It was still dark out when this Missouri Bundesliga fan stumbled out of bed Saturday, August 15, to prepare for the hour and 45 minute drive to a German pub in Kansas City for day one of the Bundesliga season. This wasn’t just any first day, though. This was the first day in recent memory that American fans of the German game could view all of the matches from a major American network.
No more low-quality broadcasts on a Spanish language channel that required a special satellite dish all its own for some people. No more illegal Russian feeds with more pop-ups than corn in Iowa. This season, Fox Sports had the rights and we could watch all of the games — either on Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Fox Soccer Plus, or if you really wanted to make sure you missed none of it, Fox Soccer 2 Go, which would stream all of the games. It was a smorgasbord for fans who were used to day-old leftovers.
As Bundesliga begins to make new paths into the American market, they will find a growing swath of Bundesliga support groups across the U.S. There are a number of club-focused fan groups, but in a country as wide and diverse, and yet fairly new to Bundesliga, as the U.S., there are also a growing number of groups that gather all Bundesliga fans together. One of those is KC Bundesliga, for Kansas City area fans, and another is the Philly Bundesliga Fan Coalition in Philadelphia.
The KC Bundesliga crew has been chatting for a few years now on Facebook and meeting up now and then for tailgates before a Sporting Kansas City game, but no serious efforts have been made to formalize for serious watch parties. Last season, there were a few meet-ups at a soccer-themed restaurant in Kansas City which has since closed. But Doug Langner was determined to see the group thrive and flourish.
Langner’s love for the Bundesliga began with his first live Bundesliga match — FC Köln versus FSV Mainz 05. “The atmosphere of the stadiums and the fans is unparalleled,” he said. “It made me want to follow the game even more.”
Then last year’s World Cup win by the German national team made Langner yearn to continue that feeling. “More specifically though it was after the World Cup last year and the atmosphere of people watching the German National Team…TOGETHER,” he added, “and the fun and friendship that was made, I really didn’t want that to end. “
Langner looked online for a group of like-minded people and found the Kansas City Area Bundesliga Fans group on Facebook. There were around 23 or so online when he joined and he began to try to build the group, by more postings and the like. “Last year, still during the purgatory period that was GolTV, my thought was, get this group going, encourage more people to join and grow this thing slowly but surely and have it take off this year with the new coverage of Fox,” he said.
His efforts were assisted by an offer by the Kansas City Bier Company, a German-themed pub in south Kansas City, that offered to host the Saturday morning watch parties. By the time opening weekend rolled around, the newly-named KC Bundesliga group had 117 members and over 30 showed up for the the watch party. That’s 30 people at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Some, well at least one, who drove over an hour and a half to be there for the kickoff.
“I am ecstatic about the turnout for week one,” Langner said. “Part of me was worried that I would show up and it would be me and my wife and just a few others.” He added, “I love how people in the Kansas City area have embraced soccer and soccer culture. I love that I can sit and chat with a fan of my club’s biggest rival, but we can chat. That might be the unique nature of our club.”
Kansas City is not alone in its love of soccer, and Bundesliga specifically. An even older fan group can be found over 1,100 miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It should be little surprise, however, to find Bundesliga fans in either of these two areas. Both have large German immigrant populations.
Mike Barber, who helps organize the Philly Bundesliga Fan Coalition, says Brauhaus Schmitz in Philadelphia has been opening early to show Bundesliga games since 2009. “Only one member of the Philly Bundesliga Fan Coalition can say he’s been watching it here since the beginning, and he remembers many a Saturday being by himself with just the bartender watching…until I moved to Philadelphia in 2012,” Barber said. He added that no other bar opened early for Bundesliga games and even Brauhaus Schmitz wasn’t really promoting it, “so I thought it was a great opportunity to build something special around a large amount of German-Americans in this city and the neighboring areas.”
Barber said he wanted to educate people about the league so they didn’t just attend when Dortmund or Bayern were playing, and he did this by creating weekly programs that included the current table and match listings for the weekend. “Since then we’ve added a half-page news section and current list of the top goal scorers to the program,” he said, adding that there are now a number of people who put together the program and help with the group.
The Philly BFC has a website, Facebook group, Twitter profile, Google+ profile, Periscope account, a season-long Tippspiel, scarves, promotional cards, weekly trivia question on the website, month meetings and an annual Volksbarmarch (German bar crawl) that happens the first Saturday of every Bundesliga season.
“The Volksbarmarch was one of my crazy ideas I had in early 2013,” Barber said, “and started it on the first Bundesliga Saturday of the 2013/2014 season.” The route takes walkers from Brauhaus Schmitz to two other German bars in the area and then back to Brauhaus. “It was 92 degrees, so kudos to the 15 people who braved our hike and extended their Saturday past just the early matches,” he added.
Barber said they had around 30 people turn out Saturday morning, “which wasn’t bad considering Bayern wasn’t playing and Dortmund played the late match.” He added that they had around 25 people watch the Bayern match, pretty respectable for a Friday afternoon.
Both Langner and Barber are hoping that this season will see a continuation of the growing numbers for their fan groups.
“My hopes for this season is that more and more people start getting interested in Bundesliga through the English-language coverage of Bundesliga on the Fox channels,” Barber said. “I have no doubt that once people are able to see our favorite league on a regular basis, more and more people will join us for the experience, atmosphere and excited that we’ve created at Brauhaus Schmitz.”
Langner echoed those sentiments. “I think this game, the place we are going has a so much mutual potential,” he said. “The good product (Bundesliga) is there. Plus I just want to expand on the people who come. Of course people are going to be interested in ‘their club,’ but I hope, and Saturday proved that, that people will expand upon that and love the league.”