It’s the Bundesliga, the league that every American likes to pretend they once watched on PBS a long time ago. If Soccer Made in Germany had those ratings, even the language barrier wouldn’t have prevented the Bundesliga from being the most popular European league in the States. It’s not, something that is a challenge for the current version. Fox Sports has the coverage, with the 2.Bundesliga available through their online pay tier Match Pass.
This season starts with a familiar question. Is anybody else strong enough to challenge Bayern Munich for the title?
Bayern vs Dortmund
The Supercup gave us a familiar kickoff for the season with Borussia Dortmund hosting Bayern Munich. Bayern won on penalties, telling us practically nothing about how this season will go. Bayern used to have the reputation as an every other season club. They would sweep through the Bundesliga only to regroup the next season. These days, they just keep on winning. Five Bundesliga titles in a row suggests a trend.
Dortmund had their issues last season, dropping their coach as soon as it officially ended. Winning the DFB-Pokal certainly counts, but all of their success happens in the shadow of Bayern. That’s not helped by Bayern buying Dortmund’s players or no coach lasting long enough to see their vision for the club through. Jurgen Klopp manages Liverpool. Thomas Tuchel won’t be out of work for long. It’s now former Ajax coach Peter Bosz’s turn.
Bosz is in an interesting situation. He’s in charge of a club that plays in front of the largest home crowds in Germany. He’s working for management that hasn’t been patient. He’s got the pressure of the league’s most successful club more than happy to cherry pick his players. He’s got no Bundesliga experience. Interesting times at Signal Iduna Park.
Dortmund is home to Christian Pulisic, making it a firm favorite for USMNT fans. The USMNT contingent in the Bundesliga is the strongest in any of Europe’s top leagues. How that group develops for club and country this season is a major story Stateside. Bruce Arena’s USMNT squad should navigate qualifying, setting up a World Cup run that will need options. The Americans playing in the Bundesliga certainly provide that, even if getting them on the field at the same time has proven difficult.
Fabian Johnson is alongside Pulisic as tough to leave out of any first choice USMNT lineup. The same is true with Gladbach. John Brooks is part of something new with Wolfsburg. Bobby Wood should be starting more often than not with Hamburg. Timmy Chandler remains key for Eintracht. These are big league players that should create selection problems with their country.
Champions League Clubs
Bayern, Leipzig, Dortmund, and Hoffenheim qualified for the 2017-18 Champions League from last season’s Bundesliga. All four making deep runs in the tournament is a stretch. Bayern and Dortmund are easy enough to pencil in for the knockout phase, but Dortmund is going to need an advantageous draw. Leipzig is important here, even if they’re the least popular club everywhere else in the Bundesliga. Dumping on Leipzig for their Red Bull ownership is easy enough, but it misses the point should they emerge as a Champions League contender. That’s good for a league that needs a new story.
A Cold Night in Leverkusen
This is the issue for the Bundesliga not just internationally, but domestically. It’s a league capable of drawing a lot of live fans, but it’s also one that ends up in an unflattering conversation. Outside of the biggest clubs, who cares deeply about German club soccer? Plenty of people happily pay to see teams that aren’t international brands. That doesn’t necessarily change anything. Bundesliga soccer has long faced a familiar criticism. It’s another top heavy league, regardless of its UEFA coefficient. People know Bayern and Dortmund, but then it becomes a question of where familiar players are. Leverkusen was the home of Javier Hernandez last season. This season, he plays for West Ham taking the bulk of that Mexico interest with him. This is how it works with the German clubs outside of that two-team elite. In the United States, Fox has the coverage for the Bundesliga. They’re not shy about putting league games on network television. It’s also not at all surprising which teams normally feature in those games.
Bundesliga vs Premier League
That coefficient raises an interesting question for European soccer. The Bundesliga is currently 2nd with the Premier League 3rd. Both trail Spain, but that’s understandable considering the success of the best teams in that top-heavy league. The Bundesliga ahead of the Premier League is nothing new, but it does beg the question about overall watchability if not quality. More people watch the Premier League, or at least broadcasters around the world are more willing to pay large amounts of money to broadcast the Premier League than they are the Bundesliga.
Blame it on the language barrier if you want, but there might be more to it than linguistic familiarity. The Bundesliga’s success in the 70s as West Germany’s topflight matters about as much as England’s over the same period. The Bundesliga spent a lot of time in the 80s and 90s as a domestic league watching their best players transfer to lucrative deals anywhere else. That normally meant Italy before the reemergence of the Bundesliga led by the Borussia Dortmund Champions League win in 1997. 20 years on, it’s the Premier League with the reputation as the most watched domestic league. That begs the question as to whether or not it’s also the best.
The Bundesliga isn’t naive about their situation. They’re currently pressing for the American market among others, alongside the rest of the world’s elite. If they can convince Americans to care enough to watch games that don’t involve Bayern and Dortmund, it’s a major step forward. The next is caring more than another game on the Premier League schedule.
1. Bayern Munich
2. Borussia Dortmund
3. RB Leipzig
16. Hannover 96