Much to the relief of football fans and pundits around the world, the German Bundesliga returned to action this past weekend for the first time in over two months. In New York City sports bars, residents finally had a reason to down a pint before noon. On football websites, writers could stop reporting on transfer rumors and social media posts and get back to discussing tactics, results and, of course, VAR.
By Greg McKay
Before clubs in Germany had even kicked a ball, though, commentators were asking when, and under what circumstances, clubs in other major European leagues could return to action. Chief Soccer Correspondent for The New York Times Rory Smith wrote, “The return of the Bundesliga before any other major league isn’t a sign of sporting success in Germany, it’s a sign of political failure elsewhere.”
The situation in countries yet to reopen to the same degree as Germany presents not just concern for those leagues still on hiatus but an opportunity for the Bundesliga to grow its profile on this side of the Atlantic.
Bundesliga On TV
In considering how the Bundesliga could benefit from being the first of the major European leagues to restart competition, it is worth looking back at how the English Premier League became the highest profile European league in the United States. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, aside from LigaMX, international leagues were all equally difficult to come by on American television sets, though certain satellite providers, such as Fox Soccer Channel, showed football from all corners of the world—Argentina, Brazil, England and Germany.
Football fans with a decent dish package could feast on River Plate, Vasco de Gama and Bayer Leverkusen all in one evening, just as often as they could Manchester United and Arsenal. At a certain point, though, a combination of European glory, capital investment and savvy marketing catapulted the EPL to the top of the table amongst stateside football fans. Other leagues certainly have a presence but none capture hearts and minds on weekend mornings quite like the English top flight.
But, with the EPL still suspended and plans to restart the 2020 campaign looking increasingly precarious, the Bundesliga is well-positioned to win fans in the United States over the coming weeks. As viewers will quickly realize, the football played in today’s Bundesliga is every bit as technical, fast-paced and exciting as the English Premier League.
Americans in the Bundesliga
Moreover, the Bundesliga has a history of giving American players opportunities going back to the days of Eric Wynalda and Claudio Reyna’s first professional clubs and now has a stable full of American starlets in its ranks.
Though the EPL has Pulisic, the Bundesliga boasts Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna all getting significant time for top clubs. Tuning in week-in, week-out to see how current and future USMNT players are performing is an attractive prospect for members of Sam’s Army.
This is not to say that the Bundesliga will overtake the EPL as the biggest league in North America and #MyPLMorning will be replaced by #MyBundesligaBrunch anytime soon. The Bundesliga is still playing in empty stadiums so fans who have not taken in Bundesliga games on a regular basis before won’t get a sense of the rowdy atmospheres that accompany football in Germany.
The German league also still faces the challenge of marketing star players in a multi-lingual environment.
The people who could be swayed to pay more attention to German football are the newer fans of the sport in the United States—the type who bought into the idea of football because it represented something cosmopolitan and provided a reason to head to a bar before noon on a Saturday. Fans who supported Liverpool before they rediscovered European glory or Arsenal when they once played some of the best football on the continent are unlikely to split allegiances once the Premier League returns in earnest.
At the very least, however, the longer the Bundesliga is the only show in town, the greater its profile will become in the United States and around the world, which could in turn lead to more outside investment in the German league. Who knows, we could very well be looking at a resurgence of German football in a couple years time, with its teams more regularly competing for European glory (hopefully with one or two American stars in the side).