NBC Sports will be the sole broadcaster of the English Premier League beginning with the 2013-14 season on US television and the Internet.
While we’re looking forward to their broadcasts, here’s our blueprint for NBC to help them perfect their EPL programming. Feel free to share your own recommendations in the comments section below.
1. Use the British commentator feed that TWI/IMG provides. One of the things we took for granted that FOX Soccer should be applauded for is the decision to use the world commentary feed, so we could listen to the world’s best commentators. Hearing the British football game with British voices makes a huge difference in enhancing our viewing experience.
2. Try to use the Sky Sports audio feed when necessary. FOX Soccer made the wise decision to use the Sky Sports audio commentary feed for Champions League games as well as the some EPL games. While NBC doesn’t have the US rights to the Champions League, having the option to use the Sky Sports audio feed for big matches (particularly those on Super Sunday featuring Martin Tyler and Gary Neville) would be a huge bonus.
3. Be extremely cautious if/when using your own talent to commentate matches. The three reasons why ESPN have excelled at breaking the rules by using their own commentating team of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman to broadcast matches are (1) they’re very skilled and gifted at what they do, (2) they’re commentating the games live from the stadiums and (3) they’re British. If NBC would consider using their own talent to commentate matches, it should only be done sparingly. The commentators would need to be at the ground instead of calling games off a monitor. And to be credible, the commentator and color commentator would both need to be British.
4. Let the matches do the talking. One of the features that ESPN added initially but did away with when they decided to go with the Darke-McManaman team doing the intros for games instead of a studio team was to show the video (and, most importantly, audio) of the players in the tunnel before the match started. The stark quietness and tension helped increase the viewer’s anticipation regarding the match. And helped improve the overall atmosphere as you could often hear what the players heard – the supporters singing in the ground, building up to a crescendo as the players walked out.
5. Hire top quality pundits. One of the major criticisms of FOX Soccer were that their pundits were so sub-par that their televised broadcasts were often unwatchable (fans would tune in for the games, but then would find something else to do before and after matches, as well as at halftime. NBC has the opportunity to hire better talent and/or leverage their relationship with BT in England to enhance their programming. While FOX Soccer made significant improvements over the years in the punditry department, it still wasn’t good enough. For NBC, we don’t need talking heads. We need experts who are extremely knowledgeable about English football and are excellent communicators. NBC’s Kyle Martino is not in that category.
6. HD, HD, HD. Watching the world’s most exciting soccer league in glorious HD is a joy to see. NBC should show the games in the best quality HD available.
7. Offer quality anchor programming. There’s the standard Premier League Review and Preview shows, but there’s an opportunity to build other shows such as a Saturday night highlight show (something akin to BBC’s Match Of The Day). Something that would break the mold. Perhaps a call-in chat show, or documentary series about the history of English football?
8. Respect the game. During live telecasts of English Premier League soccer, we want a pristine image without distractions. That means no tickers. No annoying graphics or ads. And no overly large icons or logos (i.e. bugs). Just give us the game in all its glory so we can concentrate on what matters.
9. Quality Internet product. High quality live streams are a prerequisite after our experiences over the years with Setanta-i, FOX Soccer 2Go and ESPN3. EPL games should be as readily available on the Internet as they are on TV.
10. Cater to the intelligent viewer. At times, it felt that FOX would dumb down its coverage of the Premier League to cater to a new, mainstream US audience – particularly when games were shown on free-to-air TV. Luckily for NBC, ESPN has provided the blueprint of how to present and communicate soccer to a mainstream audience by being both intelligent and not obnoxious. See any tapes from Euro 2012 or World Cup 2010 as examples, albeit on much larger budgets.
Getting the coverage of the Premier League right is do-able, but takes a lot of time and dedication to get it right. Premier League viewers in the United States are connoisseurs of soccer, so they need to given what they want, which will help draw in the new mainstream crowd.
What blueprint recommendations are missing? Post your suggestions in the comments section below.