In a new feature on World Soccer Talk, I’ll review the highs and lows of my soccer viewing experience on a weekly basis.
The feature will review what’s it like watching the beautiful game online and on TV from the perspective of a soccer fan — someone, like you, who loves the sport and eats, lives and breathes the game. It’ll encompass my thoughts on everything from soccer commentary, production, TV shows, the online streaming experience and anything else that’s noteworthy from each weekend.
From this past weekend, my entire time was spent watching the Premier League games, and the shoulder programming that took up practically my entire weekend. I typically find time to watch the other leagues too, but there was so much Premier League content to be consumed that it ended up almost taking over my life for three days.
Here are my highs and lows of the soccer viewing experience:
1. Improved tactical analysis from NBCSN
While last year’s tactical analysis was hit or miss across the entirety of the season, you can tell that Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe have been sharpening their tactical analysis skills over the summer.
The best examples of this were during the half-time and post-match analysis of the Manchester United-Swansea and Liverpool-Southampton matches. For example, Earle and Mustoe clearly and succinctly pointed out Juan Mata’s error of failing to track back to defend Ki Sung Yueng who advanced to the edge of the penalty area.
That analysis by Earle and Mustoe was a crystal clear example of how they added value to the broadcast by pinpointing a player’s error, and showing how Mata was partly to blame for giving Ki too much space, which led to Swansea’s first goal.
Not only was the expert analysis spot on, but the graphics used on-screen by NBC Sports to identify the space that Ki created due to Mata getting caught out were clear and easy to understand.
To illustrate how effective this one piece of analysis was by Earle and Mustoe, compare it to how Alan Shearer dissected the incident on Match of the Day. When Ki scored the goal in the 28th minute of the match, Earle and Mustoe had approximately 15-20 minutes to discuss, to themselves, what happened (while trying to watch the rest of the first half) and then get ready to demonstrate that to viewers on live television. In contrast, Shearer had more than 9 hours of time between when the incident happened and when he discussed it live on MOTD. Yet Earle and Mustoe’s analysis was far better and better presented on-screen. Hats off to NBCSN on stellar work in the opening match of the season.
As an aside, Shearer blamed Ander Herrera and Darren Fletcher, not Mata, for giving Ki too much space. Not only did Shearer miss Mata’s mistake, but he rambled throughout his analysis.
Throughout the weekend, Earle and Mustoe were on top form. They were equally impressive when they clearly dissected Liverpool’s changed formation at half-time against Southampton, where they explained how Rodgers had changed the system to play a more calculated style that may end up being more effective, but it’s one that Liverpool fans will need to have patience with due to the lack of thrills compared to last season.
2. NBCSN didn’t change what isn’t broken
While FOX is churning out gimmicks and still doesn’t have a clear vision of what it wants its soccer coverage to be, NBCSN stuck to its proven formula this past weekend with its coverage of the Premier League. There weren’t any seismic changes. They didn’t try to ruin the coverage with Google Glasses or sideline reporters. Instead they stuck to their principles and made minor enhancements to improve what is already near perfect.
3. Ted Lasso outtakes
One pleasant surprise was seeing a Ted Lasso outtake on Saturday, which featured the former coach of the “Tottenham Hotspur” asking Tim Howard if the goalkeeper could pay for his pint since all he had was British pounds.
The outtakes are just one more reason to watch NBCSN. You never know when they’ll air another hilarious outtake from the viral hit.
4. You’ll Never Walk Alone
It never gets old watching and listening to the Liverpool anthem being shown in its entirety before Liverpool home games.
5. Giving the game the respect it deserves
Hats off to NBC for showing the minute’s silence before the game at Newcastle. They could have gone to a commercial break. But they honored the occasion to give the two deceased Newcastle United supporters the respect they deserved.
6. Premier League Download
The one-on-one exclusive interview with Steven Gerrard was a joy to watch. My only complaint is that it was shown so early on a Sunday morning that many people may have missed it.
7. Enhancements to NBC Sports Live Extra
Two enhancements I noticed this weekend when watching the games online were (1) the on-screen prompts that would allow you to click on them to switch broadcasts from one to the next (as one game was ending, before another one started). And the addition of the tactical cam as a picture-in-picture feature that can be activated or minimized.
1. Giving “lesser” teams not enough attention
I realize that Manchester United is the biggest club in the Premier League and the most popular one in the United States, but Swansea was given short-shrift in the pre-match buildup to the game on Saturday morning on NBCSN. Other than a pre-match interview with Garry Monk and a quick comment by Robbie Earle regarding Swansea’s style under Garry Monk before rushing to a commercial break, NBC Sports focused almost exclusively on Manchester United.
There are so many wonderful stories throughout the English Premier League. Let’s hope that the 15 Premier League teams outside the Top 5 don’t get lip service from NBCSN in the coming months of the Premier League season when it comes to analysis.
2. NBC Sports Live Extra
It was an opening weekend, but the NBC Sports Live Extra app is still trying to work out the kinks in the system. While some of the technical issues appeared to be from the UK and not NBC, there were several instances throughout the entire weekend of matches where NBC Sports Live Extra stopped working — the screen would go black and/or would stop playing.
The most ill-timed instance happened during the Newcastle United-Manchester City game where viewers watching the game live on NBC Sports Live Extra missed City’s second goal because the stream went down.
3. Problems with NBCSports.com video player
The Premier League continues to crack down on sites that are showing unlicensed highlights of games online. However, it’s much easier and faster to find illegal highlights than legal ones. Case in point, NBC Sports has a player on its website that only works correctly half the time, which makes it a very frustrating experience for soccer fans who want to watch legal highlights.
If you visit the NBC Sports video section of their website, here are the obstacles in your path to watching the highlights:
i. You have to watch a 30-second commercial before the website gives you the player controls to select from the carousel of Premier League videos available halfway down the page.
ii. When you click on one of the Premier League videos to watch highlights of a game, you have to watch the same 30-second commercial again.
iii. When the 30-second commercial ends, the Premier League highlights video doesn’t play. It just automatically skips to a random video — which has nothing to do with soccer, nor the one you clicked on.
iv. The only way I can figure out how to get the video highlights to work is to go to the Pro Soccer Talk website and then hunt and peck to try to find the highlight videos among a sea of other articles.
v. Even when you find the videos (good luck), you have to watch the same 30 second commercial before every single video you watch. So to watch the video highlights for the 7 Premier League games from Saturday, for example, you have to watch the annoying NFL commercial at least 7 times. Seven times!
Is it any wonder why people turn to watching illegal highlights of games when the legal route is harder to find and use, and filled with commercials?
What are your thoughts regarding the new column? And are there any particular aspects of the soccer viewing experience you’d like me to explore in future columns? Let me know in the comments section below.