Saturday, May 16, 2020 marked an important milestone in the world of sports since the coronavirus impacted lives all around the globe. No disrespect to the Belarusian Premier League, KBO League (Korean Baseball), and various other sports leagues, but the Bundesliga returning was the first “major” sporting league / event to take place since COVID-19 shut everything down.
Germany, along with South Korea and other countries, handled the pandemic extremely well and due to testing and preventative measures, they were early to market. Stateside, NASCAR, golf, and UFC have also returned, while we’re still waiting on solid news from the other “big five” domestic sports leagues.
Following the first weekend, I wanted to highlight some of the Bundesliga happenings from a U.S. marketing perspective.
FC Schalke’s “Choose Blue” Campaign
FC Schalke 04 may not be a household name to soccer fans in the States but they have a strong history and a current American star in Weston McKennie. In the week leading up to their first match, which happened to be their biggest derby against rival Borussia Dortmund, the club’s English and U.S. Twitter accounts went into overdrive to promote the team and gain new fans.
Launched back in August of 2015, the U.S. handle has a small following compared to the English account and the primary German account, but they are making themselves known within the world of #SoccerTwitter. Ahead of the Revierderby, the club launched a #ChooseBlue campaign to raise their profile and acquire new American fans. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the activities:
Multiple kit giveaways supported by jersey manufacturer Umbro? Check. Personalized jersey announcement graphic to welcome new fans? Check. Partner with FanSided to launch an official blog on a network of more than 300 sites? Check.
Earned media placements through Weston McKennie appearing on the popular Bleacher Report “B/R Football Ranks” podcast? Also check. Influencer campaign that had Cleveland Cavaliers forward, and noted Chelsea fan, Larry Nance Jr. along with Evertonian Roger Bennett of Men In Blazers both “Choose Blue” to show support? Check and check. NBA legend Kevin Garnett shouting out Weston McKennie in his new kit? Yep, that too.
— Schalke 04 USA🇺🇸 (🏡) (@s04_us) May 15, 2020
While the U.S. account was putting in the “hard yards,” the English language account was making online waves while specifically targeting Premier League fans. The below thread highlighted a reason for supporters of every current Premier League team to show their support for Schalke.
CALLING ALL @premierleague FANS 📢
We have a reason for fans of EVERY PL club to support FC Schalke 04 for the remainder of the Bundesliga season! 📝
THREAD 👇 pic.twitter.com/ge1UoUyMku
— FC Schalke 04 (🏠) (@s04_en) May 11, 2020
The thread was extremely genuine and educational. While there were a couple of inoffensive jokes, a majority of the reasons were rooted in past players, managers, city culture, and the color blue. If you’re a Premier League fan who only has passing knowledge of Schalke, this thread served as a strong education on the club without being condescending. The best part about this being a thread, instead of a video or flow chart or website article, is that it allowed each reason to stand on its own and get the fan bases of all 20 Premier League clubs talking.
The Online Rule, a UK-based media outlet recently highlighted what the world of soccer is doing from a social and digital standpoint. They recently dove into the the thread’s metrics. The initial tweet generated 37K reactions, which netted out to 317 interactions per 1,000 followers. In total, the thread generated 120K likes and 15K retweets. Interestingly, it really took off the following morning after originally being posted around dinner time.
A few days later, the U.S. handle did a similar thread with American sports teams from MLS, NWSL, NBA, USLA, and USMNT that had direct connections. While it had nowhere near the virality of the Premier League thread, it all laddered back to the #ChooseBlue and showcased direct American connections.
Was the weekend a success?
That’s going to depend on who you ask. On the field? Not at all for Schalke as they lost 4-0. From a marketing perspective, it becomes a bit of a mixed bag.
For Schalke, the U.S. account hit a modest follower goal of 20,000. We compared the growth of the account between the last week and the entire month of February, which was the last full month of games pre-COVID.
In February, the account saw 617 new followers for a 3.19% growth rate and received 1,833 mentions, which are tweets from public accounts mentioning their handle. For May 10-18th, the account added 596 new followers for a 2.95% growth rate. More importantly, they received 4,330 mentions, which is a 136% increase on the amount they received the entire month of February. As you can see, they gained nearly the same amount of followers in an eight-day span as they did in an entire month of games and received 2.36x times the mentions.
From a U.S. television ratings standpoint, there are positives and negatives to call out. We’ll start with the good news. Bundesliga ratings for the Dortmund v Schalke game score an overnight rating of 0.33 on FS1. That’s a 725% gain on the last match prior to the postponement. In total figures, that averaged out to 365,000 viewers. The Bayern Munich vs Union Berlin game on Sunday averaged 361,000 viewers. Those two figures are the highest FS1 numbers ever for the Bundesliga for FOX since 2016 and the only FS1 figures in the top 15. TUDN / UniMas showed similar gains for the Spanish-speaking American audience across the matches they aired (not including the Dortmund – Schalke game), especially in the key 18-49 demographic.
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) May 19, 2020
Where does the Bundesliga go from here?
Live sports remains one of the backbones for the television industry for the real-time nature, especially when paired with a second-screen viewing experience on social media. With COVID-19 throwing all of our lives upside down, did we expect people to largely jump at the first sporting event back on television? Potentially.
Over the last two months, aside from our daily routines changing, Americans have adapted their entertainment consumption. Video games are seeing a strong surge, Tiger King took over, home workouts are skyrocketing with gym closures, and people are taking up new hobbies.
Being the first major soccer league back presented a unique opportunity for the Bundesliga and FOX to position themselves as market leaders. For those who expected bigger numbers or games on broadcast FOX, that didn’t happen – could it have been because of a lack of promotion for the game and limited outreach for new fans? Possibly.
The English language rights for the Bundesliga are shifting from FOX to ESPN+ at the start of the 2020/21 season (whenever that may be), so FOX has nothing to gain from showcasing games on bigger networks or with a full studio pre-and-post game as they did before the coronavirus.
As North American sports and the Premier League come back over the coming months, it will be interesting to see the trends in ratings across the board. Will people who gave the Bundesliga a chance for the first time this past weekend come back this upcoming weekend and the weekend after? What about when other sports return and there’s competition.
People need to be incentivized to watch something they’re not familiar with and there’s still ample opportunity for the Bundesliga and its clubs to do that ahead of the competition returning.