NBC Sports Group gave American viewers on Monday afternoon a little taste into how comprehensive soccer coverage is in the UK. In the process, they perhaps permanently left ESPN and FOX Sports in their wake. With all of English football focused on the top of the table London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal, it was a great opportunity for NBC to showcase all of the talent and creativity they have at their disposal in a single broadcast.
An English friend described yesterday’s pre-game show to me last night as “the best hour he had seen on American television devoted to the Premier League.” I’ll go a step further. For those of us interested in tactics and match-ups, it was better than anything ESPN has produced for previous World Cups or FOX has produced in their UEFA Champions League coverage.
Understanding they were speaking to hard-core fans well versed in English football, NBC deployed Gary Lineker to the Emirates to host from the ground alongside US International and Everton keeper Tim Howard. The commentary team of Arlo White and Graeme Le Saux joined Lineker early on to break down the matchup.
Back in Stamford, CT, Rebecca Lowe held down the fort with Kyle Martino and Robbie Earle. Included in the segments from Connecticut were an outstanding tactical discussion between Martino and Earle following the squad selection – a selection that revealed that Jose Mourinho was planning on “parking the bus” to use an analogy he coined himself many years ago. This gave American viewers a sense of how Chelsea would try and crowd out the passing lanes for the Gunners while conceding the flanks. The selections of Eden Hazard and Willian also revealed that Mourinho hoped to counter-attack quickly when Arsenal committed numbers forward.
After switching back to the UK studio, Lineker and Howard continued the discussion of the starting line-ups and what impact those would have on the tactics of the game. The 5-10 minutes that were focused on hardcore match tactics was more than we’ve ever experienced before on US television.
Meanwhile, NBC correspondent Neil Ashton (from The Daily Mail) was also stationed at the Emirates and was on-top of the rapidly developing saga a few miles down the road in Tottenham regarding Spurs’ appointment of Tim Sherwood as manager on a permanent basis.
The interaction between the Connecticut based crew and the Lineker’s on-site team was similar to what we see in American sports TV for bigger events like College Bowl games, the NFL Playoffs and the World Series.
While ESPN’s productions have traditionally been top notch, the level and detail of analysis has not approached the level that NBC provided yesterday. Even during broadcasts of World Cup or US Men’s National Team games, the strategic discussion would often be in generalities perhaps owing itself to the less sophisticated soccer audience watching the broadcasts.
As for FOX, they’ve determined long-ago that they would use big occasions like this to dumb down the broadcast ostensibly to attract new fans to the sport. But what they have ended up doing in many cases is angering core soccer fans whose intelligence may be insulted by the types of features the network runs.