Editor’s note: Here’s a transcript of a recent conversation we had with Pierre Moossa, coordinating producer for NBC Sports Group’s coverage of the Premier League. The audio of the interview can be found on the World Soccer Talk Podcast.
Christopher Harris: The first question I have, which is a pretty open-ended question, is what will be different and what will be better the season than in previous years?
Pierre Moossa: I would start off with saying we spent a lot of time last season building up different avenues for Premier League fans to consume the Premier League. Big focus on YouTube and our YouTube original series, a big focus on the Premier League Pick’Em game, a big focus on podcasts. So, we’re going to build on that success and we’re going to continue to grow those platforms and reach the Premier League fans many different ways. So, that’s the biggest thing I’d say from a standpoint of building on last season’s success.
Then for this year, it’s been by far and away the busiest summer season I’ve ever been a part of. When it comes to our getting ready for the Premier season, yeah, I’d even say it was… it’s as busy as the very first season when we were launching the Premier League because there’s so much exciting too changes and opportunities for the upcoming season.
I think the first one, and probably the highest profile one is the synergies with Sky. What I’ve been saying a lot is that we’ve always had the benefits of being an international broadcaster. So all 380 matches, all the support from family productions, all the resources, all the content. But now we’re gonna get the benefits of being a host broadcaster as well with Sky and NBC’s relationship. The first thing is there’s gonna be a joint onsite operations. So we’re going to be one technical operation, one production team. There’s opportunities for, whatever exclusive content Sky’s able to produce or obtain, whether it’s special interview, special access. We’re going to be able to incorporate that into our broadcast. Their talent and our talents will be on each other’s platforms. We’re hosting our very first transfer deadline day show from Sky Studios, which is incredibly exciting. Especially since that’s the been the destination viewing for transfer deadline days for as long as I can remember as a little child.
To be able to host it from there and incorporating their contents and their our content. Arlo White will be based in the newsroom and I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Jim do some crossovers on both broadcasts and do some block and talk to the newsrooms together. We’re working very closely with Sky Sports News to work on that. So, and then the most visual thing will be a whole new rebrand of our soccer coverage with Sky’s graphic looks. That’s going to be one of the most visual representations of some of the changes, the synergies between the two companies. So Sky’s probably big focal point is of new changes for the upcoming season. The other one is just as you know, the Premier League goes through three year cycles and this is the start of a new three year cycle. So with that comes some incredible opportunities.
There’s new Premier League access guidelines and that can be small things and big things. I mean one of the things that will be allowed access to is to be able to shoot in unique areas of football grounds. This weekend Arlo’s filming some stuff, and the home dressing room for Liverpool, for Tottenham and for Manchester United. That’s kind of opportunities to be able to take advantage of and there’s also special access to players, et cetera, that then have been added through the Premier League guidelines and schedule changes as well as it’s something that has been discussed quite a bit and it’s gonna benefit the American audience with regards to the 2:45PM Saturday quadruple headers. So people in the west coast get to see the late game. Then the Sunday kickoffs being moved back by half an hour helps our west coast audience, as well as helps people get to see the matches.
We’re going to have now a two hour pre-match show, which will give us an opportunity. I think the biggest complaint our on-air team has is our shows are so tight, the time’s limited. So to be able to have a two hour pregame show that we can dedicate to not only wrapping up Saturdays matches, but previewing Sundays and addressing all the headlines, there’ll be a little bit looser and give us an opportunity to really delve deeper into topics.
Schedule really helps. The domestic rights holders in the UK have changed and Sky now being the host broadcaster for the 12:30 NBC window is huge. They have all the first picks and all the big six. Big six matches have a better chance of being on that NBC window and a better match the NBC window. Ultimately we’re going to be able to show a broader audience on the United States the key matches.
Those would be some of the bigger changes. Then you know, V.A.R is something that’s going to intrigue a lot of people and we spent a lot of time getting prepared for that and the Premier League has a fantastic plan to incorporate that into their broadcast. We’re all landing tomorrow morning and going straight to the match center to meet with Mike Riley and Neil Swarbrick to have a demonstration of the V.A.R. Protocol and actually see the match center in action. So we’re going to make sure that we’re up to speed on, on how that’s being incorporated. So those are kind of the overview of some of the key changes or exciting new newness to the season.
Christopher: Yeah, it’s a lot to get excited about and I’m sure it’s, in some ways it’s changed a lot from say the first day doing production of the Premier League from the United States. So on the NBC sports network as it was called then to now NBCSN, then of course the partnership and the synergy and the integration to a large part with Sky Sports.
One big question I have going into this weekend, or actually coming for the whole season is how is NBCSN going to cover Christian Pulisic? I mean, of course, as the top American signing with a lot of expectation. How will you cover him? Are you gonna cover him any differently than say you would any other player?
Pierre: Listen, it couldn’t be more exciting for audience. It’s a balancing act, but I think how he’s covered is gonna be based in some part is going to be dependent on him and how we deem success. You know, with everything we are, we’re very much editorial sound and means we cover all the key storylines and cover the important topics. So trying to find that balance is key. You don’t want to over-hype him, but you also want to make sure you cover the topics that people are talking about.
What’s interesting is our marketing team did some research and I’m going to grab it for you right now, but what they asked was… they asked a bunch of people and did a poll about which players are you most excited about watching in the upcoming season. Choose one player from your own club and one player from a club you do not support.
And Pulisic was number five of the players from your own club and that’s up next to Mo Salah, Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Virgil van Dijk. So the bigger clubs, and then you go… pick one player from a club you do not support. Pulisic was number one with 25% of the votes. So there is a huge interest in him. The other thing that I think is you don’t want to miss is there is great pride. We have this experience a lot when we cover the Olympics, is there’s great pride in your country and when you have somebody from your country who’s performing at the highest stage, there’s nothing more special and there’s nothing that gives you much greater pride in a player. There’s a relatability of… he’s from Hershey, Pennsylvania and here’s somebody’s hometown hero that’s now going on to play in the Premier League.
There will be a lot to cover and they’ll be… he will be a big focus. You have to find that balance that, again, if you may not be planning to start or how that balances or maybe he’s playing like 30 minutes, but I truly believe as he develops, as he becomes a regular starter and has a huge impact in Premier League he’ll become a mainstream talking point. It’s going to be something that we’re going to have to feel out that balance. We’re gonna start with on Wednesday… we’re gonna go to Chelsea training ground and chat with them for a couple of minutes and Kyle’s gonna be able to speak to them a little bit on camera as well. So there’s… that’s the first step in a lot of interesting time for us… this first step in our coverage of him. I think this is something that we’re going to all take steps with and, try and find the balance of covering them properly, but at the same time not compromising the key editorial talking points for each weekend matches.
Christopher: Another part of the balancing act too is I would see in terms of… obviously this is NBC/NBCSN covering the Premier League and then having so much Sky Sports coverage, talent and opportunities are available to you. How do you balance the two, where I would expect you to kind of make sure that the NBCSN crew are kind of first and foremost in your selection or amount of, kind of on-air camera time versus then trying to integrate the Sky Sports elements that would complement? Is that something you’re very conscious of?
Pierre: I think we’re conscious of what’s the most important thing we’re talking… we need to talk about, and then what’s the best way to communicate that? I think it’s less about who says it, what’s… you know how it’s said as long as we cover the key topics the most effective way. That’s always what we do. We always laugh when we say, we put this running order together and it gets thrown out the window within the first five minutes when you know, storylines change or there’s breaking news. A balancing act of making sure you’re incorporating certain things into the show isn’t really the priority, as long as you’re having the best effect and you’re communicating that you’re covering the key storylines, the most effective way is probably the best way to say it.
Christopher: Okay. And then Monday Night Football with Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, is there a possibility of incorporating a little bit more of that into the Monday coverage?
Pierre: Absolutely. I think there’s opportunities to incorporate all of Sky’s content into our broadcasts. Again, going back to the original point of you know, its… what’s the most important thing we’re talking about and what’s the best way to cover it? Sky’s on-air broadcast team and coverages is the gold standard. They are a huge part of the reason the Premier League is so popular around the world and their match coverage and their studio coverage is exceptional. So again, our audience is going to benefit from being able to see a lot more of that content in the United States. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just in the broadcast, our YouTube coverage and platform, it has so much content that people can see. If we can’t get into the broadcast, it’s going to be available on YouTube as well. Our via the social media channels. So as a Premier League viewer, you’re gonna always get the most complete coverage across all of our platforms.
Christopher: In terms of commentating, of course Arlo White’s the lead commentator, but will there be opportunity as to for this season to bring in, if needed Clive Tyldesley, Derek Rae and other talent?
Pierre: Yes, Clive and Derek will definitely be part of our broadcast this year. It’s obviously always scheduled for determined, it’s determined on the schedule. But yeah, Clive will definitely, Clive and Derek will definitely be both part of our broadcast.
Christopher: Okay. And then what’s the future of the Premier League Fan Fest? You mean will they be coming back and what’s been the reaction from the Premier League to the ones that you’ve done thus far?
Pierre: The Premier League has been over the moon on the Fan Fest and they are huge supporters of it. They’ve decided to partner with us again for this upcoming season. The plans are still being determined. So how many and how they’re being done is still being determined and there’ll be more details to come. The Fan Fest we’ll do… we’ll definitely be back. They’re a huge success. I mean when you have over 12,000 people outside Fenway Park, on a rainy day cheering on their team, it’s a special atmosphere. To me what I love the most, Fan Fest is they are the best example of the Premier League experience to a lot of people that may not be familiar with it. It’s an infectious atmosphere. And a lot of people have said to me, “well I don’t really follow soccer, but I went to Fan Fest. Do you believe that they’d stay sing and chant for 45 minutes, take a 15 minute break and do it again for another 45 minutes. This is incredible.”
And, and you’re like, yeah, it’s really a lot of fun to be a part of it. One of the biggest things we focused on from NBC is creating a community. Whether that’s via social media, or that’s via our platforms, or to be the broadcast or welcoming people into your home or creating this family atmosphere. We want to make sure that everybody feels like they’re part of something special in that community. And it’s not exclusive community. It’s a very inclusive community. And the more people understand what it’s like to be part of this, this is Premier League experience, the more they’re going to want to watch and the more they’re going to want to consume and the more they’re going to want to be a part of it. The Fan Fests are great examples of that. Where you can take a bunch of people and give them a communal experience to celebrate the Premier League.
Christopher: Then the last question I have is about V.A.R. I mean, you mentioned already that the talent and the team will be going to meets with the PGMOL guys, and to talk more about the V.A.R. When V.A.R. is used and it’s… I mean, we’re hoping that it’s going to be flawless, but we know that there’s gonna be instances where it’s going to be controversial at times because VAR it’s such a huge talking point. I would guess that NBC Sports would rely on the world feed in terms of the TV production and everything we’re seeing. But do you foresee maybe supplementing that V.A.R. analysis with your own coverage or your own on-screen graphics on site or any other things that can help lead the viewer to, to say, “okay, yep, that was the right decision,” or “it wasn’t,” or you’re going to let it more of go with the, world feed and rely on their expertise?
Pierre: Well, I think the biggest job for us is to educate people when it comes to V.A.R. in the Premier League because… well, I’ve seen several presentations already. They have a phenomenal plan to execute and communicate V.A.R. to the audience and they put a lot of thought into it. They’ve done new testing the last year. I think there’s a lot of learning lessons for what’s done before. They’re also very specific on what they can review and what they can’t review. And that’s again, that’s our job to communicate. If you’re watching the broadcast, it’s going to be very obvious because what they’ve created is when there’s a delay, they will go to a double box and the double box one will be the right… the live picture and one will be the V.A.R. output. What the V.A.R. rep is specifically looking at, so you will be seeing in real time exactly what they’re reviewing and what they’re doing.
And that could be adding an off sideline, it could be this is the key angle, they’re looking at the penalty. You’re watching exactly what they’re looking at, and then they’ll notify you that decision. So there no ambiguity over the angles they’re looking at, how they’re looking at, and what they’re looking at it. I think that’s gonna alleviate a lot of the questions that people are gonna be having. And also it’s… if there’s going to be the TV productions are gonna be in sync with V.A.R. So TV productions not showing a replay of a penalty when the thing they’re looking at is the off sideline or vice versa. Ultimately this double box allows you to know exactly what they’re looking at and it’s gonna really help with that communication process. There’s a lot of things that they’re gonna do slightly different in execution wise and what they’re going to review than the World Cup.
I think that a lot of things that caused a lot of the controversies in the past won’t apply to the Premier League, but I think they all know that they’re still going to be controversies, still gonna be debate. And you can take an incident where half the room thinks the red card, half of them thinks the yellow card. That controversy is not going to change. What they’re hoping to do is, and I can give you the exact stats. They’re hoping to improve the key match incidents and they do heavy, heavy data. They basically said that they can get the key match instance raised by a significant margin that’s gonna effect the results. Their key match incident accuracy with 82% and then last year they had 41 incorrect onsite or offsite calls that if were overturned by V.A.R. that key matched accuracy is improved to 87%. They feel that they can then affect the integrity of the league by [a huge degree].
So those are 31 games that were potentially decided by a missed opportunity by the refs, it can now be corrected. So they want to basically say, “hey, we’re going to improve really key match incidents and they’re still going to be debates and controversies over interpretations of whether red card, yellow card, et cetera, et cetera.” The majority of things they can improve, they’re gonna improve and they feel that’s gonna have a huge impact on the game and ultimately the results. So they have a really well thought out plan. And as I… as Arlo White, liked to say, “the laws of the game of football were created the same year, the Battle of Gettysburg, and they haven’t changed since.” And you’re… it’s an unfair, and I can’t think of a better word than saying unfair responsibilities for one man to manage 22 players on the pitch with the… without the support. And now he’s getting a little bit of support from technology and they think it’s going to make the league better.
So to answer your question, there’ll still be the debates, but I think they have a very, very good plan of how to implement V.A.R. to improve the results.