The partnership between the NFL and the German Bundesliga, the top tier of the country’s professional soccer scene, is an interesting pair on its own. They both dominate their domestic markets. Dirk Nowitzki and Leon Draisaitl have come from Deutschland to dominate in North America. Steve Cherundolo and Frankie Hejduk were two of the American soccer players to find success in the German soccer league.
The NFL and the DFL, the company that oversees the Bundesliga and other German pro leagues, announced their business collaboration would increase. The two leagues had shared information since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The uptick in synergy is to benefit “production, broadcast, and programming, digital innovation, and marketing” according to an NFL release.
The partnership is a unique one for the NFL when the league didn’t have obvious holes on any of those fronts. I completely agree with getting as much knowledge to fight a deadly pandemic to keep players, coaches, and fans happy. Is this merger of sorts just to court viewers and to have their brands closer together? The details are vague for a reason and it appears the NFL prefers it that way.
“Our first regular season game in Germany this fall also presents an opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most successful sports leagues around the world,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “The Bundesliga has long been regarded as the leading league in Germany and one of the finest throughout Europe. We look forward to collaborating with the DFL in a process that we believe will be mutually beneficial.”
The Bundesliga has 18 teams and promotion/relegation, with around half of the NFL’s 32 teams consistently staying season-to-season in German top-flight soccer. Germany’s best, such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, are consistently among the top clubs in Europe and prove it in the UEFA Champions League. While competitive factors and league size are not mentioned among the collaborative efforts between the leagues, the scope of daily operations needs to be mentioned as reference points for communication between the Germans and Americans.
In terms of German expansion, I’m not sure there’s a viable path for the NFL. The league is playing its first regular-season game in Germany on Nov. 13 at Munich’s Allianz Arena, home to FC Bayern. The venue has hosted Champions League finals and is the country’s preeminent sports arena. Yet, if the NFL is looking for European expansion, I can’t see the way this partnership leads to a permanent team in Munich, Berlin, or Frankfurt. Germany will host a regular-season game in each of the next four seasons, with Munich and Frankfurt as alternating hosts.
If international expansion is on the NFL’s mind, beyond recreating NFL Europe, several continental cities are better fits than anywhere in Germany, with London leading the way. Give me Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, and Manchester over any German city. Leaving Europe out of the equation, Toronto or Mexico City are ideal choices.
For American in-roads for the Bundesliga, the reward is much grander. Look at how the English Premier League has gone from Fox Soccer Channel a decade ago to being plastered across TV screens throughout NBC’s group of networks and streaming services. There’s a similar cult following to international leagues to Major League Soccer. In what other sport does that exist? There are no huge swaths of Korean or Japanese baseball fans that compare to MLB. There’s no movement in the Basketball Champions League like its soccer counterpart among NBA fans. That’s how David Blatt landed the head-coaching gig with the Cavaliers for LeBron James’ return to Cleveland after he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to a continental crown.
What’s the NFL’s biggest issue where the Bundesliga is strong? It’s public relations. The abetting of Deshaun Watson combined with the black-balling of Colin Kaepernick, with the gender and political connotations, have been a disaster for the league. The Bundesliga has had scandals, including a match-fixing controversy in 2005, but has avoided alienating parts of its fanbase because of suspensions or being more than an athlete. If I’m Roger Goodell, taking advice from the DFL on that would be paramount.