Fans of Premier League clubs in the United States reached the promised land yesterday with the announcement that NBC Sports plans on showing every single game live, offering 600+ hours of original programming, hiring top talent such as Gary Lineker and having 20 matches shown live on free-to-air NBC in the first season.
The announcement, without a doubt, far exceeded my expectations. And certainly is a dream come true for soccer fans.
While I attended the press conference at 30 Rockefeller Center on Tuesday, I learned a great deal about NBC Sports’ commitment not only to the Premier League, but also to excellence. This is a network that’s steeped in history, but one that is continually trying to improve. Its focus on perfection was evident among the top brass at NBC Sports, who are focused on how they’ll let the game tell the story rather than having talking heads become the focus of attention. The team of presenters and commentators that they’ve hired are world-class, and shows an incredible commitment to letting soccer experts enhance the viewing experience instead of, as one example, having a basketball announcer and self-confirmed soccer novice call the games.
A key differentiator with NBC Sports is that they continually listen for feedback, both from viewers and pundits. They may not always agree with what we say but they assured me that they digest the feedback and, if appropriate, will seek to make improvements if and when necessary. As an example, I overheard a conversation within the corridors of NBC on Tuesday about how much influence the readers and views expressed on this very blog had helped NBC determine how to bring the Premier League to US audiences.
The path they’re taking is to deliver a quality product with a strong technical analysis of matches compared to the levity and talking heads that we see on FOX Soccer. While NBC’s approach should thrill hardcore EPL fans, I believe it’ll also win over the wider audience with informative analysis that will enrich the programming and keep viewers coming back for more. Unlike FOX Sports, NBC Sports will not talk down to its audience.
So far, NBC Sports hasn’t made a wrong move. Out of all of the announcements thus far in regards to talent, the one that I’m most excited about is the appointment of Graeme Le Saux. The man is incredibly gifted as an analyst, and should be a welcome addition to the commentator’s booth alongside rising star Arlo White. How Le Saux got overlooked for so long in the United Kingdom, I do not know.
Lee Dixon, while rough around the edges, will improve over time. He needs to break out of the cliche-filled pundit seat and continue to improve on his impressive co-commentary he gave alongside Gus Johnson in late February.
I’m a massive supporter of Rebecca Lowe. She’s smart, an excellent communicator and knows the game inside out. Having her present the Premier League to US audiences is an incredibly wise decision.
While Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle weren’t present at the press conference in New York City, veteran Premier League viewers will know that both of these men are extremely knowledgable in analyzing the game and sharing observations that we may otherwise miss.
The addition of Gary Lineker as a special contributor is the cherry on top of NBC’s Premier League coverage. His smooth and confident style will win over American audiences.
What the entire package of NBC programming and talent brings is authenticity — everything from commentators on-site in England, the use of the TWI/IMG world feed when NBC commentators aren’t there to the pundits they’ve hired to analyze the games for us. All of the pieces are in place for NBC Sports to bring the English Premier League to a much wider audience in the United States than ever before.
It’s going to take time to hit record TV ratings in the States, but I walked away from 30 Rockefeller Center completely confident that the Premier League is in excellent hands with NBC. Mistakes may happen, as they do at any major corporation, but NBC Sports proved that they’re taking the Premier League extremely seriously and will do their best to provide a world-class experience for the world’s best soccer league.
I personally cannot wait until the new season kicks off on August 17, and a new chapter in the history of European soccer on US television enters a golden age.