England’s top-flight league recently announced a new 6-year rights deal with NBC Sports to extend NBC’s Premier League coverage in the United States. Once the new $2.7 billion deal ends in 2028, it’ll equal a grand total of 15 years of continuous coverage.
NBC Sports’ aggressive promotion of the league and use of linear platforms has brought English soccer closer to the American public. It has created a new generation of viewers and has given existing fans even more live action and shoulder programming.
We take a look back at years one through nine to see how NBC’s coverage has done.
NBC’s Premier League coverage: 2013/14 to 2015/16
Beginning in the summer of 2013 on an initial three-year deal, NBC Sports elevated the profile of the Premier League in the US. Fans were brought closer to the league than ever before in the US. For example, the broadcaster aired several introductory programs to the league before kicking off action.
The Premier League rights acquisition also gave NBCSN weekend and midweek programming that it previously lacked. This made the channel more attractive to both cable providers and viewers.
In an effort to create buzz for the Premier League, NBC Sports ran skits of the Ted Lasso character. The commercials featuring Jason Sudeikis helped stimulate conversation about the Premier League. Plus, it served as the pretense for a fictional TV show about an English soccer club. The promotional videos evolved into the TV series. One that won countless awards and acclaim. That helped further establish soccer as a mainstream American presence.
In the first few seasons of NBC Sports’ coverage, they supplemented match coverage with programs. For example, there was an American version of Match of the Day. Next, there was Premier League Download. Even Gary Lineker joined NBC Sports to provide on-site analysis. Plus he provided documentaries via his production studio, Goalhanger films.
Behind the scenes at NBC Sports
The documentaries and bumper programming enhanced NBC’s coverage. It bolstered American fans’ understanding of the league, history and culture. These programs gave NBC and NBCSN a programming block for most match days that covered eight to ten hours. NBC Sports aired over 30 matches each season on free-to-air NBC network television. At the time, that was a breakthrough for soccer broadcasting and visibility in the United States.
When Men in Blazers moved from ESPN to NBCSN in 2014, the show helped engage casual fans. It emphasized offbeat and humorous takes on the Premier League. Panned by critics, the show had a major, positive impact on the growth of the sport in the United States.
Premier League on NBC: 2016/17 to 2021/22
When NBC Sports renewed its contract with the Premier League in 2015 for more seasons, expectations were high. Many of us hoped the coverage would continue to elevate discussion and attract new fans.
A high point for NBC Sports were their fan festivals. Held in outdoor venues in major American cities, they helped connect the Premier League with fans at the local level in the US. Not only were the fan fests a big hit. They also gave many American fans a sense of ownership over a league played an ocean away.
Spanish-language broadcasts were handled by NBCUniversal-owned channels Telemundo and Universo. Featuring the legendary Andres Cantor, the broadcasts have incremental growth in viewership.
From Live Extra to Gold and Peacock
Throughout the period from 2015-2018, NBC’s coverage remained consistent. However, beginning in the summer of 2017, select matches were put behind a paywall on a service called NBC Sports Gold. The response was less than positive.
NBC Sports Gold’s introduction soured the relationship the network had with US-based fans. But the service proved a harbinger of what was to come. Not only for NBC, but for soccer fans in the US in general. The late 2010’s and early 2020’s have been marked by a clear shift. Many games have shifted from linear TV to OTT paid services.
While criticisms were aplenty, it is important to put things into perspective. NBC still made more matches available on TV than other rights-holders did for their respective soccer properties.
In 2018, NBCUniversal’s parent company Comcast acquired Sky in the UK. This brought synergies between Sky Sports’ and NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League.
NBC’s coverage also took on other elements in the 2018-2021 time period. Overall, NBC’s coverage slumped. Fewer bumper programs were aired, documentaries were fewer and far between while the network also lost talent. Restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic also had a negative impact on coverage. Thankfully, the 2021-22 season saw NBC Sports bounce back with a stronger presence in its final season.
NBC’s lasting legacy
Certainly, NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League has raised the coverage of the sport in this country. The broadcaster can be criticized for focusing too much on The Big 6. But despite that, its soccer coverage has left a legacy. We now have a more visible and popular league in the United States. Combine that with smarter wraparound coverage than we had every experienced before. NBC Sports should be congratulated for renewing the Premier League rights. It has left us with nine years of memorable coverage. Hopefully the next six years can be even better.
Author: Kartik Krishnaiyer