Seid ihr bereit für etwas football?
If you can understand that question (translation: Are you ready for some football?) and answer in the affirmative, then Markus Kuhn is your guy.
The former Giants defensive lineman who once even scored a touchdown in a regular-season game has become one of the main voices of the NFL. In Germany and neighboring countries such as Austria and Switzerland, anyway.
Kuhn and fellow German-born NFL player Sebastian Vollmer broadcast some of the biggest games from the U.S. back to Europe for the streaming service DAZN, covering and in some instances introducing the sport to about 20 millions fans there each week.
They’ve covered Super Bowls. They’re covering this weekend’s Patriots-Chiefs game. They cover every Monday Night Football game. And on Monday, they’ll be covering the Giants and the Eagles.
“We’re obviously not learned broadcasters or commentators,” Kuhn said. “We’re just able to give a new fan base a completely different perspective to the game. The way we do our broadcast is obviously very different than the American ones.”
Right down to the fact that, usually, they aren’t even at the games. While they do travel for on-site broadcasts of playoff games and will be in Foxborough for the Patriots-Chiefs tilt, their Monday night show comes from a small studio in Miami. There, Kuhn and Vollmer sit in front of a bank of television screens and talk football in their native language.
More importantly, they talk in a style that a German sports audience can relate.
“We know certain background stories of the players that are more interesting to our fans than maybe saying if they were playing cover-2 or what exactly was the run scheme behind the play or the name of the blitz,” Kuhn said. “That’s maybe for fans at the next level. We’re just explaining the players’ background stories and from our experience we can explain the feelings of how it is to actually be an American football player. I think that’s what comes across in our broadcasts really nicely.”
The NFL loves it, and Kuhn and Vollmer are a big part of the league’s recent efforts to push into the German-speaking market.
“Having those guys definitely helps,” said Henry Hodgson, NFL vice president of international marketing and fan development. “It helps fans and potential fans see that it isn’t just a foreign sport and that some of their own, people they can identify with perhaps more easily like Markus and Sebastian, are involved in it. It adds a level of expertise to the broadcast teams for our partners there.”
American football always has had firm footing in Germany. Many believe it stems from the large U.S. military presence there (Hall of Famer Michael Strahan spent time on an army base in Germany during his childhood). The GFL, or German Football League, is one of the top semi-pro organizations outside North America in terms of both organization and talent (it’s where Kuhn got his start with the sport). When NFL Europe folded about a decade ago, five of the last six remaining teams were based in Germany.
But it wasn’t until recently that the league put renewed efforts into growing the sport there.
“We knew we had a latent fan base, we just hadn’t done much to serve it until two or three years ago, when we really got back into the market and tried to reignite things both with our TV partners and then with some of the other initiatives we’ve done,” Hodgson said. “Germany has been a great story for us.”
Kuhn is one of the storytellers.
It’s not something the 33-year-old ever envisioned for himself. He came to the United States to play football at North Carolina State, was drafted by the Giants, for whom he played for four seasons, spent some time with the Patriots, then was out of the league. In 2017 he announced his retirement. From playing, anyway.
“For me, being in the NFL and making it that far was very unrealistic with my background and how I was introduced to it,” he said. “But this is the sport I fell in love with and New York is what I consider my home. My wife works and lives here as well. So it made sense for me after I was done playing to move back to New York.”
He enrolled at Columbia University (he received a master’s degree in sports management this spring), but found he was being asked to appear in a lot of German-speaking broadcasts. Usually he was just brought in as an “expert” for a few words or some analysis, but that grew into more regular platforms. Soon he and Vollmer, the former Patriots offensive lineman, were broadcasting Patriots preseason games back to Germany. With a hunger for such programming, that blossomed into them covering all of the Monday night games. They’ve been doing that since last season.
So he flies to Miami from New York every Monday, covers the games with Vollmer, records a German-language podcast with Vollmer on Tuesday, then flies back home.
As for covering the Giants, Kuhn makes no apologies for any allegiances that come out in his coverage.
“Being a former Giant I was probably a little bit biased and not completely independent,” he said of his take on the Giants-Cowboys game on a Monday night last month. “You hear the fans saying ‘Markus is very biased!’ But then the same thing when we broadcast a Patriots game, Sebastian is a little bit more biased. We are not independent commentators, we are former players, we are also fans of the game, so especially when the Giants play I am obviously rooting for them to win the game and that comes across in the broadcast. But it’s also part of us being unique in our jobs that we have teams that we like and we have teams that we don’t like. Maybe some viewers or listeners don’t really like that, but I think overall it comes across as funny.”
The two players routinely jab at each other. Vollmer will tout his two Super Bowl rings he won with the Patriots. Kuhn will brag about being the first – and still only – German player to score an NFL touchdown. They tangle about offense versus defense. Kuhn handles more of the play-by-play, but essentially their booth consists of two color commentators rather than the traditional pairings that American audiences are used to.
“The way that sports are presented in Germany is a little different than in the U.S.,” Hodgson said. “It’s a little bit more lighthearted so I know they have a lot of fun doing it and having spent time with the two of them together they have a great relationship. That camaraderie and fun the two guys have comes out in their broadcast partnership when they are in the booth together.”
So what makes Kuhn the unlikely yet ideal person for this job?
“I’ve been an outsider to the sport, so my perspective to the sport is completely different,” Kuhn said. “That’s why I can explain it to a new fan base in a completely different way. I know what interests them a little more compared to someone who grew up with the sport. I know that the things I first thought about football were very unique and different.
“Who can really tell about the sport better than somebody from Germany who has lived the American football life?”