Since launching the first Premier League Mornings Live Fan Fest in 2017, NBC Sports has hosted several of these events across the country including New York City, Austin, Washington DC, Boston and — this past weekend — Miami Beach.
Having watched all of the Fan Fests on television, the Miami Beach event was the first one I attended in person. Here are seven of the most revealing insights I learned from the Premier League Fan Fest:
1) Size does matter. During last weekend’s Premier League matches, there were only three time windows where there was just one match featured. Saturday morning, the early kickoff was Liverpool against Watford. Saturday’s late kickoff featured Southampton versus West Ham United. And finally, on Sunday, it was Arsenal versus Manchester City. There’s no prize for guessing which one had the fewest amount of people at the Fan Fest to watch the game on the giant-screen, but what was revealing was the difference in Fan Fest attendance between Liverpool-Watford and Arsenal-Manchester City.
Despite kicking off at 7:30AM ET, the Liverpool-Watford game had at least five times as many viewers as Arsenal-Man City. Sure, the Gunners are going through a tough spell right now, but it was ultimately the lack of Manchester City supporters that created such a disappointing crowd for the final match on the Sunday. It was no comparison to Liverpool-Watford where the Fan Fest was standing room only with red shirts monopolizing every inch of the Fan Fest.
2) Everyone’s invited. I learned that NBC’s policy for the Fan Fests is that they won’t turn any of the public away that want to enter even if they haven’t registered ahead of time. Speaking to several random fans on the second day of the event, on Sunday, they were surprised to hear that. They wanted to be there on Saturday, but NBC’s registration link was broken, so they didn’t come.
The only exception to NBC’s rule is if the maximum capacity is reached. But in a massive event like this in an outdoor setting, there was always the opportunity for more people to squeeze in.
3) Destination soccer. While the event was the talk of the town in South Florida across Saturday and Sunday, I had the chance to speak to several fans of Premier League clubs to learn more about who they were and where they came from. Incredibly, more and more soccer fans in the States are now using the Fan Fests as a mini-vacation throughout the year. I met soccer fans who had flown from as far away as San Francisco, Boston and Austin to attend the Miami event. And for many of them, this wasn’t the first Fan Fest they attended either.
In hindsight, it all makes sense. The Fan Fests are free to enter. And if you’re a soccer fan, it’s a remarkable experience to hang out with thousands of fellow soccer fans in a fun, festive event where there’s plenty to do, in addition to food and drinks. And it’s a family-friendly event too.
4) The events are very different in person than on television. Faced between a choice between watching the Fan Fest on television or attending it in person, I would much prefer to be there every single time. First, there’s more of a sense of freedom at the events where you can do or see what you want instead of only watching what the television broadcast shows you.
On television, the Fan Fest sometimes comes off as cheesy where the NBC Sports let their hair down to do a silly segment. But being at the event itself, there’s so many other activities going on at the same time that you end up watching very little of what the talent are doing.
So for those readers who don’t enjoy watching the Fan Fest on television, I would really encourage you to attend it in person instead to see if you have a totally different experience. I know I did.
5) Knowledge of the Premier League. In the conversations I had with several random soccer fans during the entire weekend, I was blown away by the incredible amount of soccer knowledge they had. And it wasn’t just the top teams or players either. I had plenty of conversations with soccer fans who shared what they knew about everything from fringe players at Bournemouth to the tactical masterclass of Sheffield United.
6) Plenty of love to go around. Yes, there were thousands of Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United supporters in attendance. But I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of shirts I saw from supporters of other clubs including Aston Villa, Sheffield United, Watford, Wolves, Newcastle United and Crystal Palace.
The three clubs that I was most disappointed in were West Ham United, Everton and Southampton. For the Saints, I only saw one person wearing a shirt. Most of the West Ham United supporters wearing shirts were older ex-pats. And Everton supporters, I know your season has been rocky, but where have you disappeared to?
What it tells me is that Everton, West Ham United and Southampton, in particular, need to visit the United States more often for preseason tours, and get involved with the supporters clubs.
7) “Arsenal.” It was surreal seeing a large group of Spanish-speaking soccer fans chanting “Ars-e-nal” in a Spanish accent at the television cameras. Soccer is a universal sport loved by many, but hearing Spanish speakers cheering on a very historic English club such as Arsenal just goes to show how many in-roads English soccer clubs have made in American society.