations

With an average match audience of 55000 viewers, the Bundesliga is just a blip in the ratings reports, although a blip with great potential.

The development over the first half of the season shows some peak matchdays but a mellowing out during the last five days. Bayern’s dominance of the league, their big lead over second placed Dortmund, and the resulting perceived lack of competition and drama are reasonable conclusions to explain the sideway development.

The positive outlier was the replay of FC Bayern – Augsburg match on matchday 4 as a lead-in of Fox’s NFL coverage the following Sunday with a peak audience of 926,000. Despite that being a stately number, the only comment I received from an American friend about the match was: “That was never a penalty!”

It was an unlucky game to pick with the final score being 2:1, decided by a questionable PK call in the closing minutes. There is nothing like a controversial call against the underdog to get an NFL fan out of his shell.

Leverkusen proves popular, Bayern less so

The broader question is whether the allegiances of the average American fan lie within the Bundesliga The following table sheds some light on that question.

audience per match
Unlikely winners

Leverkusen is the clear winner with over 100000 views per match. This table, by the way, shows the overall average audience per team per match, ignoring home and away status.

You can certainly see some better known teams like Dortmund, Frankfurt, Schalke, Wolfsburg near the top.

Bayern? A disappointing 7th rank. There may be fewer Bayern fans in the U.S. than we think, or perhaps are they just tired of 70% possession without being challenged on a weekly basis. Is the 9:30 kick-off time in the morning too early for the beer-loving Bayern fan?

Consider that on the West Coast, a live match begins at the ungodly time of 6:30 in the morning. Most Bayern fan clubs on the West Coach revert to tape-delayed viewings. Gladbach and Berlin certainly benefit from USMNT’s players Fabian Johnson and John Brooks respectively.

If you take out the Ingolstadt – Leverkusen data point, Ingolstadt has 45000 viewers per match on average. A more sensible number.

Chicharito’s impact

What makes Leverkusen such a big draw? They do play good football despite a slow start and lack of scoring in the first matches. Their high viewership can be attributed to a single factor: the Mexican international Javier Hernandez, better known as Manchester United run-off Chicharito.

Chicharito

We are talking about an increase of nearly 90000 viewers per match or 250%, which represents his increase in scoring from Manchester United to Leverkusen! Roger Schmidt’s confidence in little Javier or the high-pressuring style of Leverkusen may suit him better than Louis van Gaal’s clipboard tactics.

Chicharito seemingly scores in every match and that is definitely a significant draw for his devout Hispanic following. By the way, Spanish-language Fox Deportes holds the top seven viewership spots.

Deportes

Germany does better in the Champions League

Is it the early viewing that makes fans stay away from the tube? Maybe not. The well-established Premier League and the following that NBC has built over the years have more to do with it than the quality of the football.

Why do I think that? You know the fans are out there when you look at German teams’ audiences for Champions League matches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in mid-week, in mid-afternoon.

Champions League ratings

Viewership multiplies by four in a Champions League match involving a German team, in comparison with a Bundesliga match on any given matchday.

Competition is better in the Champions League and the scorelines are tighter unless Bayern plays, of course. There are also better stories to enjoy: Bayern and Wolfsburg advancing out of their groups, as well as Leverkusen missing 30 shots on goal and failing to grab the decisive win against Barcelona.

Unfortunately, I was not able to retrieve any streaming data for Bundesliga matches. TV people and audiences know that streaming has become an ever-increasing source of viewership and the reasonable pricing of the Fox Soccer 2 Go service might attract more fans.

Quality of coverage not a problem

The Bundesliga has done a great job when supplying the U.S. audience with coverage, thanks to the English version of Bundesliga.com and a free app. Stories about players, clubs, statistics, history, matchday coverage and analyses kept the fans interested.

What do we make of Fox hosts Ian Joy and Eric Wynalda? They are doing a good job, with insight and anecdotes. I watch matches mostly at a bar, where the pre-game audio is not always discernible, so I leave it to other people to figure out what they think.

Final thoughts

What can Fox executives do to increase the numbers? The Bundesliga is an incredibly attractive product but it does not sell itself. Young audiences need to be a bigger focus and the German youth development system is a huge positive to stimulate interest. Today’s 15-year old will enter the coveted 18-49 demographics in just three years, but they need to be catered to with specialized content.

As I usually get paid for this kind of creative work, given the popularity of the Men in Blazers weekly Premier League show hosted by British duo Roger Bennett and Michael Davies, I would start a Men in Lederhosen show on Fox about the Bundesliga. You read it here first.

Sources: Nielsen, Sports TV Ratings

[su_label] Post editor: Michel[/su_label]