Review of NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage during festive period

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NBC Sports’ fourth year of Premier League coverage has been, in some manners, stale and predictable. But as always, the real test of coverage of the world’s most popular soccer league doesn’t come in August or May, but during the festive period.

This festive period was a mixed bag for NBC Sports. Let’s take a trip through each item of their programming:

Studio Shows

Rebecca Lowe did her usual professional job of presenting. Lowe was given a break for the two days after Boxing Day by Liam McHugh, an NBC personality that does a number of different sports. McHugh did very well as he had a few weeks earlier in midweek duty. Neil Ashton, as always, provided good analysis and was particularly useful around American Bob Bradley’s sacking by Swansea City. On the December 27 Premier League Live program, Ashton answered a question from McHugh about whether Bradley’s fate would be decided in the next 48 hours. Ashton said he believed the decision would be made much sooner. Just as Ashton intimated, Bradley was sacked before McHugh and co. signed on hours later on Goal Zone.

The studio analysts provided a mixed bag during this holiday period. Kyle Martino. as usual, was a must listen while Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe both shared their usual predictable analysis. Earle, though, is more often correct in his analysis, while Mustoe — who is savvy — does have his moments where even his predictable pieces of analysis are delivered with such conviction and gusto that it makes it entertaining. For example, Mustoe’s denunciation of Pep Guardiola on the January 2 Match of Day was a good example. His opinions following Guardiola’s ridiculous post-match interview were particularly well done.

However this season, the Earle/Mustoe dynamic has gotten stale in many ways. It’s not that they are off in their analysis but that they suffer now from four years of overexposure as a tandem between NBC studio shows and the The 2 Robbie’s radio program.

For whatever reason, NBC didn’t have a Match of the Day program on New Year’s Eve but came back in a big way with a program that taped different segments of Goal Zone with Martino and Mustoe on January 2. That was a particularly good show hosted by Lowe.

Premier League Download – Bob Bradley, Pep Guardiola and Premier League Shorts

Roger Bennett, the co-host of the Men in Blazers show, hosted two Premier League Download programs during the festive period – one with Bradley, which aired about 24 hours before the American was sacked as Swansea manager. The other with Guardiola.

Bennett’s interviews were not really done at a high level. Because Mustoe, Martino and Earle are overworked and perhaps overexposed, they aren’t sent to the UK to do these interviews. But they’d be much more insightful with one of them in place of Bennett. That having been said, Bennett has a soothing, comforting interview technique that especially for the combative and arrogant Guardiola seems to have worked well to have brought some interesting comments out of him.

NBC’s decision to send Bennett to interview Guardiola was a missed opportunity given that Guardiola can talk tactics and playing style better than anyone. However, considering how abrasive the Manchester City boss can be with the media, Bennett did well despite his obvious limitations.

The Premier League Download shorts, which aired on Boxing Day, were particularly well done. They were hosted by Gary Lineker, whose expertise and interviewing style are second to none among talent NBC has access to. The interviews were long enough to give some insight into each personality or item featured without being too lengthy and cumbersome.

It’s Called Football with the F2

The addition of It’s Called Football with the F2 was a refreshing change of pace for NBC’s Premier League shows. Both of the Boxing Day programs hosted by freestyle soccer stars Billy Wingrove and Jeremy Lynch were well done. The two programs that featured Chelsea and Arsenal gave American viewers some good background on both clubs’ grounds and history. But as is often the case with NBC, they debut exciting new Premier League programs and then leave you waiting for more. There’s no word yet on if or when we’ll see Wingrove and Lynch again on American TV.

NBC’s programming consistency

As the failure to announce any follow ups to It’s Called Football with the F2 demonstrates, the consistency of NBC’s programming remains a concern. Premier League Download is on at various random times. And some days Goal Zone is useful but on others it’s truncated. In some cases, Match of the Day is wholly useless and simply a replication of Goal Zone. While on other days, NBC’s Match of the Day is indispensable providing greater highlights and analysis than is available legally anywhere else in the US. But the commentary and analysis is sometimes stale and often truncated due to scheduling considerations.

Because of these inconsistencies, ESPN’s ESPN FC program typically hosted by Dan Thomas and featuring the analysis of former Premier League players Shaka Hislop, Craig Burley and Steve Nicol has become useful supplementary viewing after most match days. This should concern NBC who either might need to have a stronger commitment to air analysis programs or maybe need to hire one or two more studio analysts to enhance the programming.

Big games

Two of the biggest matches of the Premier League season were played over the festive period. The Liverpool-Manchester City clash was shown on NBC over-the-air but treated like any other Saturday afternoon game other than that it was followed up with Bennett’s Guardiola interview and a rerun of one of the Watford Behind the Badge episodes.

Wednesday’s Spurs-Chelsea was perhaps the biggest match to date of the Premier League campaign. The buildup was decent with Neil Ashton on site but still NBC Sports failed to deliver the type of wrap-around coverage we’ve seen for previous big matches. This probably has to do with limited personnel and the congested schedule around the festive period. This having been said, it was still disappointing.

Summary

NBC Sports continues to cover the Premier League for American audiences at a very high level. However, more consistency and freshness is required in the coverage after three and a half seasons. Let’s hope NBC makes some subtle changes in the future.

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