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How popular is the Bundesliga in the USA? Simply? It isn’t.
Now that I’ve answered that question in as direct a way as I possibly could, I’d like to add that I’m also not very interested in television ratings! They may tell us that the Bundesliga is not very popular in the USA right now, but it certainly doesn’t mean that it won’t be.
I personally have been increasingly obsessed with German football since the Rückrunde of the 2009-10 season. This passion has only grown over the years, despite it getting more difficult to watch the league from the US in the seasons that followed. It would have been easier to go watch the Premier League, but the Bundesliga had already won my sports heart.
Now that major network FOX owns the Bundesliga broadcast rights, German football is easier to watch than it has ever been.
Building an audience for the Bundesliga in the United States starting almost from scratch? It won’t be as difficult as finding a legal means by which to watch 2. Bundesliga matches from here, but it won’t be easy.
The numbers are in and they’re bad – but they’re also early
The US TV ratings for the Bundesliga have been miserable. Over the past weekend, the most-watched Bundesliga match was Hamburger SV-Bayer Leverkusen, drawing just 61,000 viewers. Werder Bremen-Bayern München was seen by 52,000, and only 11,000 tuned into Eintracht Frankfurt-Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Absolutely nobody in their right mind is going to try to spin those numbers as being fantastic news for the Bundesliga or for their US television partner FOX, but we’re also just two months into a five-year contract. Neither party likely expected great numbers this early, nor should they have.
Leverkusen?! What the . . . ?
But could anyone have expected that Leverkusen would be the early leader in US television ratings?
Even more shocking than their match day 9 ratings victory is that Leverkusen-Augsburg was watched by more people here than the much-hyped »Der Klassiker!«
Could it be that Leverkusen is somehow more popular in the United States than Bayern Almighty?
Can you hear the Bayern fans hyperventilating at even the suggestion?
Alright, calm down all you Roten! Mia san just kidding.
A single word can explain the phenomenon, though that word is neither English nor German in origin.
Mexican immigrants and their descendants are a huge segment of the football-watching public in this country. Mexico’s domestic league, Liga MX, easily outpaces our own MLS in TV ratings.
Sports fans are provincial by nature, so it should be no more surprising that Javier Hernandez gives Leverkusen added appeal in the USA, than it was when Dirk Nowitzki single-handedly triggered an increase of Dallas Mavericks fans in Franconia.
Inexplicably, I’ve become an American-born Fußball fanatic who is incredibly provincial about his favorite league (obvious) and his favorite club (Come on effzeh!).
But how do you duplicate the genesis of my passion for German football and disseminate it to the rest of the USA?
English! Do you speak it?
We’ve all been talking for a long time about soccer being on the verge of becoming huge in the United States, which is at least part of the reason the Bundesliga is right to be interested in growing its footprint here.
The vast majority of the people in the USA who watch club football on television can be lumped into either or both of two categories: the aforementioned folks with Mexican heritage and fans of the English Premier League.
English football was being shown on cable television for many years before it made the move to broadcast network NBC for the 2013-14 season. In addition to that substantial head start on the Bundesliga, the Premiership also holds the advantage having always been covered in English, which happens to be the native language of most of those soccer-watchers without Mexican ties.
And the number of people born in the US who can understand written and spoken German is quite low.
Televising the matches is not remotely enough to develop a fan base for the league in this country. The football is important, of course, but you have to give people a reason to want to watch it. There has been little marketing of the Bundesliga done here, but especially noticeable is the dearth of the most-common form of sports promotion: news presence.
Even now that the Bundesliga has arrived to a major US player in televised sports, there has been no significant increase in the English-language online presence of the Bundesliga or its member clubs. With the exception of just a few clubs, it would be virtually impossible for someone to find enough English content about a Bundesliga team to really get into it the way I’ve come to think US sports fans like to follow their favorite teams. Not having built a robust Bundesliga news website to support and promote its Bundesliga content seems like an incredible miss on FOX’s part.
For American sports fans to invest more-intensely in the Bundesliga, someone must invest in presenting the league and its multitude of storylinesto the English-only audiences here, not only in their language, but also in a style that is familiar and comfortable to them.
Sadly, FOX has yet to show interest in treating the Bundesliga news as a major entity. Foxsports.com’s Bundesliga landing page offers little Bundesliga content, and what little there is focuses on just one club. If even the network with a vested interest in league growth isn’t going to present the Bundesliga as being compelling, who will?
Do I sound pessimistic? I assure you I am not!
I have opinions about FOX’s handling of the Bundesliga, but only because it’s a topic of great concern. As a fan, I want to see the quality of the football, the palpable passion of the supporters, and the competitiveness of the league (well, at least from 2 through 18) presented to my fellow country-folk so they can enjoy it the way I have.
And should some decide to join the 1. FC Köln, well I don’t need to be the rare Ami in the club.
Article by Copa Collective member 11Freunde