N.B.C. announces a Premier League package, and a milestone for soccer in America
If you had any doubts that soccer programming in the United States is making strides, N.B.C. Sports provided some reassurance with their announcement Tuesday about their plans for the 2013-2014 English Premier League season.
N.B.C., in essence, is placing a huge bet on soccer. They already did, in fact, when they secured the rights to air it: The network paid $250 million for three years of E.P.L. rights. (The previous owner of those rights, Fox, paid $23 million for 2012-13.)
And while Fox put most of its E.P.L. programming on the now-departing Fox Soccer Channel or Fox Soccer Plus, N.B.C. is airing E.P.L. matches virtualy everywhere, using them as a drawing card for their N.B.C. Sports Network, where the bulk of an estimated 30 hours of programming per week will be dedicated to E.P.L. coverage, along with 20 games on N.B.C. itself. Games are also carried on Telemundo, and N.B.C. is creating a number of new channels, called N.B.C. Extra Time, to show the remaining E.P.L. matches on cable providers who also carry N.B.C. Sports Network.
All 380 E.P.L. matches will be available through the N.B.C. Sports Live Extra, an IPad/IPhone/Android app. The hope is that it will function as well as MLB.TV or WatchESPN, two comparable apps that stream live sports programming, rather than the glitchy N.B.A. League Pass or the borderline useless Fox Soccer 2Go, the previous home for overflow E.P.L. matches that caused me to utter things no man should say to an IPad.
The lead announcer will be Arlo White, who is essentially the one-man solution to the longtime debate between the U.S. developing domestic voices for soccer or importing the best from overseas. White is from over there, but really made his name over here, broadcasting Seattle Sounders matches in that team's inaugural season before becoming N.B.C.'s lead Major League Soccer announcer last season.
White will be missed on M.L.S. matches but, again, N.B.C. is making E.P.L. the priority.
That is in fact creating some tension here among soccer fans worried that a proliferation of E.P.L. matches will somehow destroy M.L.S.
But appetite for the sport is growing here. No one network can change that, any more than the decisions of N.B.C. could make M.L.S. as good a product as E.P.L.
It's a laudible goal, but it's something to build toward.
In the meantime, the American league ought to be able to take advantage of the rising tide. Come 2013-14, more E.P.L. matches, more M.L.S. matches, and more programming associated with both leagues (with better production values, one assumes, than the endearingly unslick in-studio programming found on Fox Soccer Channel), not to mention U.E.F.A. Champions League soccer on the newly created Fox Sports One, will be available to the American viewer. Those who aren't seeking out soccer will be exposed to it on sports channels all across the dial.
As N.B.C. sports executive producer Sam Flood put it Tuesday, fans of the E.P.L. in the United States will no longer "feel like a secret society."
The word is out, and now the major networks want their piece.