The Blueprint NBC Should Use For Its Coverage of the EPL on US TV

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.

61 thoughts on “The Blueprint NBC Should Use For Its Coverage of the EPL on US TV”

  1. Everything here is SO important! I’m so nervous that NBC will mess one of these aspects up and ruin everything! I hope that this article makes its way to the right people at NBC.

    One potential bullet point to add to the list… no commercial breaks mid-match as they did during the Summer Olympics! Ridiculous!

  2. I absolutely hate it when they show the scores during half time. I record all games and later watch those I deem interesting, but so many times that has been spoiled by seeing/hearing the scores. ESPN is not immune to this behavior either. They should wait until the news show or something like that.

      1. I disagree a little. I wouldn’t mind if warren Barton was a studio analyst, at least he has played the game at the highest level and has firsthand knowledge of the league.

        Ok he might have that deer in head lights look on his face at times but that’s more to do with his lack of experience in front of the camera but compared to others I think he does a decent job.

        1. Sorry MuFc77, I have to disagree about Barton, he is constantly contradicting himself…in the same sentence. He may be the loveliest guy on the planet, they are all probably very nice people personally, but IMO Barton is completely clueless, he was an average player and unfortunately is a sub standard pundit. No need for the “wide boy” Barton.

          Bring on Gullet, Lineker, Jason Cundy, Andy Goldstein. If you haven’t had a chance listen to the sportsbar 10 pm GMT 5pm set, 2pm pacific on talksport. Even tho Cundy is chelsea through and though he is very objective and 95% of the time doesn’t let that cloud his opinion.

          1. I’d be all for the likes of Lineker & Gullet but I can’t see it happening. I’ve been in the USA almost 19 years now so I have no clue who the top guys are back home these days. When I left Des Lyman was doing MOTD and sky had Andy gray and some other muppet. All I can say for Barton is if NBC decided to bring someone from FSC is rather it was him.

          1. Honestly I have no idea how long he’s been with fox. Would you rather listen to someone who’s played in the league at the highest level even if they are a little awkward looking on camera or someone like Keith costigan who played in the USL.

        2. I like that Barton has actually played and has history with the game, but he doesn’t read the game very well. He’s too much like a kid in the playground shouting above everyone to try and be heard. He has poor diction and mangles big words like “exquisite” and peppers his comments with the bog standard “play high tempo”

          I’m English but give me a Scot any day. They make calm, concise and interesting assessments. It’s no coincidence they have made some of the finest managers in English football.

  3. Agree with everything above, if you want people to watch shows that do have advertising, then pay for the talent and the programming, people will watch the show.

    No:9 IS huge, NBC has the license for every game, so show them/give access to them, that includes games like with less apparent commercial appeal, Aston Villa v QPR (no disrespect intended to either team).

  4. could not agree more all your points are spot on.i just have a bad feeling we are going to be hammered with KM and Arlo White they might be okay for MLS but do not fit for the EPL.

    the Europa matches being called by McBride and i don’t know the other person were awful no flow no sense of the feel at the stadium.

    i will hold my powder but i am afraid we will not get a clean production NBC will be driven to make their money back every second a match is on.they will program for the lowest form of fan it will be dumb downed.i hope i am wrong but i feel they will try to Americanize the EPL which will be a complete failure.

    you just can’t throw money at the wall and think fans will watch.Fox spent a ton of money for the new FSR and it is unwatchable it is horrible the only thing that is better is the HD the talent is a joke we the fans are not as dumb as the tv executives think we are.

    if you have anybody at NBC/contact this would be a great article to forward to them and at least show them what the true fans care about.

  5. I’m curious how NBC will handle conflicts with their other big acquisition – F1.

    With the F1 calendar running mid-March through late November, at least three races will fall during the Premier League season with race times that will conflict with the typical Premier League schedule.

    1. They show the last 3 races of the f1 season on the over-the-air NBC network so atleast those dates they can show premier league on NBCSN freely.

  6. All points raised here are the bare minimum for NBC to gain the trust of football watchers in the US.

    After having Bein for a little over two weeks now I can already see that they are GOLTV under a different name.

    They have Schoen and that attention seeking Hudson doing calls of a game that they are watching in a studio in Florida.

    Why? To do that with Serie A as well is a waste.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with your suggestions. Now someone please tell me a copy of this got sent to the “Powers That Be” over at NBC Sports/Broadcasting!

  8. All of your suggestions are important, but it all begins and ends with #9. There is no excuse in the year 2012 if an entity as big as NBC doesn’t have a viable Internet presense for the EPL. They should offer a stand alone streaming option and not tie it to a cable or satellite subscription IMO. Fingers crossed.

  9. There was an error in your article. “Hearing the British football game with British voices makes a huge difference in enhancing our viewing experience”.

    It should read “Hearing the British football game with British voices makes a huge difference in enhancing the gaffer’s viewing experience”.

    I for one find British voices especially the contemporary nasal commentary voice highly nauseating.

    1. Frill, you sure you’re a footie fan mate? Are you telling me you think the MLS commentary is “good”? If that is the case you might really need a lobotomy :)

      1. Of course not. I dislike most American football commentators but I don’t think it would help the game back here if NBC imported commentators.

        Unfortunately with American networks to date, there has been an over reliance on English announcers.
        They know all about the Premiership and very little about other leagues, player technique and it shows every time I hear one call a match.

        NBC should find good homegrown commentators who actually KNOW the game. I wouldn’t even mind if it was a duo of an English and an American. I would say Chris Sullivan for color commentary and Johnathan Pearce or John Motson.

          1. Not sure if he ever came out of it, but he did retire from live commentary years ago so you’d have a hard task convincing a near 70 year old to start up for NBC.
            He still does the odd MOTD highlight. He always got carried away and went on about too much non-football nonsense (anybody remember the WC when he kept talking about bacon & eggs constantly?). Barry Davies was always my favourite out of the two.

    1. Steve McManaman is a horrid commentator, people think he knows something because he has a British accent but he is an empty vessel. Pay Gary Neville and have him do the commentary if you want an ex player. Ian Drake is okay but he tries too hard to explain the game for my liking.

  10. I heard NBC Sports took over F1 racing too, they are bringing the ENGLISH commentators from Speed channel.

    I have faith after hearing this that NBC will bring the correct talent to the table.

  11. You have hit many points firmly on the head with this “Blueprint”. John has hit on the MOST important point no damn ads interrupting the game.

  12. In the punditry department NBC will definitely need to provide a significant upgrade from the current Fox Soccer coverage. They should also avoid resorting to the ‘bring top British talent’ as a recipe for automatic success.

    I’d suggest that NBC hire EPL Talk podcast team as studio analysts/pundits. I’m sure Kartik, Kristan, Matt, Morgan and Laurence will do an excellent job and will be able to bring fresh air and new ideas which imo is badly needed.

    1. Good point Matt. They’re more likely to pick up the audio commentary from BT Vision in the UK than Sky Sports (if they choose to).

      The Gaffer

  13. oh yeah, Darke is under contract with ESPN until 2014. I don’t know if NBC knows that Darke was ripping NBC on his twitter account all summer during the Olympics for some reason too

  14. I agree with most of the points, but I don’t really care whether the commentators and pundits are British. As long as the commentator is insightful, I don’t care if he is English, American, French, German, etc. There are some bad English commentators (sorry Alan Smith–you’re an Arsenal legend–but you don’t add much as a commentator) and pundits (Alan Shearer).

    Most importantly: If NBC decides to use their own commentators, they must be LIVE at the stadium. None of this commentating-from-the-studio garbage that Gol TV, BeIn Sport, and occasionally Fox Soccer toss out.

  15. Spot on with the possible exception of #2 which I doubt ranks that high on many people’s lists. I just hope they use as much of the uk feed/programming as possible and show the games live. There is an opportunity to do some original programming. A call in show would be great as would something about the history and culture of the English game , or a behind the scenes look like Being: Liverpool. I’ve been quite impressed by Arlo White but if he is to be the voice of NBC then he has to be at the games.

  16. When Fox Soccer would shrink the screen for a “who are ya” advertisement during critical times in the match, drove me absolutely bonkers. Please don’t do that NBC.

    1. I realize these things irritate some viewers, but exactly how would you like NBC to generate the revenue required to pay for their rights acquisition?

      Would cutaway ads after goals be OK? How about ads during injuries? NBC isn’t a charity, so money has to be made somehow and there are not a lot of opportunities.

    2. At least they shrink it instead of cuting it off. I think it is even more annoying during UCL matches they put up the match stats on the screen and it actually blocks what is going on that part of the pitch.

  17. NBC should lean on Premier League Productions/IMG and get classic footage to create a series documenting the history of the league and the personalities. This weekend I watched on MLB Network 1 hour reviews of Major League Baseball seasons from 67-71, 75-77, and 85. Why can’t NBC get the rights to air the Premier League Season in Review to fill up air time? As people become fans of a club they’re going to want to know a bit of history of the club since the clubs are so steeped in history. Tonight would be a great night to air an Eric Cantona hour long special since it’s the 20th anniversary of his signing at United from Leeds. NBCSN is airing 3 episodes of Poker and a couple hours of skiing tonight.

    I like the idea of NBC using the IMG/PLP commentators but I would hire a commentator team based in England who calls the biggest game on Saturday and Sunday to promote the network and the league. I’d make a run at a Peter Drury or even a Steve Banyard to be my main play by play guy. My guess is that NBC move Arlo White to the UK and he will be that guy. My thing is I like Arlo as the voice of MLS and think he is better serving the US audience in that capacity than being the voice of the Prem.

    I’d create an on-demand option like the BIG 10 Network and PAC 10 Network offer to air games that don’t air on TV. If NBC is guaranteeing that 200 out of the 380 game schedule will air on TV the other 180 games will be available on delay on free On-Demand say 24 hours after the game has been played and are stored for two weeks at a time.

    I’m going to miss the reliability of FOX broadcasting the Prem as a fan of the league since 00-01. I do look forward to NBC taking the product forward and hopefully taking the league to the next level as a sports property in the US.

    1. They shouldn’t use the model that the PAC 12 uses because it is exactly like ESPN3 which means your cable company has to have a deal with the network to view the online feed and doesn’t allow people who can’t get it to pay for access.

      1. I’m talking about an On-Demand service for digital cable subscribers. Brighthouse offers free On-Demand programming for a lot of their channels. The Big 10 and PAC 10 offer On-Demand programming. I’m a Michigan fan and currently I can watch two episodes of Next Level featuring former Michigan football players Dhani Jones and Steve Hutchinson. The 1993 Rose Bowl and 2001 Citrus Bowl are available to watch. There is an episode of Big 10 Elite that looks back at the 97 Michigan Football team. Also 3 to 5 minute highlight packages of Michigan’s games from this season against Minny, Air Force, UMASS, Purdue, Illinois, Sparty, and Nebraska. The PAC 10 offers 11 Men’s Basketball Games and 1 football game from this past season.

        What I want to see NBC do is offer the 180 games that don’t make live TV as free On-Demand content.

  18. If NBC wants to hire local talent to cover the EPL then they [must] send them to England to learn their trade. Maybe if they are there long enough they will understand what the EPL is all about and get a better feel for the league.

    It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable one is about soccer it makes a huge difference that the person covering a specific league knows all the nuances associated with it. The last thing we need is Bob Costas talking about the EPL.

    Agree with all the points above and hope NBC Sports reads it.

  19. One more thing. NBC, if you’re going to give the starting lineups during the pre-game show, don’t guess but get it right. All starting lineups are given at least 45 minutes before kickoff. Get it straight from the stadium or just go the websites of the clubs involved and you can read the actual lineup there. No need to guess like Fox Soccer sometimes does.

  20. I would like to see something different that is funny but informative like Talksport’s Andy Goldstein’s “Dermott O’Query” bit when listeners pose ridiculous and sometimes intriguing game scenarios to ex ref Dermot Gallagher. The result is hilarious but you actually learn about the more obscure rules of the game.

    Did you know you can change your goalkeeper as many times as you like during a penalty shootout? Including using outfield players? Or there is no law preventing a bored goalkeeper during a snowstorm from building a snowman on the goal line to help prevent the ball from going in the net?

  21. Excellent points made at the top of the post.
    I would add;

    HD-Whilst all matches are filmed in HD they must be broadcast on channels that are HD only.

    TV Schedule-An on line grid format simlilar to
    that which appears on the Fox Soccer website needs to be created which lists all the games, times and on which channels they will be shown.

    NBC Liasion- Emphasing an earlier post it is very important to interface with NBC and put across the views expressed in this subject post.

    Over to you Gaffer!

  22. I totally agree with all of the Gaffers points here. I’m going to be very nervous until we find out if NBC will be using British voices. The WORST thing they could do would be to use American commentators.

  23. NBC Sports Network will piggyback off BT Vision Sport, not Sky Sports.

    Former FOX Sports World (USA) and Setanta Sports UK General Manager Simon Green was hired to run BT Vision Sport.

  24. I agree with all the points. And for #9, I hope they offer a service like FS2Go method, but stream all games live unlike FS2Go where FSC games are only on demand. Also, if possible they should stream the prematch and postmatch shows if possible.

    Also, I would like to add is hopefully they put graphics to a minimum and make it small. For example, the NBC scoreboard graphic for MLS is terrible. Takes too much of the screen and needs to be smaller. They should look at the ESPN UK graphic or Sky Sports. If possible, just use the graphics provided by the Premier League.

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