After weeks of painted subway cars, billboards in Times Square and other methods of promotion, NBC rolled out its coverage of the English Premier League over the weekend. As far as first impressions go, it was almost universally positive.
NBC started by showing the crowd at Anfield singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the moments prior to the kickoff of Liverpool/Stoke City in the early Saturday morning match. Host Rebecca Lowe stepped aside to let the audio and HD picture tell the story, and she also did the same Monday afternoon for Manchester City’s pregame tribute to Bert Trautmann. Simple, but effective. It was a far cry from other networks trying to cram in another commercial before going to live action. Small, thoughtful touches such as this stand out in NBC’s classy coverage.
As a person – err sick weirdo – who gets up at 7 a.m. on weekend mornings to watch soccer, NBC’s handling of the Premier League was thoroughly solid and hit the right tones. NBC didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. It was a simple studio with Lowe working as a host and presenting questions to analysts Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle (later Kyle Martino). Neither started an argument/faux debate with the other, or tried to talk over his partner. There weren’t fake laughs or gimmicks. The analysts offered their opinions, no more and no less.
If NBC’s coverage was a baseball player it would be the professional hitter grounding out to the right side of the infield in order to move the runner over. NBC should be applauded for putting the Premier League and its players first and foremost in its promotion, rather than placing the focus its broadcasters’ personalities. Most people tune in to watch the game, not the people calling it.
The biggest talking point for NBC’s coverage, aside from the Robin van Persie caption mix-up, is the availability to watch every game either online through streaming or it’s NBC Sports Live Extra television package. It might take some time for fans to get used to that 10 a.m. window on Saturday with upwards of five games running at once. Remember, this isn’t sitting back and watching Red Zone channel. If you want that type of experience, tune in later in the weekend for NBC’s Match of the Day style highlight program. Digesting 10 matches in a neat-and-tidy 60 minute package is a fun way to consume soccer and NBC deserves high marks for its wrap up show, too.
If you’re a fan of some of the lesser tier teams, this is a dream come true and decidedly more advanced than Setanta Sports’ primitive streaming service of years gone by. If, for some reason, you wanted to spend a Saturday morning in August watching West Ham play Cardiff City, NBC allows you that choice. The ultimate irony is Americans now have far better access to live Premier League matches on their television than they do in England. (This is probably the reason the Founding Fathers got together to pen the Declaration of Independence.)
Here are a couple other noteworthy nuggets I jotted onto my legal pad while watching the games this weekend:
- Prior to kickoff NBC aired separate one-on-one interviews in the warm-up tunnel with Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck and Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. This is a bit of a game-changer since 99 percent of the time European soccer players are seen, not heard. It seems basic for an American audience, but you’ll rarely, if ever, see a halftime or sideline interview from a European match.
- NBC flashed a useful graphic of the previous five penalties taken by Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters. Sure enough he went to the spot he always picks and it was saved by Simon Mignolet. (Why were there so many penalties called this weekend?)
- This was a simple move, but a good indicator of NBC’s coverage. Before the kickoff of Crystal Palace/Tottenham cameras did a flyover of Selhurst Park to give the viewer a better grasp of the stadium and its location in a London neighborhood. Cameras also caught Palace’s pom-pom waving cheerleaders as players walked out.
- There were some audio issues for lead commentator Arlo White during the Swansea City/Manchester United match, but something technical like that should be sorted out over time. Doubt it caused anyone to enjoy the match any less.
If you’re a hardcore or even casual soccer fan, NBC’s coverage should scratch you where you itch. It’s a shame the Peacock didn’t win the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Based on its debut weekend presentation, NBC is giving a first-rate effort on par with its strong presentation of MLS.
Ironically enough, the running theme during NBC’s promotional campaign for the Premier League was introducing it to a new American audience. That audience already existed and NBC’s coverage hit on all the right notes to satisfy said audience by letting the game speak for itself.