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NBC Gambles on Soccer

posted Nov 18, 2013, 12:22 AM by Golden Knight   [ updated Nov 18, 2013, 12:28 AM ]

by Sean Arrieta-Kenna


The English Premier League is the most watched sports league in the world.  However, it has only now been made easy to watch in the United States.  In my lifetime, coverage of this league has grown immensely.  I remember waking up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, while my father ordered a Pay-Per-View game by phone.  Then followed a few years of different channels that bought the rights to show some of the games.  These channels were available to buy for a steep price and only from a few providers.  Finally, FOX decided to take control of the soccer situation in America and created FOX Soccer Channel, a channel devoted to showing games from around the world, news, and special features on soccer.  This channel was a part of many providers’ extra sports package.  And FOX Soccer Plus, an add-on channel that showed even more of the games would cost an additional fee.  ESPN also paid into the game, already owning the rights to the international games of the World Cup and Euros.  ESPN bought the rights to show one game every weekend.  The Premier League has steadily been gaining a larger audience, but it was still relatively limited.


The three-year licensing deal that FOX had bought to televise the games, of which they sub-licensed one game to ESPN, was worth about $80 million.  This year, NBC paid a staggering $250 million for the television licensing rights to the league.  "The Barclays Premier League is the pre-eminent soccer league in the world, and is on the cusp of exponential popularity growth here in the U.S.," NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said.  NBC promised that they would be very committed to delivering the league to the United States.  This gamble they made, however, has a huge potential for reward.  Although, $250 million may be more than it is worth currently, NBC are hoping that with their coverage the audience will grow and the rights to show the games will be worth much more.  In England—where to many people the English Premier League is like a religion—broadcasting rights were bought from the EPL for $4.86 billion.


NBC has also heavily promoted the league. During the summer, there were several billboards in New York City.  They hired comedian actor, Jason Sudeikis to do a video promotion where he is acting as manager of one of the teams.  In addition to this, in television advertisements, they made many promises assuring the quality of their coverage

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NBC’s coverage began in August, and so far, they have lived up to their promises.  FOX had done a good job, but many people complained about their attempt to “Americanize” the coverage.  A few of the analysts and commentators were brought in that did not have a good familiarity with the league and sport.  NBC imported all of their commentators and analysts from English channels.  The commentators go to every game from where they are reporting.  Also, NBC created a magnificent studio to analyze the games in.  Another enticing promotion is NBC’s creation of their own Match of the Day program.  MOTD began on the BBC in August 1964 and is one of the longest running television shows in Britain.  It is a highlights show for the EPL on Saturday evenings.  It has become a part of British culture throughout the years.  NBC decided that in addition to showing all of the games, they would also implement an American edition of MOTD on their NBC Sports Network channel.


NBC shows six of the ten games each week on television, and all ten of the games are available to stream online for free.  Most of the games are shown on their cable channel, NBC Sports Network.  One game is even shown on their primary network every Saturday.  They are hoping that college football fans that tune in early to watch will see the most exciting league and become hooked.


NBC was rewarded with the highest ever ratings in America for the league-opening game.  They have sustained the audience well, with 9 million viewers watching the first five weeks of action, and the most watched game of the season so far garnered more than 1 million viewers.  This is 200,000 more viewers than this fixture had been averaging in the previous years.  Hopefully, NBC’s plans work.  We will have to wait and see.  I am confident that the more people that the league is available to watch, the more popular it will become.  The league action is exciting on its own, it has only needed promotion, and finally NBC are taking the reins.  With the World Cup this summer, soccer’s popularity will most definitely be on the rise in the coming years.


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