Now the 2022/23 season has ended, the first year of the six-year NBC Premier League TV deal is over. That agreement runs through the end of the 2027/28 season. But things could have been so different.

For the first time, we now know how perilously close NBC was to the end of its Premier League partnership. Plus how one NBCUniversal executive convinced the league to renew its deal despite NBCUniversal offering less money than the competition.

It was a masterstroke by NBC Sports that could have ended in disaster.

Let’s first rewind to the summer of 2021. Weeks earlier, Manchester City comfortably won the Premier League title with three games to spare. From the outside, all seemed copacetic between NBC Sports and its partner Premier League. However, inside the Premier League office in London, there were worrying signs. Many NBC executives that the Premier League had built close business relationships with were no longer in the same positions. Worryingly, World Soccer Talk sources revealed that when the Premier League approached NBC to discuss a renewal, NBC was hesistant. League officials were taken aback that NBC Sports weren’t gungho to automatically extend the deal.

Changes at NBC Sports were problematic

Earlier in 2021, a report in the Wall Street Journal broke the news that NBCUniversal was shutting down NBCSN. As a result, it meant games would be moved to USA Network as well as more to Peacock. The decision seemed straightforward. However, the Premier League was completely blindsided by the news and had not been informed of it ahead of time. Learning of the details in the Journal‘s report caused more angst in the Premier League office.

Not feeling the close partnership that the Premier League had enjoyed with NBC Sports for several years, the Premier League decided in the fall of 2021 to open up the bidding for the Premier League rights for seasons 2022 through 2028 to all interested broadcasters. NBC Sports’ continuous coverage of the hottest soccer property was no longer a sure thing.

Understanding the cozy relationship with the Premier League was at risk of ending, NBC Sports made a key decision. The top brass decided to return its executive Jon Miller to the negotiations with the Premier League. As president of acquisitions and partnerships at NBC Sports, and previously president of programming at NBC Sports, Miller had been one of the main reasons that the Premier League had signed with NBC Sports in the first place in 2012. He was instrumental then, and his return to the conversations was seen as a very positive development by league officials.

Working with NBC Sports Senior Director of Programming Nick Casanova, the duo still had a mountain to climb. By NBC Sports developing the Premier League into a massive success story in the United States, the competition wanted in. Thus, NBC Sports were now in a major bidding war to try to retain the rights.

How close the competition was to winning the Premier League rights

The bidding process typically goes through several rounds until the Premier League selects an eventual winner of the rights.

Speaking exclusively to World Soccer Talk, we asked Miller if NBC Sports had been close to losing the auction.

“Oh yeah,” admitted Miller. “In the first bid, we were probably the highest bidder but not by a huge amount. But the last two bids, I do know we had people who bid more than we did.”

NBCUniversal had major competition for the rights. That included a joint bid from CBS Sports and ESPN, as well as a $2 billion bid from Fubo.

“There were several times [that we felt we were close to losing the deal]. This last time, we were very nervous because we knew how much interest there was. A large part of that interest in the property was because of the work that so many people had done to bring it to this level.”

Growing the popularity of the Premier League in the United States has been a double-edged sword for NBCUniversal. In helping to grow the game, it raised the value of the rights deal each time. In the end, the Comcast-owned NBCUniversal won the Premier League’s approval, but had to pay more than double the amount compared to its previous contract renewal in 2016. The final amount was around $2.7 billion for the current six year rights deal.

10 years since the first NBC Premier League TV deal

In 2012, Miller was a key executive in helping NBC Sports land the initial Premier League rights deal for 2013 through 2016. Could he have imagined then that NBC Sports would end up having the rights for 15 consecutive years?

“I did not,” Miller said. “You always hope for that. You always hope that when you do the first deal that you’re going to be able to do a second deal.

“We had a lot of confidence that the Premier League would deliver, and we knew we would deliver for the Premier League. I never had any doubt that we would put the right production team, right marketing people and right promotion people in place to deliver a really prestige premier product.

“I would put our Premier League production, led by [executive producer] Pierre Moossa, up against any other sport at any other media company. The job they do, and the way they cover the games, and the way that our studio show led by Rebecca Lowe, The 2 Robbies and Tim Howard, is spectacular.”

Miller summed up the highlight of the NBC Premier League TV deal after 10 years of coverage thus far.

“I am most gratified we’ve been able to deliver on the promise we made to the Premier League (and its fans) to elevate the Premier League to the highest level of sport in America. We’ve put them on a level with every other major league sport in America.

“The fact that there are no home teams, but everyone here follows it as passionately, we’ve created that level of acceptance of the Premier League.”

The NBC difference

All credit goes to Miller and his NBCUniversal colleagues for rescuing the deal. Once the 2027/28 season ends, it’ll be fifteen years of continuous coverage, which is unheard of when it comes to soccer rights.

“We were able to press upon the Premier League something that I’ve said since day one,” explained Miller. “We’re not the network of soccer. We have no desire to be the network of soccer. But we do want to be the network of the Premier League.”