August 17 is a big day. If you’re reading this, you may have a birthday on August 17. If so, Congratulations! Happy Birthday! But that’s not why it’s a big day. Again, we hope you enjoy your birthday. But in the grand scheme of things, we don’t care.
If you’re a fan of soccer, and particularly the Barclays Premier League – arguably the greatest league in the world – you likely enjoy watching English Premier League action on television. Because of course, when you enjoy watching something, you find a way to watch it on television. And if you count yourself among these aforementioned groups but have also been living under a rock, you may be ready to set your televisions to either Fox Soccer or, on rare occasions, ESPN to watch the Premiership action. Don’t do it. Especially that Fox network. Just…just trust us; it’s not going to work.
And the reason it’s not going to work is why August 17 will be a big day for Soccer in America. On Monday, July 29, NBC Sports Group gave us another nibble as we await their unprecedented coverage of the Premier League in the U.S. Among the many nuggets and new things that jump out to me:
– All Premier League matches will be available to be watched, at the very least online, by customers of many of the major cable and satellite providers. In the first 3 months, that equates to 130 matches, made available by more than 100 distributors nationwide. For years, if you were willing to shell out a number of extra fees, this was possible. But it meant contacting your cable/satellite provider and – for me at least – paying for something called “Fox Soccer Plus”, which provided you with relatively little extra. Yes, you’d get a couple more BPL games on Saturdays, an extra game during each Champions League and Europa League day, and some professional rugby matches for good measure. But still, you’d only be able to watch maybe 25% of each week’s matches. So you’d purchase “FoxSoccer2Go”. Which required an additional fee, and for me, the biggest gripe was that so many of the matches FoxSoccer2Go provided you with that you’d want to see weren’t available to be watched live. You’d have to wait until late that evening to watch. To Fox Soccer’s credit, I do believe they made sure to air every Premier League match they had rights to that week…eventually. So you’d get 2 or 3 live, and the rest tape delayed. The vast majority of their programming was not live, and this was a big issue for me.
– Fox also didn’t produce their own games. They carried the feeds from channels in Europe, including commentators, replays, graphics and all. Fox Soccer would still attempt to lay in their own stats, but because they weren’t in charge of directing the game themselves, often these graphics would obscure play. While we do know that NBC will be utilizing Arlo White and Kyle Martino on their Premier League coverage – a fantastic duo –
Upper Deck Chatter are still unsure who/how they will broadcast the “rest” of these games each week Update: H/T to worldsoccertalk.com and their piece from April 23, in which we are told that Arlo White will “commentate approximately three Premier League matches per weekend,” and that when Arlo or other NBC commentators are not available, “NBC Sports will provide the world feed with British announcers (from TWI/IMG).” It’s been made known how we will watch them, but I’m pretty confident that Arlo and Kyle can’t be at multiple matches at the same time. Will NBC carry feeds the same way Fox did? We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for any of these developments.
– Fox Soccer – and the larger Fox Sports group – owned the rights to all but one game a week for many years. And yet, as the game grew in this country, Fox failed to utilize their broadcast network for the Premier League. In their last couple years, we saw the FA Cup final carried on Fox, as well as the Champions League final. And we’ve seen a handful of matches carried on Fox, but none live. This past season, there were three matches carried on Fox, all tape delayed, and all featuring two of Manchester United, Liverpool or Newcastle, all big name clubs. NBC has taken this and blown it out of the water, and we are among those who are real excited. In their first three months of covering the Premier League, NBC will broadcast ten live matches (yes, 10) on their broadcast network. And they’re not afraid of showing a team you’ve never heard of, as evidenced by showing Crystal Palace vs. Sunderland, August 31 at 12:30 P.M. ET and Norwich vs. West Ham at 12:30 P.M. ET on November 9. As someone who finds the “David vs. Goliath” matchups intriguing, I love that the “little guy”, like a Crystal Palace or a Norwich, will be televised on NBC, especially considering how many soccer fans in this country never had access to Fox Soccer.
Smaller nuggets for me include:
– With ESPN no longer covering the Premiership, we lose out on the fantastic broadcasting duo of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman. Luckily, we’ll still be able to get at least a bit of Ian Darke as he covers the United States Men’s National Team matches for ESPN, and assuredly will be ESPN’s main voice for this next World Cup, the last one ESPN covers for the forseeable future. But in a world where there really aren’t that many great sportscasters, Darke and McManaman made for one of the best duos on television.
– Adding the Premier League was a big move for NBC Sports Network (now being branded as NBCSN), as the network was lacking in quality live sports programming. The Premier League now represents one of the network’s crown jewels, and they’ve certainly made a large gamble with it. It will be interesting to see how well the Premiership does in terms of ratings for NBCSN, but needless to say they’ve already given the product more consideration than any of the other networks in this country to date.
You can expect Upper Deck Chatter to keep you updated with our evaluations of how NBC does in their earlier days covering the top footy league in Britain. Count the two of us, though, as being very excited and interested for this next chapter in the history of Soccer in America.
Here is a link to the July 29 press release from NBC Sports Group: http://nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com/2013/07/29/nbc-sports-group-announces-u-s-tv-schedule-for-first-three-months-of-premier-league-season/