In the United States, more than 30 million Americans watched the debut season of the Premier League on NBC during 2013/14.
There’s no doubt that NBC far surpassed the expectations of most Americans. In fact, throughout the entire season, NBC raised the bar of soccer coverage on US television and achieved a near perfect broadcast from August to May to provide the best coverage of a soccer league ever witnessed on TV screens.
But where does NBC go from here? The network, which has two seasons remaining in its three-year deal with the Premier League, will debut its sophomore season in August, ready to take advantage of a post-World Cup bounce that the network will undoubtedly see due to the prominent number of Premier League players on all national teams competing in Brazil this summer.
NBC has an huge opportunity to ride the wave of post-World Cup euphoria. But what does NBC need to do to improve on an already wonderful first season.
Here’s our seven point plan;
1) More games on NBC. NBC has developed a formula of a clear vision of what it wants to provide to viewers, and has continually worked on improving its “product” throughout the entire season. When the 20 matches have been show on NBC, the over-the-air network, the viewing figures have been impressive. But for next season, I’d like to see several more games shown on NBC to bring the league to more mainstream sports fans in the United States. The Premier League offers a lot of appeal to viewers than traditional American sports. The challenge is to make them aware of it.
During the 2014/15 Premier League season, NBC should increase the number of games from 20 to 25 or more. But the network should be more selective in determining which games to show that will produce the greatest ratings.
2) More double headers. More than 1.2million people watched Swansea-Cardiff on NBC when it was sandwiched between Winter Olympics programming.
Just as MLS games benefitted from being featured as a double header to Premier League games, the Premier League games on weekend mornings or afternoons would see a ratings spike if they’re adjacent to other programming on the NBC free-to-air network.
3) Consider showing tape delays of big games. The record for the most watched Premier League game in US history was a Chelsea-Liverpool game that was shown on tape delay on a Sunday afternoon in November, 2011. My recommendation would be for the free-to-air NBC network to try a similar tactic with one exception. When FOX televised the game in 2011, they didn’t make a live version of it available so viewers were “forced” into watching it on tape-delay or finding alternate means. But with NBC Sports Live Extra and Premier League Extra Time, the network could show the game live, but then encourage mainstream sports fans to watch it later that day.
4) Hire John Strong. After today’s announcement that FOX and ESPN have acquired the 2015-2022 rights to USMNT and MLS, it’s quite possible that FOX and/or ESPN have already put a call in to John Strong’s agent to try to sign him. But if NBC Sports has an opportunity, they need to do whatever it can to hire John Strong, who is a rising star in US soccer with his quality presenter and commentating skills, in a full-time position instead of moonlighting for NBC and FOX. It may be too late, but let’s hope not.
5) Hire one more expert to mix things up. NBC’s team of Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Mustoe, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino is first class. But there needs to be an opportunity for another pundit as part of NBC’s rotation policy to break into the circle to mix things up for the new season, to keep the programming fresh. It’s important to find the right person so as not to disturb the chemistry, but the Premier League is a long season and a fresh face could make NBC’s “must-see” television even better.
6) More reruns. If NBCSN has the opportunity, it should air more reruns of Premier League games (even if they’re during off-hours) instead of some of the outdoors programming it shows.
7) Consider a call-in show. The one aspect that NBC Sports is missing with its soccer coverage (other than a news show, more about that later) is to make its programming more interactive where viewers can feel they can be more involved in the shows. The ideal vehicle for that is an entertaining call-in show where viewers can voice their opinions and ask questions. If done well, in a better version of FOX Football Fone-In, it could make a profound connection with soccer fans in the States. Plus, the person who could step in as the host could be the same person as mentioned in number five above.
NBC’s forte is on focusing on the sport and letting the game do the talking instead of making the broadcast about being one of their talent (as with FOX’s emphasis on Gus Johnson). As a result, the calls by some soccer fans that NBC should create a daily soccer news and highlights show doesn’t fit with NBC’s gameplan. Therefore, NBC should resist the urge to appease fans and to stick to what they do best.
Next season’s Premier League coverage on NBC should build off what they’ve done in 2013-14 but focus on ways to bring the games into more living rooms. The formula that NBC has employed works. It just needs to fine tune what it does, and the TV ratings and viewing audience numbers will continue to rise.
What’s your opinion regarding the changes NBC should employ next season to improve its coverage? Share your opinion below.