Fox Sports has billed the summer of 2015 as the “summer of soccer” as they’ve aired the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Guinness International Champions Cup, and regular season MLS games on their networks over the past two months. But as we make our way in August and the tournaments all conclude, Fox’s stable of soccer properties will dwindle. They’ve still got the MLS. On weekday afternoons, Fox will air the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League (much to the chagrin of Mike Francesa). Fox also has the rights to the FA Cup, but only a fraction of the matches from early rounds are actually televised.
There is, of course, an elephant in the room. Beginning with the 2015-16 season, Fox owns the US television rights for Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga. It’s been a chore for American fans to legally watch the Bundesliga in recent seasons because of limited availability, but this shouldn’t be much of an issue this year with Fox Sports jumping into the fold, right?
Well… not so much. The early look at Fox’s Bundesliga schedule is disappointing. Through September, just one game is listed as airing on either Fox Sports 1 *or* Fox Sports 2 – August 22nd’s clash between Hoffenheim and defending champions Bayern Munich. All of the rest will be airing on Fox Soccer Plus (which I honestly didn’t know still existed) or on Fox Soccer 2 Go, Fox’s streaming subscription service, for $19.99 per month. This is all obviously subject to change as the season approaches, but the early signs are not all that encouraging.
Now, there’s obviously no guarantee that the Bundesliga matches would perform as well as the Women’s World Cup and Gold Cup matches have. But let’s be honest – it’s not as if Fox is airing programming that draws a ton of viewers in all of the Bundesliga’s timeslots anyway. On Saturday mornings, their college football pregame shows were slaughtered by College GameDay. On Sundays, Fox NFL Kickoff struggled, and has now been moved to Fox’s broadcast network to open up the timeslot even further. Yes, conflicts with NASCAR and golf damper the ability for Fox to air Friday afternoon Bundesliga games through mid-fall, but that’s just one of as many as five timeslots each weekend.
When NBC picked up the rights to the Premier League two seasons ago, they immediately made a strong commitment to the league by airing as many as three live matches per day, and airing live soccer three days per week. Fox could do the same thing with the Bundesliga if they really wanted to, but they’ve yet to take that first step towards showcasing one of the most exciting leagues in the world. And it could be that Fox is waiting to release the FS1 and FS2 schedules, but as World Soccer Talk points out, it’s a mystery why Fox has done almost nothing to promote the Bundesliga this close to the start of the season. One would think reminding soccer fans that the network will be televising more world class soccer throughout the fall would be advantageous for Fox.
If given the choice between watching the Premier League and Bundesliga at the same time, I’m sure many fans would at least have to think about it. If given the choice between watching the Premier League on cable and watching the Bundesliga on a paid, streaming only service, the scales will tip much more dramatically in favor of the BPL.
Fox has an opportunity to extend their “summer of soccer” into the fall and winter and turn a hot couple of months into a strong year overall. If they let the Bundesliga languish on a subscription-based streaming service, the strong momentum will be slowed. And more than that, soccer fans will be very disappointed that they got their hopes up for finally being able to see one of the world’s best leagues get expanded cable television coverage only to be let down by Fox. It could seriously damper all of the gains already made by Fox this year to win over soccer fans.
UPDATE: World Soccer Talk has seen a prelim schedule for the Bundesliga (why Fox still hasn’t announced it publicly is anyone’s guess) that shows a worrying schedule for fans hoping to finally see action from the German league. It shows an average of 2 games a week on Fox Sports 2 on Saturdays with the rest of the games on pay services Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Soccer 2 Go. No games are currently scheduled for Fox Sports 1.