In their announcement about the pending launch of Premier League Pass, the paid digital subscription service that will offer 130 games per season to soccer fans in the US, NBC Sports have made a giant miscalculation.
On paper, Premier League Pass seems like a harmless attempt to monetize the games that were shown previously on the Premier League Extra Time overflow TV channels. However, on closer inspection, the changes will have big ramifications for all fans of Premier League clubs in the United States.
One of the most important reasons for the success of the Premier League on this side of the Atlantic has been the accessibility of the league. Want to watch every MLS game? No chance, unless you’re willing to subscribe to the MLS Live streaming platform as well as TV providers that carry a host of channels from FOX Sports, ESPN, Univision and regional sports networks.
Not only was the Premier League the most accessible soccer league across US television (even more accessible arguably than Liga MX where some games are only on Azteca America and Telemundo), but the ease of access meant that the Premier League benefitted from discoverability. Bored by a nil-nil draw that failed to live up to its hype? With the NBC Sports App or Premier League Extra Time, viewers could change the channel and seek out a different game that was far more entertaining. On any given Saturday 10am-Noon ET time slot, soccer fans could flip between 3-4 games in that window and often unearth a “diamond in the rough.”
In theory, Premier League Pass makes sense. In what is a very difficult climate for broadcasters, networks are collectively losing millions of subscribers who are cutting the cord to save money and watch what they want, when they want and on whatever device they please. Many soccer fans would be willing to pay for a service such as Premier League Pass if it offered access to all 380 games in a Premier League season. But by only offering 130, it means that watching the Premier League in the United States has now suddenly become even more expensive. With cable or satellite bills ranging from $100 to $250 per month to access all of the NBC channels needed, fans of Premier League clubs are now faced with having to pay $50 extra per season to ensure access to all 380 games.
If all 380 games were available via Premier League Pass, I’m certain that a gigantic number of sports fans would pull the plug and sign up for the paid subscription service overnight. And that’s precisely the issue. With the parent company of NBC Sports being Comcast, the last thing that either want right now is for their number of TV subscribers to cut the cord.
By launching Premier League Pass, it’s not only a giant step backwards for NBC Sports, but it’s also a big blow to cord cutters who want to be able to watch all of their favorite programming without restrictions. NBC Sports has created a walled garden around the 130 out of 380 games per season, which represents a sizable 34% of matches during a Premier League season that are off limits unless you’re willing to pay $50 to NBC Sports. That means that even if you’re a subscriber to fuboTV, PlayStation Vue, DIRECTV NOW or any other streaming service, you won’t be able to watch every single game anymore.
Supporters of clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Spurs may not notice much of a difference next season, but even still, each club will have three or more games available exclusively via Premier League Pass. Neutral soccer fans or supporters of the “other 14” clubs will face the difficult decision of either signing up for Premier League Pass to watch all games, or skipping the match and watching something else altogether.
In NBC Sports’ almost flawless run as the custodian of the Premier League to soccer fans in the United States, the peacock has made their first major faux pas in covering the world’s most popular sports league.
The 2017/18 Premier League season kicks off Saturday, August 12.