Last weekend, Cincinnatians and those from surrounding areas absolutely devoured Fox Sports’ coverage of the return of the German top-flight Bundesliga, the first major European soccer competition to resume amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Cincinnati’s consumption of Bundesliga matches literally and figuratively moved the meter, according to reports, but this accomplishment didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know locally.
Big-picture, what was widely revealed over the weekend is that Americans are starved for meaningful, live sports (and even some re-runs).
That’s the lens through which Cincinnati’s Bundesliga consumption should be viewed, an industry expert told Cincinnati.com.
In what was touted by some as the latest glittering example of Cincinnati’s love for soccer, the region did indeed show strongly and consistently with the return of the Bundesliga in terms of TV viewership.
Cincinnati.com’s Paul Daugherty wrote on this phenomena on Monday. On Saturday morning, Cincinnati was the top metered market in America for viewership of powerhouse Borussia Dortmund versus Schalke on FS1.
Later in the morning, Cincinnati was the No. 2 market for metered viewership behind only Kansas City for Eintracht Frankfurt-Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Cincinnati replicated its viewership success on Sunday, ranking the No. 1 market for viewership of FC Koln versus Mainz and Hertha Berlin versus Bayern Munich.
Long-time Washington Post soccer reporter Steven Goff was the first to report the viewership numbers. In a tweet, he called Cincinnati’s viewership numbers “impressive.”
By Tuesday evening, Goff’s reporting on Fox Sports viewership numbers revealed major peaks in its Bundesliga coverage compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
That Dortmund-Schalke match that kicked off the weekend of domestic Bundesliga coverage? It had 365,000 viewers, Goff said in a tweet. The game was the most-watched Bundesliga match ever on FS1, and up 489% over pre-pandemic Saturday averages.
Cincinnati was clearly the top market for consumers on the opening weekend, but one weekend of strong viewership doesn’t necessarily signal a big win with long-term implications.
The ideas that Cincinnati, replete with German heritage, has become one of the bigger Bundesliga hot spots, or that FC Cincinnati might somehow win some points with Fox Sports executives or materially benefit from this in some way?
It’ll take more than one weekend of strong viewership to make all that real.
David M. Carter, a sports business professor at Southern Cal’s Marshall School of Business and a principal at the Sports Business Group, said experts look at the overall eye-popping numbers for Bundesliga viewership on Fox Sports platforms this past weekend within the context of pent-up demand for live sports due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Unique circumstances don’t always convert to a long-term opportunity,” Carter said. “To extrapolate and say ‘this means there’s keen interest in soccer in Cincinnati,’ ‘this means that everybody around the world loves soccer and is tuning in,’ it may not have meant that at all. There may have been some pockets of that but again, it goes back to what everyone was talking about for a very long time which was a pent-up demand for live sport. It really, in many respects, didn’t matter what that was.”
Now, that isn’t to say Cincinnati’s viewership stats are for nothing.
Where Cincinnati’s viewership contribution becomes useful is in showing that soccer, which has been on pause in almost every league in the world due to the pandemic, is healing after being dormant for months, Carter said.
“It starts to be able to help soccer with a capital ‘S’ tell a story about how it’s on it’s way back on all levels and all over the world and that includes those of (you) in Cincinnati that can’t wait to get started,” Carter said. “It is partly (an achievement) but it’s part of a bigger tapestry of the pent up demand to watch sport and it is by no means unimportant that Cincinnati is showing well but you get overly excited about it and the next time there’s a match on, Cincinnati’s not in the top 20 markets because it’s a beautiful early-summer day and the rest of the quarantines have been lifted.
“I get back to this: Forecasting based on any single piece of information is always really dangerous, and I’d say that whether the information was great or whether it was less compelling. But if you’re Cincinnati and you’re continuing to build your soccer status as a community, this certainly helps.”
The last line of Carter’s remark is what the Bundesliga numbers definitely reaffirmed: That the Queen City and its surrounding areas constitute a still-emerging soccer market that, on a given weekend, can go all-in on German soccer and punch above its weight class consumption-wise.
But since FC Cincinnati’s inception, there’s never been a question about that. The affinity for the game and the pluckiness of soccer culture here is well-documented.
FC Cincinnati’s had record-breaking attendance figures since its inaugural season in 2016. Last year, an FCC side that won six matches had its home games at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium attended by 27,336 fans, the third-best average in MLS.
That FC Cincinnati in May 2018 was awarded a Major League Soccer expansion bid is, perhaps, the biggest acknowledgement of soccer’s prominence, staying power in local culture and ability to perform on TV regionally and nationally.
TV viewership numbers could help cement the existing soccer foundation in Cincinnati but it’s more likely that would be a proposition with high peaks and valleys over a long period of time.