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NBC’s Old Trafford Coverage lets viewers down

NBC's Old Trafford Coverage

NBC’s Old Trafford coverage following the postponement of the game between Manchester United and Liverpool failed viewers.

Sunday’s events at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium had much of the world on the edge of its seats. Protests erupted over the ownership of the Glazer family who recently tried to move Manchester United into a largely-closed European Super League, after years of piling debt onto the club’s books. The protests led to the eventual postponement of Manchester United’s Premier League fixture with its biggest domestic rival, Liverpool.

Covering a live news story, NBC Sports’ Premier League studio and commentary team did an outstanding job of keeping viewers abreast of events and developments at the ground. The matches Sunday were aired on cable channel NBCSN. The network gave some context and decent analysis around the situation, but that unfortunately happened hours after the events of the day were completed.

On the flip side, NBC’s pundits offered some commentary that was off-the-mark particularly during the 11AM ET hour after the bulk of events that led to the postponement of Manchester United’s fixture with Liverpool had taken place. At the time of the postponement, whether it was because of being a Premier League rights holder or some other circumstance, NBC was clearly from my eyes trying to make the Manchester United supporters who were protesting look like the instigators of this situation, which they are most certainly not from my vantage point.

NBC’s Old Trafford coverage broken down

The Good

From about the 15th minute of the Newcastle-Arsenal match onward until late in the second half, NBC employed a split-screen with the ongoing match covering half the screen and the unfolding events at Old Trafford covering the other half.

At this point Rebecca Lowe as presenter and Arlo White as lead commentator were excelling. White noted he and his broadcast partner Lee Dixon had entered the gantry area at Old Trafford early as the likelihood of well-attended protests was well-known in advance of the match. From White’s broadcast position he was able to give a play-by-play of the ongoing events including a pitch invasion and ruckus behavior in the stands. We even witnessed the destruction of a tripod by a fan as a steward looked on.

After the postponement of the match was made official by the Premier League, NBC’s team did an excellent job of summarizing events as they happened from about 1:30PM ET onwards.

NBC’s ability to use its primary presenter Lowe and lead commentator White to cover and quickly digest breaking news was reminiscent of the job ESPN did during Euro 2016 in covering the strikes in Paris as well as the rowdy behavior from Russian fans plus the civil war within factions of the Croatian Football Federation that led to fan clashes between Croatian fans.

After the Spurs-Sheffield United match, NBC’s studio team and commentators did a fair job of summarizing the day’s events and giving some needed context on the protests. This however, was a completely different tone from what we experienced earlier.

The Bad

At times before 1PM ET, NBC’s studio team was insufferable in their seemingly one-sided analysis. Lowe’s tone at times, especially during the 11AM ET hour, came across as patronizing. And the analysis of studio pundits Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe were at times way off-the-mark. I focus on the 11AM ET in particular because that was the regularly scheduled hour for pre-match buildup and kickoff. The network would have had peak viewership at that time from the majority of viewers who were unaware of the fracas that had unfolded earlier.

A few comments really irked me as a viewer who admittedly is sympathetic with fan protest movements, but has some knowledge of how these situations can be handled, having been on both sides of the desk as a front office executive at multiple US-based clubs and at other times an elected officer in supporters groups.

The first comment that was particularly bothersome was Robbie Earle’s swipe at the potential of fan ownership which many of the protesting United supporters are demanding. He implied fan ownership could not work because of the rowdiness of fans.

What Earle nor anyone else in the NBC studio conveniently failed to mention is that members own 75% of Bayern Munich, widely acknowledged to be among the best run large clubs on the planet and arguably the most successful on the field.

The protestors at Old Trafford demanding fan ownership which included displays of signs that read “50 + 1” were advocating a successful model in which 32 of 36 teams in Germany’s top two divisions are organized. Closer to Old Trafford, the original protests against the Glazer family ownership led to formation by Manchester United supporters of FC United of Manchester which has successfully competed in England’s semi-professional ranks for more than a decade, building a base of supporters and members worldwide, something unprecedented for a semi-professional club.

Earle’s studio pundit partner, Robbie Mustoe — who is normally level-headed — made a claim during the same 11AM ET hour that implied Sunday’s events would conjure up images of hooliganism in English football again. This seemed purposely designed to appeal to biases and wrong-headed stereotypes of many American fans. The reality is this, hooliganism in England’s professional game is limited in this era and any incident of hooliganism gets magnified beyond any reasonable perspective by the tabloid press in Britain and the media that covers soccer abroad.

It is no secret that many casual American fans of the Premier League view English clubs the same way they view American sports franchises – as an entertainment vehicle and one in which they tend to support management in any dispute with players and local fans. This is not the culture in England as many have discovered in the past few weeks, and it seemed NBC’s tone particularly in that 11AM ET hour was geared toward the American casual and not the hardcore US-based legacy Manchester United fan who is as angry and frustrated by the Glazer family’s ownership of the club as local fans in the Northwest of England are.

NBC's Old Trafford coverage

During that hour, Lowe’s tone as presenter had turned from the serious, breaking news host she had excelled at the previous two hours to patronizing, looking to facilitate a discussion that placed the blame for the events squarely on Manchester United’s supporters. Never in that hour was there a reasonable discussion about fan ownership, the Glazer family or any balanced discussion of how else Manchester United fans could express their displeasure with the current situation at the club.

At one point from his position on the gantry commenting on the events with Dixon, White mentioned the protests had nothing to do with the European Super League. Really? Then, what prompted this display at this time from United supporters? The timing isn’t a coincidence. The European Super League failure will likely prove in the long-run as the final undoing of the tense truce between supporters of England’s three biggest clubs (Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal) with each club’s distant American owners.

The coverage from NBCSN that hour was not balanced and quite honestly leads to questions the network’s overall arch of Premier League coverage. It should be mentioned though the tone was much more balanced later on in the day but did it take the producers and some actual time off-air for reflection while NBCSN aired a Barclays fan program from 1PM ET to 1:30PM ET and a match from 2:15PM ET until 4:15PM ET to move the on-air talent to a more balanced position?

Or were the on-air talent purposely conservative in their analysis feeling that they needed to tow the line as a Premier League rights holder representing a network that is about to open fresh discussions about the next rights cycle? Perhaps this caution is partially justified if this is truly the case but what was clear to me is that the tone shifted later in the day to a more balanced perspective for whatever reason.

Summary

NBC’s Premier League coverage scored big with its ability to cover live breaking news events on Sunday. However, the analysis of its studio and commentary teams lacked the proper balance and perspective during a critical hour when the match was originally scheduled to kick off.

 

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. K Jay

    May 5, 2021 at 10:30 am

    @Roberto Who’s personally attacking Kartik? Do I see passionate responses? Yes, but not a single attacking message. Please don’t gaslight like Kartik does in these one-sided op-eds. If he can dish out these lopsided analysis, he should be prepared for rebuttals.

  2. Roberto

    May 5, 2021 at 9:28 am

    The WST site offers the best information on where to watch games, also football news and sometimes comments/editorials on events around the football world. Kartik’s writing is mostly very informative articles about the football world. Sometimes like the one above they are actually an editorial. So, partly factual and partly opinion. That is the way editorials work. This does invite comments and they should be to support or refute the content. They should not be a way to attack the writer. This site does supply a forum to debate/discuss the football world. So, debating ideas is good, personal attacks are not useful, at all.
    I agree with Yespage, what would make me happy is more talk about the actual games. No one commented of what sure looked like a hand ball by Chris Wood to set up Burley’s only goal.

  3. Yespage

    May 5, 2021 at 8:53 am

    I remember this site talking about football on the pitch.

  4. Anthony

    May 5, 2021 at 8:03 am

    Not sure I buy this “American fans” vs “legacy fans,” “Americanization” stuff that you guys have been pushing the past couple of weeks…

  5. Michael F

    May 5, 2021 at 7:53 am

    In the world according to Kartik, NBC and its crew can do no right. His earlier takes on ranking the networks on European soccer league coverage in the US was as biased as it gets. For whatever reason, he simply has a distaste for NBC and solely targets only them with negative commentary to spark click bait chatter. I guess it serves its purpose. This site is getting plenty of that.

  6. Lou

    May 4, 2021 at 10:58 pm

    I thought the NBC crew’s coverage of the events was excellent and certainly what I have come to expect from hands down the best coverage of the Premier League ever presented in the US. Rebecca and the boys gave their opinion on the unsavory events perpetuated by the protestors t0words their own club. Not agreeing with their position does not make the coverage of the events poor or biased They presented the facts and gave their opinions. Good enough for me.

  7. J

    May 4, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    “It is no secret that many casual American fans of the Premier League view English clubs the same way they view American sports franchises.”

    You got a citation for that? Or is that just bald conjecture? Cuz it looks like bald conjecture.

  8. K Jay

    May 4, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    I really don’t understand these takes. You’re literally writing these pieces to get a rise out of those who enjoy NBC’s coverage of PL. I’m sitting here watching the Man City v PSG pre-show, and the first 10 minutes of pre-match coverage has been light-hearted with barely any depth. They are now talking about the Man-U protests, which has nothing to do with UEFA or the two teams involved with the semi-final match. There’s another 10 minutes.

    Where’s the outrage for that? Where is the op-ed on how little analysis CBS Sports provides during its pre- & post-game shows? Where is this same energy when CBS forces you to subscribe to paramount plus to enjoy full matches or watch the match on the ‘Good Goal Show’? Where is this ferocity to craft an article about of terrible MLS coverage continues to be? I blindly stumbled onto an article about how well CBS has been handling CL, only to look at the URL and see worldsoccertalk.

    Articles like this are just so infuriating, because you’re crafting all these negative opinions solely based on your OWN preference to that of CBS. You speak of NBC being unbalanced but YOU’RE DOING THE SAME THING. It’s so hypocritical that it’s comical. Neither network’s coverage of their respective leagues lives up to the excellence we deserve here in the states, but it’s clear that you have your stake in the ground for CBS and I wouldn’t be surprised if this site is somehow sponsored by CBS.

  9. Terry

    May 4, 2021 at 2:29 pm

    This article is highly biased

  10. Edward

    May 4, 2021 at 9:55 am

    stop gaslighting us, Karik

  11. peter van pruissen

    May 3, 2021 at 9:10 pm

    Kartik seems to justify the violence and hooligan behavior because the fans dont own a piece of the club and dont like its management. well, wake up, the fans dont own a piece of it so their means to voicing displeasure must conform to peaceful protests and storming the stadium underscores they lack the intelligence to play a meaningful role in managing a massive business. and yes, for those old enough like me, these images do bring back memories of the disgraceful days of mindless barbaric british hooliganism so that was a point fairly taken by that excellent NBC studio team.

  12. greg

    May 3, 2021 at 8:25 pm

    Worth mentioning the range of opinions among the football writers & podcast guests at The Guardian. I find their writers generally top-notch and the Football Weekly podcast is great…funny, insightful, covers EPL, other top Euro leagues and EFL as well.

    There was an article today by Jonathan Liew https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/may/02/act-of-desperation-is-ultimate-expression-of-fan-powerlessness and from the URL slug you can guess the sentiment (though he doesn’t credit MLK for the original thought that protests & riots are the language of the unheard, but that aside…) – Liew was fine with the grounds breach.

    But on the Football Weekly pod today there was divided opinion – some ok with the breach, some not. Those not cool with it weren’t that far from what Mustoe was saying Sunday. And the Guardian tends very liberal in their politics, which does filter down to how they talk about football, especially in this moment when football seems to be another example of wealth stratification, unchecked capitalism and greed, and pricing out all but the upper-middle class and beyond from going to matches and many from affording the Sky channel.

    All to say if Kartik has a problem with the opinion of the NBC pundits, that’s one thing, But that doesn’t mean their coverage sucked. The coverage was very good – they did not let the viewer down. And the opinions Kartik disagreed with were also voiced by pundits in England. Souness on Sky yesterday was in opposition to Carragher and Neville. On something like this there will be a difference of opinion. The Guardian today had a range of opinion about the ground breach (everyone is fine with peaceful protests) I’ll bet we see more varied opinions in the Brit football press this week.

  13. MZ

    May 3, 2021 at 8:24 pm

    Wait, so interrupting a live game with a split screen and commentary is “the good”? And commentators giving opinions that differ from yours is “the bad”?

  14. Jeff

    May 3, 2021 at 8:15 pm

    Every one against these American owners might want to really look at their league. Foreign owned teams tend to dominate. The money Americans and other foreign owners and fans have taken or at least help take this league to the heights they have reached. Not saying they have made the league but more so have helped make the best better. No owners are perfect. But TV deals, travel tours, selling of swag around the world have not only made these owners money but brought money into local economies and allowed these teams to buy the best players in the world for the EPL. Not a fan of the Super League but these teams are not just English teams anymore. They have become teams of the world, for better or for worst. Foreign owners money have fueled much of this growth. Sorry for you leagues success but bad comes with the good.

  15. LIguy

    May 3, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    “but has some knowledge of how these situations can be handled, having been on both sides of the desk as a front office executive at multiple US-based clubs and at other times an elected officer in supporters groups.”

    I actually had a long day today but reading this and the laughter that followed made it a little better. Kartik using his vast knowledge of the NASL to understand the situation.

  16. jason

    May 3, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    Lost a lot of respect for Rebecca Lowe, her commentary was disgraceful and one-sided….on the side of the elitists of course consiting of billionaire owners and tv network execs.

  17. IanCransonsKnees

    May 3, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    Danny’s a Manchester United fan.

  18. greg

    May 3, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    Chris, arguably the EPL needs Sky as much as Sky needs them – who else will pay what Sky pays for the rights? Plus Sky was instrumental in the formation of the EPL, and certainly it’s domestic growth. Also, Neville’s rants drive ratings and youtube views, so of course he can say what he wants. So it’s not really a fair comparison…NBC needs the EPL more than the other way. They can sell to CBS/Paramount.

    re Kartik’s opinions…disagree mostly. They covered it well as a major news event in the sport they cover. Arlo face-timing, bouncing around Sky reporters…

    I do wonder how much of their (Rebecca & the Robbies) opinion was informed by the anti-police violence protests from last summer and the riot at the US Capitol on Jan 6. What happened yesterday did bring back memories of both. This is not about one’s views about those events, more that anyone who’s been in the US for the last year has to be affected by seeing scenes like this. I was.

    Also worth noting that today’s comments were much more balanced, including Rebecca reading the post from the MU Supporter’s Trust in equal voice to the EPL & club responses & doing better about calling out the Glazers for how bad they’ve been. So opinions in the midst of it were maybe not the best barometer. Today’s discussion ahead of the West Brom v Wolves match was outstanding.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFepWFos3i4&ab_channel=NBCSports

    • Christopher Harris

      May 3, 2021 at 4:30 pm

      Today’s was much better, I agree but mainly because you had Danny Higginbotham on the show who had a differing opinion than Lowe/Mustoe/Earle/White.

  19. SC

    May 3, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    The ugly
    “We apologize to Arsenal fans” – Rebecca Lowe

    There were two sets of fans being annoyed Rebecca! I know NBC sometimes forgets those of us outside the top 6 exist, but c’mon.

  20. DiRT

    May 3, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    I came here for news. I got an op-ed piece by Kartik complaining about opinions.

    Hrm.

  21. John

    May 3, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    @Edward Gotta agree – everything written in the last six months or so comes across like they have some sort of stake in CBS/Paramount. All but unilateral praise across the board for their coverage, and no longer a good word about anything NBC does anymore. Makes ya wonder.

    I come here to see the schedule and the commentators at this point, but the opinions have really gone off a cliff.

  22. Edward

    May 3, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    @Kartik: you might want to write the same critique about how PL Productions is covering this story then
    you have to be kidding with these lazy hot takes. Take them to First Take or First Thing First and debate with Skip and Shannon, and SAS

  23. Edward

    May 3, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    I agree with Graham. Of all the things to criticize NBC was that they didn’t use any of their networks to show the match. Put the match feed on Peacock, CNBC or USA and keep NBCSN on split screen. They did not flex the power of their network.
    The critiques by Kartik is just click bait. Maybe Chris acquired some good writers from the other blog last month.
    Why do I even bother reading this?
    Drivel

  24. Graham

    May 3, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    I thought the coverage was abysmal. For the Newcastle and Arsenal fans it was pathetic to split the screen. I watch the channel to watch the football not a bunch of hooligans given media access by NBCSports. I’m a Liverpool fan and if you had done this to my game on TV I would not be happy. There is plenty of time to discuss what happened and the consequences but showing people disrespecting the ground and the stadium is not a good idea. We don’t show streakers for obvious reasons so why would you show these people doing what they are doing. They want to be shown on TV. Clearly you had a program later that would be used to discus this issue later in the day and yet you disrupted the real purpose of the broadcast, the actual game being played.

    NBCSports has done so much good for the EPL but this was not a good moment.

  25. John G.

    May 3, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    Do you really expect a rights holder to give impartial commentary about acts of hooliganism to prevent a match from airing? If you do, you are very naive. If they did the kind of commentary you expected, the Premier League… which includes 14 clubs utterly opposed to the breakaway super league… would have been furious. This action sets an unwelcome precedent where “protests” that are about destroying grounds or preventing matches are legitimized because they are “mostly peaceful”.

  26. Brian

    May 3, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    I thought it was made clear by the pundits that the small percentage of supporters who chose to break into the ground diminished the message of the overall protest, not that the United supporters as a whole condoned the more destructive elements of the events. As with anything, I’m sure the initial shock of it all was toned down once plenty of time had elapsed to process it all.

  27. John

    May 3, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    I’m sure if this had been on CBS/Paramount, a bad word wouldn’t have been said.

  28. Mitchell Booth

    May 3, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    Quite frankly sir, you haven’t a clue what you are talking about and for a change, I thought the team at NBCSN did a decent job of reporting the issues…

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