There’s probably nothing that illustrates the growing popularity of soccer in the United States like the sudden and ultra-competitive bidding war that erupted over television rights for the English Premier League. The latest round of bidding is complete, with NBC Universal the surprising winner over a combined Fox Soccer/ESPN effort and a bid from Al Jazeera-owned beIN Sports. Considering the details of NBC’s plan for disseminating the product, it’s safe to say American Premier League fans, your ship has come in.
NBC will pay $250 million over three years, or $83 million a season, triple the fee paid by Fox Soccer in the last contract. They’ll get full bang for their buck with a plan to make every Premier League game available either on one of their family of networks, or via an online platform. Live.
In an interview Sunday night with SI.com, NBC Chairman Mark Lazarus said NBC Sports Network will be the primary carrier of EPL games and that EPL fans will have access to every game on the schedule through an NBC platform. “It will not be unlike the Olympics where you saw programming on CNBC, Bravo, USA or MSNBC,” Lazarus said. “We are working to make it a consistent schedule so fans know exactly where to find games. But the Premier League fan will be able to get to every game live.”
The trend started by Fox of placing live Premier League games on over-the-air TV will take a massive step forward through NBC Universal, who plans to use their flagship outlet to bring English soccer to the masses.
As part of the new deal, Lazarus said EPL fans can expect a number of games to be broadcast on over-the-air NBC. Those matches will likely air Saturdays and be shown live. Lazarus predicted viewers might see up to 18-20 games on NBC during the season, which would be a significant increase from Fox’s over-the-air broadcasts.
The acquisition of the Premier League gives NBC a stronger base of content with which to grow the profile of their new sports-dedicated network. NBC Sports Network already has Major League Soccer, and it’s not unreasonable to think that the American league will benefit somewhat from this new deal. Neither Fox Soccer nor ESPN seemed to show much interest drawing a direct line between the EPL and MLS. NBC’s high production values and commitment “shoulder” programming for MLS (like MLS 36) might mean a change on that front.
The differences between the two products are obvious, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some effort to bring the two audiences together. If there’s a sports broadcaster out there with the means and desire to make it happens, it’s probably NBC.
No matter how NBC handles the EPL/MLS dynamic, this news is huge for fans of England’s top flight in the United States. The fee NBC will pay indicates the explosive growth of soccer’s appeal (and how strong the threat from beIN Sports was).
Even better, the dream of Bob Costas doing an in-depth interview with Mario Balotelli is one step closer to reality.