Last Thursday when news broke that Jose Mourinho had been sacked at Chelsea, it was arguably the biggest club soccer story of the year. Despite the serious implications of the news, one TV network in particular was silent and it illustrated a gaping hole in its coverage. That company was NBC Sports Group.
The US sports network continues to break viewership records and deliver top-notch production of the Premier League every Saturday morning through Monday afternoon on NBCSN and USA Network. But for 57% of the week (Tuesday through Friday), the network’s TV coverage of the Premier League is practically extinct except when there are the very rare midweek matches scheduled.
As followers of the Premier League, it’s often the off-the-field incidents that are the most intriguing. And while NBCSN does a good job at catching us up on the news on its Saturday coverage, the fact still remains that it’s missing an opportunity to really own the US coverage of the world’s most popular sports league.
The news about the Mourinho sacking broke around 9:40am ET last Thursday. At that moment, NBCSN was airing its morning sports jock program, the Dan Patrick Show (the average viewing audience for Thursday’s show, from 9am to Noon ET, by the way, was 70,000). So when soccer fans first heard rumors of Mourinho getting the axe, where did they turn? It certainly wasn’t NBCSN. Some may have visited their favorite web sites, others checked social media or clicked on their go-to app. Whatever the case, NBCSN wasn’t even a consideration. And it’s unlikely that they went to NBC’s Pro Soccer Talk or (their partner) Yahoo’s soccer websites either. Neither have established themselves as a leader in soccer coverage.
Unfortunately for NBCSN, they have no daily soccer program, nor morning soccer show or daily podcast. The most powerful tool they have is their live coverage, but as mentioned earlier, that means that when a huge breaking story happens during the week, the TV network is silent for 48 to 72 hours, or more.
The Mourinho story is just one example. Every day, there are numerous developments in the Premier League worthy of coverage during the season, as well as in the middle of international breaks and the off-season.
As timing would have it, I was on vacation in the middle of the Caribbean Sea aboard a cruise ship when the Mourinho story broke. I was heading to the Virgin Islands, over 1,000 miles from the US shore. I had completely unplugged myself from Internet and cellular access, so I was cut off from the web. But aboard the cruise ship, one of the channels available among the dozen offered was a sports TV network I had never heard of before — Sport24.
Sport24 is a network created specifically for cruises and airplane flights. With a mixture of NFL, NBA, golf, cricket, rugby, the Bundesliga and Premier League, Sport24 reminded me a lot of what FOX Sports World used to be but with a much better quality presentation.
The lion share of Sport24’s coverage is the Premier League, but with a difference. During the few hours of coverage I watched every day during my vacation, it was plain to see that the network employed no on-screen talent of its own. There was no “face” or “voice” to the network. They simply aired the best coverage they had rights to from the myriad of different sports leagues and production companies. On a typical day, Sport24 delivered 10+ hours of Premier League coverage, interspersed with traditional American sports games as well as Bundesliga matches, etc.
Since Sport24 has no on-screen talent or production capabilities, what you get with them is a steady stream of programming from Premier League Productions, which is a division of IMG (the same company that produces the commentaries and video of Premier League matches on the world feed). Premier League Productions is meant for TV networks who have no talent or production capabilities of its own, which is why it’s a perfect fit for Sport24.
You may already be familiar with some of the programming from Premier League Productions. There’s Premier League News, the news program hosted by Georgie Bingham. That one delivers up-to-the-minute news throughout the day. But instead of just a presenter reading the news to you, the show features a continuous flow of live interviews from reporters who are around the Premier League stadiums across Britain.
Sport24 also features archival footage from segments such as Golden Moments and Premier League Legends, which features very well produced trips down memory lane to highlight many of the most memorable memories from the league’s short history.
Also offered is Premier League Match Pack, which delivers 30 minutes of interesting statistics and creative graphics that are easily digestible and worth watching.
There’s also the pre-match, half-time and post-match coverage. While NBCSN does a better job than Premier League Productions with that type of coverage, it was interesting to watch as you often get pundits such as Andy Townsend, Harry Redknapp, Alan Curbishley, Danny Murphy and many more. Just like NBCSN, they also used a tactics board that the pundits would walk up to and use the touch-screen to show formations and key player matchups.
But the real jewel of the coverage from Premier League Productions is their daily analysis show entitled Football Today. Typically the show is hosted by John Dykes, an Englishman who is more well known in Asia than the Americas. The format of the show is 1 presenter and 2 guests as they dissect the day’s news developments. For example, one of the shows featured former Liverpool Director of Football Strategy Damien Comolli and a journalist from The Daily Mail. But no matter who the guests are, the show is a fast moving analysis program that storms through the day’s topics and offers a level of analysis that doesn’t exist midweek on NBCSN.
There was one episode, in particular, of Football Today that blew my mind. Instead of the typical set that mimicked BBC’s Match of the Day and was hosted by Dykes, this one was hosted by Andy Townsend and had a completely dark set. The only things you could see were the presenter, the guest pundits (Michael Owen and Shay Given) and a video screen that was seldomly used to add some depth to the show.
I know what you’re thinking. Andy Townsend, Michael Owen and Shay Given?? Are you having a laugh?! No, not at all. While Townsend can be very pedestrian as a soccer co-commentator, he was fantastic as a presenter. He asked thoughtful questions and developed a great chemistry on screen with Owen and Given. While Owen often puts his foot in his mouth by saying silly things during co-commentaries for BT Sport, Owen too was a revelation on the show. His analysis was spot on and he was able to better communicate his thoughts and opinions in this show format than he can during a match broadcast where time is short and there’s so much going on. Given, too, was direct, intelligent and a breath of fresh air compared to the other footballers who talk a lot but don’t say anything.
Watching the Premier League Productions coverage, I was spellbound. Whether it was Football Today or any of the programming that was aired, it was well produced and informative. Most importantly, it opened my eyes to the possibilities that NBCSN could utilize to fix the gaping hole that is its midweek programming. For example, as the Mourinho sacking was unfolding, Premier League Productions had a reporter live from a rooftop across the street from Stamford Bridge. She was joined by former Chelsea footballers Clive Walker and Jason Cundy who provided their immediate reactions and analysis. That’s the type of immediate, on-the-street coverage that NBCSN simply can’t provide.
Perhaps the cost of the Premier League Productions package is too great or NBCSN wants to put its own stamp on its coverage? But the fact of the matter is that there’s a ready-made solution available that would help drive viewers to NBCSN on a daily basis that is missing now. For soccer fans, NBCSN needs to give us a reason to watch its channel from Monday evening through Saturday morning. Right now, we’re going elsewhere for our soccer news and entertainment.
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