There’s nothing quite like setting your alarm on a Friday night for 7 a.m. the next day so you’ll be up in a few hours to watch a live English Premier League telecast, is there? Talk about living the high life.
If you’re a lunatic like me, today’s announcements from NBC Sports about how it will cover the Premier League starting in August is like Christmas, Opening Day and a Guns ‘N Roses album release eve all rolled into one. Quite simply, it sounds outstanding for soccer fans who want to watch their favorite English club team play each and every weekend.
Plenty of people, myself included, raised their eyebrows when NBC plunked down $250 million to pluck the rights to the world’s most popular soccer league away from Fox and, specifically, Fox Soccer Channel for the next three years. Barring your personal preference to announcers and studio hosts, it’s hard to find much to dislike about NBC’s plans, which begin this August.
For one — and this is the big takeaway — every match will be available either on NBC, NBCSN, or another cable outlet and most importantly online through its streaming service at no extra charge. This is a huge change from the current EPL deal through Fox (and ESPN) where almost all games are available but only if you pay extra for both Fox Soccer Plus AND the FoxSoccer2Go app — which has been unreliable and has some of the worst customer service around.
Granted the amount of people in the States who want to watch Wigan play Stoke City on a Saturday morning is microscopic, but hell, if you want to spend two hours doing that NBC is making your dreams come true. (If your dreams ever involve Stoke City find a new set of dreams, pronto.)
Some more nuggets from the NBCSN Press Release:
- All 380 matches presented live on television with studio pre- and post-game coverage;
- All 380 matches streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra;
- Games not aired on a designated NBCUniversal channel will be made available to distributors via Premier League Extra Time, a package of overflow television channels available at no extra cost for each of their customers who receives NBC Sports Network;
- Championship Sunday – May 11, 2014, when all 10 Premier League matches will be available live on a different NBCUniversal channel;
- 76 Spanish-language telecasts, 10 on Telemundo, 66 on Mun2;
- More than 600 hours of Premier League original programming.
Also of note, current MLS play-by-play man Arlo White will be NBC’s “voice” for the Premier League. While many stateside remain devoted to ESPN’s Ian Darke, White is a solid voice and has the uncanny ability of most British commentators to go from understated one second to overflowing with exuberance the next. White’s a pro.
Some of NBC’s choices for color commentators and studio analysts leave some room to be desired, although the addition of Robbie Mustoe from ESPN is a solid hire. Mustoe was one of ESPN’s better voices during last summer’s European Championships and his straight-forward, schtick-free analysis should be a welcome relief. Another ex-ESPNer, Rebecca Lowe (another Brit, mind) will serve as NBC’s studio host.
NBC also plans to air a “Match of the Day” highlight show on both Saturday and Sunday nights, borrowing the format from the BBC institution of the same name. It’s a nice touch for people who relish the chance to sleep in on the weekend — or have lives outside of watching soccer.
Ultimately there’s a lot to digest from NBC’s plans for the Premier League on tv in America, but that’s a good thing. Last year NBC acquired the rights to MLS away from Fox and the increase in quality of the broadcast has been night-and-day, as if going from a high school access show to a major network (even if nobody knows which channel NBCSN is on their package). Even if you’re virulently anti-MLS, chances are you’re more likely to watch a game produced on NBC than you would on Fox Soccer on production values alone.
What you have really have to like about NBC’s approach to soccer is — on the surface — it looks like it will gimmick free. Whereas Fox has tried to make splashy headlines by hiring Gus Johnson — priming him to be its soccer voice in time for the 2018 World Cup — or using super-cheesy gimmicks like “CLASH OF THE GIANTS” week, NBC has gone the straightforward approach, letting the games and players speak for themselves.
Realistically it’s hard to find any fault in NBC’s ambitious plans for the Premier League, that is unless you’re one of those people who insist soccer in America has to have an American voice or spin to it. For those folks, I’d suggest recording Eric Wynalda, Rob Stone and Warren Barton kicking the ball around on Fox Soccer’s Pizza Hut-sponsored studio floor while you still can.