May 18 2020


Soccer/Football, Live Sports, Octagon UK


By Daniel Haddad, Head of Commercial Strategy, Octagon UK

If you asked UK Football fans a few months ago what live sport they would be watching on the weekend of May 16/17, they likely would have been thinking about either Liverpool’s 90-minute lap of honor at St. James’ Park or the final day battle for Champions League football or Premier League survival. However, on the weekend when the Premier League was scheduled to bring the 2019/20 season to a close, the attention of Football fans from the UK (and far beyond) was on the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 as the German Bundesliga became the first elite Football league to resume action, albeit in the fanless environment that may well become a ‘new normal’ for a while to come.

In the build-up to the game, it was clear that anticipation was high, with Google searches for the Bundesliga in the UK higher than they have ever been (going back to 2004) and the volume of searches for the Bundesliga actually exceeding those for the Premier League. Many of those searches featured BT Sport or questions on how to view the game in the UK, indicating a pent-up demand for live content, regardless of the fanless environment or the likely lack of affinity to the teams taking part. This short analysis looks at to what extent this translated to live viewership in the UK, and to what impact the fanless environment had on viewers once they tuned in to the broadcast.

Broadcast Performance

In order to put the broadcast performance into the required context, we first need to understand how live Bundesliga content typically performs in the UK:

  • BT Sport has exclusive rights in the UK. A live Bundesliga game typically delivers an average audience of around 13,000. To put that in context, a Premier League broadcast on BT Sport typically attracts an average audience of 577,000.
  • The best performing Bundesliga game so far this season was, unsurprisingly, Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich, which drew an average audience of 93,000. To put that in context, BT Sport drew the same average audience (91,000) for the Notts County vs Barnet National League broadcast back in August.

Therefore, we can see that on a ‘normal’ weekend when Bundesliga is competing vs a wide range of other sports properties across SKY and BT Sport, it is low down the pecking order when it comes to preference and viewership.

The performance of BT Sport’s Bundesliga coverage from this weekend shows a drastic leap, with viewership 34 times higher than average Saturday Bundesliga broadcast or 6.4 times the previous season-high. The below chart summarizes how UK fans embraced the Bundesliga this weekend




Saturday 14:30

Dortmund/Schalke, RB Leipzig/Freiburg, Hoffenheim/Hertha Berlin


Saturday 17:00

Frankfurt v Gladbach


Sunday 14:00

Cologne v Mainz


Sunday 16:00

Union berlin v Bayern Munich



The most interesting observations from these viewership figures are:

  • The first set of three games (simultaneously broadcast across BT Sport in the Saturday 14:00-16:45 slot) drew an average of 597k combined across the three broadcasts – slightly higher than the typical number that BT Sport draws for Premier League.
  • 83% of that audience came from the Dortmund – Schalke game, which drew a total audience of 1.3 million (viewers who watched more than 1 minute of the broadcast).
  • Around half (47%) of the audience that had tuned-in for Dortmund Schalke hadn’t watched any Bundesliga so far this season, a clear indication of the huge demand there is for live sport and the Bundesliga’s competitive advantage while it dominates share of voice.
  • The lead-in program on BT Sport 1 – “Sport in focus: Jadon Sancho” drew a 91k average, more than any previous Bundesliga broadcast this year.
  • The broadcasts later in the weekend still performed strongly compared to the average Bundesliga audience (all of them comfortably beat the season record of 93k), but there was a marked decline in viewership from the first window, even for the Sunday evening game featuring Bayern Munich, suggesting that it will be difficult for the Bundesliga to continue to draw in the new / more infrequent viewers that tuned in for the Dortmund – Schalke 04 game.

The above numbers are even more impressive when you consider that it is likely that the overall BT Sport subscriber base has likely shrunk over the last couple of months, and that viewers likely, therefore, came from a smaller ‘pool’.

Impact of the fanless experience

While there was much conversation across social media on the impact of an empty stadium from a viewing perspective (ranging from hearing player/coach shouts, ‘social distancing’ celebrations and the visibility of empty seats), this did not translate to a large proportion of viewers switching off during the action, with the average viewer watching 60 minutes of the match. Furthermore, the level of audience drop off over the half-time break was lower than what is typically seen for live Football broadcasts, perhaps indicative of the lack of options across other channels. Therefore it seems, in the first instance at least, that the fanless viewing experience still has the potential to retain the attention of audiences.

What Next?

The strong performance of Bundesliga this weekend was to be expected, but the extent to which it grew regular levels of viewership, drew in completely new viewers, and the number of times viewers watched, all provide a much needed shot in the arm for the sports industry at large, and rights holders, broadcasters and sponsors alike will welcome these green shoots. In particular, the level of demand for live sport - regardless of how it is delivered - should be well received by the Premier League, as ‘Project Restart’ continues to investigate the best way forward for the remainder of the 2019/20 season. While Bundesliga filled a hole for UK Sport fans this weekend, the dip in numbers across the weekend suggests that we are unlikely to see the same audience heights of the Dortmund vs Schalke game on a consistent level, even while Bundesliga remains the only elite league with live Football. Audience trends over the coming game weeks will provide interesting grounds for further analysis, particularly the performance of the Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund game on Tuesday, May 26th, as the Bundesliga’s most impactful fixture and a key fixture in the title race.

 Source: BARB