German Public Broadcaster Scores Top Weekend Ratings With Soccer League Kick-Off

More than 200 million viewers watched the all-German Champions League final last season.

ARD drew 7.4 million viewers for the first match of the new Bundesliga season, up 1.5 million from the 2012 opening weekend.

COLOGNE, Germany – Germany's Bundesliga got off to a strong start this weekend, winning the national ratings battle with an audience of 7.39 million viewers tuning in to public broadcaster ARD to see last season's national and European Champions Bayern Munich defeat Monchengladbach, 3-1. 

That's about 1.4 million more than watched last season's kick-off match and easily the weekend's most successful program. The closest competitor was a local crime series, Der Staatsanwalt on pubweb ZDF which drew 4.55 million viewers. The top-rated U.S. series was Navy CIS, with 2.6 million viewers. Many national soccer leagues in Europe are broadcast exclusively on pay-TV but in Germany, the opening and closing matches of every season are broadcast on free-to-air public networks, guaranteeing a huge audience.

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Germany's national soccer league is enjoying unprecedented popularity after last season in which, for the first time, two German sides (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) made it to the final of Europe's top club tournament, the Champions League. Some 200 million viewers worldwide watched the match, including a record 21.61 million in Germany.

German soccer governing body the DFL expects the Bundesliga's higher profile to translate into stronger international rights deals for Bundesliga matches.

Currently, the Bundesliga earns around $95 million per season for TV rights sales outside of Germany, well behind similar figures for Spain ($200 million), Italy ($156 million) and market leader, the England's Premier League, whose current international TV deal is worth $750 million per season.

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Starting in 2015, when Bundesliga rights come up for renewal, the DFL hopes to sign international deals worth up to $200 million a season. Already, German soccer is enjoying a stronger presence in the U.K., where ITV 4 has launched a weekly highlights show of the best Bundesliga matches.