As U.S. soccer viewership has continually ascended over the last decade, The English Premier League (and for the last 3 years, NBC Sports) has always been the go-to choice of American sports fans looking for their Saturday or Sunday morning fix of live sporting action. In advance of the 2015-16 European season, Fox decided to test how deep the soccer viewership waters were by securing the rights to air the German Bundesliga, to rival EPL broadcasts. While no one anticipated a Leicester City-esque surprise in which the Bundesliga would attract similar ratings to those of the EPL, it was eye-catching just how low the inaugural season’s viewership was for Fox’s broadcasts. There is, however, a radiant silver living to that otherwise dark cloud.
The U.S. is about to host the most significant men’s soccer competition these shores have seen since the 1994 World Cup. The special Centenario edition of Copa America begins June 3rd, with the final taking place on June 26th. The tournament is noteworthy for a myriad of different reasons, however, its potential impact on U.S. Bundesliga viewership has the chance to be one of the longest lasting results of the event.
The number of U.S. internationals in the Bundesliga continues to rise, while the exact opposite phenomenon is taking place in the EPL. With Tim Howard returning to MLS and Brad Guzan’s future very uncertain relative to where he’ll be playing club football in August, it leaves Sunderland right back DeAndre Yedlin and Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron carrying the EPL torch for members of the USMNT (given playing time, Matt Miazga gets an honorable mention at Chelsea).
In comparison, the Bundesliga will feature the following USMNT regulars:
Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund (at 17, achieving things no U.S. player his age has ever accomplished at such a noteworthy club).
Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach (arguably the most talented player in the USMNT pool).
Bobby Wood, Hamburg (a 2nd division scoring machine (17 goals) in ’15-’16, now tasked with helping to restore the grandeur of one of Germany’s most historic clubs).
Aaron Johannsson, Werder Bremen (Unfortunately out injured for most of the past season, but will be expected to tally goals in ’16-’17).
John Brooks, Union Berlin (already an American idol for netting the game winning header vs. Ghana in the 2014 World Cup).
Additionally, the likes Timmy Chandler, Alfredo Morales, Zach Steffen, and Julian Green may be impact players in the Bundesliga in the coming season. Notably, Pulisic, Wood and Johannsson (and to a lesser extent, Johnson) are all attacking players. For decades, fans of U.S. Soccer have craved a world class attacking player(s) to put on a pedestal. Last week at the Soccerex conference in Mexico City, even Raul chimed in on what this country needs in order to take the next step as a soccer nation. "I believe that soccer in the United States lacks an idol and they should do everything possible to create one. In basketball they had [Michael] Jordan and now [Stephen] Curry, LeBron [James]”, said the Real Madrid legend.
In other words, the U.S. needs a world renowned goal scorer in a top European league. While that is not necessarily a fair burden to bear for the aforementioned players in the Bundesliga, they do fit enough of the criteria (young, goal scorers, top European league) for American sports fans to keep an open mind, and with the proper promotion, tune in each week to watch them play.
Speaking of proper promotion, guess which broadcaster has the rights to Copa America?
Fox has every incentive to tie the events of the summer during Copa America to their broadcast of the Bundesliga, and the U.S. stars who play in it. Imagine if Wood or Pulisic were to score 3 goals during the group stage, or better yet, score a game winner versus Brazil in the 2nd round. U.S. soccer supporters, and more broadly general sports fans, will immediately become infatuated with that player and want to follow his exploits for not only country, but also for club.
That entrée may be all that many need to find an additional new source for their European football.
The league will display similar traits to those which make the EPL so popular. Star players, intriguing storylines, and stadiums completely full of rabid supporters will be familiar sights to EPL regulars. Add in a number of American’s making a significant attacking impact, and it’s a recipe for success.
From a brand standpoint in the U.S., the EPL remains light years ahead of the Budesliga. Leicester City’s championship run will likely only help to further popularize the league, as such Rocky-esque storylines perfectly intertwine with U.S. sports DNA. There is a reason the EPL is the most watched league around the World and in the U.S. As we all know, however, sprinkle a little red, white, and blue on just about anything, and if timed properly, it will take off. The Budesliga (and Fox) are in a perfect position hit the accelerator this summer, and introduce their product to millions of American sports fans.