NBC moves all in with the English Premier League

Michael Steele

The networks of NBC will showcase 30 hours of EPL action per week, with all 380 matches airing somewhere.

You've probably read a lot words about the networks of NBC covering the English Premier League in the past day. Just how big is NBC's coverage of the Premiership going to be? NBC Sports President of programming Jon Miller said that, when they were in meetings with people from the EPL in the UK a couple of months ago, "Some of them said they wanted to come over here to watch the games, because this is something that isn't available to them over there."

That was said in reference to "Championship Sunday," one of the many innovations NBC Sports Network (the main carrier of EPL programming) plans to install in the first of a three-year, $80 million to $85 million per year contract. It's an expansion upon an idea the prior rightsholder -- Fox Sports -- began last year, called "Survival Sunday." However, while a good portion of Fox's matches were left to online streaming programs and overflow networks, NBC will actually find a legitimate cable or broadcast home (everything from MSNBC to E! to the SyFy Network were thrown into the mix) for the league's final Sunday of 2013-14.

It was probably the biggest "innovation" in what seemed like a truly ambitious presentation by NBC at Rockefeller Center on Tuesday. As much as Fox Soccer started to break the league to a wider audience in the United States (EPL chief executive Richard Scudamore said he was not unhappy with their previous partners), NBC is here to try and really make the Premiership explode in the United States, a country in which the league is already certainly a bigger television property than MLS and perhaps the most popular soccer league overall in America.

Let's look at what I feel are the three major aspects of NBC's announcement Tuesday, since there's a lot of information to take in and it all tends to sprawl when you list it together.

Match Coverage

First of all, let's look at this in a sense of blanket coverage: every Premier League fixture each season -- all 380 -- will be available to many of you if you receive the NBC Sports Network. That's because not only will select cable operators offer the NBC Sports Live Extra app, which will stream every game of the season, regardless of network, but also Premier League Extra Time, an overflow, Extra Innings/Red Zone-style set of networks capable of carrying every game that doesn't air on NBC, NBCSN or any other network that weekend. The channels will be offered for free to every cable/satellite distributor that receives NBC Sports Network.

As for specific matches on cable and broadcast, the EPL has six distinct timeslots each week, and NBC will have a hand in airing games during all of them. NBC Sports Network will broadcast matches at 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. ET every Saturday, and 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. ET every Sunday. They will also air the 2:30 p.m. ET Monday/Midweek game. NBC will air 20 Premiership matches in a live 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday time slot each week. Due to scheduling conflicts, USA Network and CNBC will also air some of these matches.

Even if you have the most basic television package known to man, where you still only get the broadcast networks and don't have cable, you'll be able to watch 20 EPL matches per season. If you get NBC Sports Network, USA and CNBC, you'll be able to watch up to 196. With the NBC Sports Live Extra and Premier League Extra Time set-ups, you can watch every single game.

If you missed a match, NBCSN is still going to have you covered. On Monday nights, NBC will feature "cut-down" versions of matches featuring the two Manchester-based clubs. On Tuesdays, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham will be featured in the cut-down format.

Also worth noting: Telemundo and Mun2 will gain Spanish-language rights, with 76 per season airing between the two networks.

Commentators

Arlo White is the lead play-by-play commentator for what I've been asked to call BPL on NBC (it is also the recommended hashtag, in case you're curious). White has spent the past 18 months calling the MLS on NBC, and was the voice of football at the London Olympics, where he turned in stunning work during the U.S. Women's National Team's run to the Gold Medal. I spoke with him for a few minutes, and I've watched quite a bit of his work, and I believe that those of you who haven't heard him before will be in good hands.

Not to get into comparisons, but White strikes me as a bit like Mike Emrick, the lead NHL commentator for the network, at least in a few ways. Both are unflinchingly nice people with the ability to say a lot and use the full extent of the English language. Given that it's hockey called by an American and soccer called by an Englishman, the "English language" almost comes off as two different dialects, but both are knowledgeable and capable of carrying a broadcast. Interestingly enough, he's also presented four Super Bowls in England.

His story is an interesting one. As he told reporters, he was never planning to use MLS (where he debuted as the voice of the Seattle Sounders) as a road back to England. "We were here for good, we were here for keeps," he said. "This was never a route back home. This was a life decision to come to the United States. I love the country, I believe in the league. You don't move your family over [otherwise]."

White will move his family back to the UK in July, and begin a pace of calling two matches per week, approximately 75 in all each season. The most likely candidate for his services will be the 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday game on NBC, with one additional match on NBC Sports Network on Sunday or in the middle of the week. He will, incidentally, travel back occasionally to call bigger MLS matches, affirming that aforementioned belief in the league.

He'll be joined by one of two analysts each weekend, as NBC plans two use a two-man booth (any thoughts of bringing NBC's between-the-benches reporter from MLS and the NHL are sadly to be nixed). Former EPL stars Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux will serve as color commentators. For those wondering, any other game broadcast by NBC will take the "world feed" of the game, as there are no current plans for other commentary teams at this time.

They will occasionally be joined by legendary UK footballer Gary Lineker. He will serve as a "special contributor" as NBC termed it. He will at times be the on-site host for the game.

Rebecca Lowe, who has put in some time with ESPN (UK and the US network) covering UEFA 2012, but cut her teeth with the BBC (where she worked for a time with White) and Setanta Sports in England, will be NBC's studio host. While White will be moving back to the United Kingdom, Lowe will be relocating to the United States. She'll host Premier league coverage from NBC's new International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn. Lowe will be joined by former Jamaican international Robbie Earle and former English footballer Robbie Mustoe as studio analysts.

Studio/Ancillary Programming

Here's where this becomes more than just a rights deal and starts to look like one of the biggest breakthroughs ever for soccer fans in the United States when it comes to television. Each season, NBC Sports Network will air what it estimates as 600 hours of ancillary and studio programming for Premier League. The sheer amount of programming is just mind-boggling when listed.

Before each season, NBCSN will air Premier League Countdown, a yearly preview show. Premier League Download is a show that will feature celebrity fans and journalists discussing why such an obsession exists with the league. It'll be sort of a way to show off why the EPL is so beloved, without "making it look like a secret society," as NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood termed it. NBC will also continue its 36 documentary series, which will follow various athletes for a day and a half leading up to a big match.

As for highlight shows ... I hope you're prepared. On Saturdays and Sundays, NBC Sports Network will air an American show modeled after the BBC's Match of the Day and Match of the Day 2. The shows will have the same names here in America. The Saturday show will be two hours, while the Sunday show lasts 90 minutes. They show highlights of games in their "natural calls." Essentially, no analysts talking over, just the broadcasters calls of all the highlights. On Sunday nights, NBCSN will air the Match of the Week. Premiere League Goal Zone will air after all the Saturday/Sunday matches are complete and show every goal scored during the weekend.

That's not even it. NBC Sports Network will show the Premiere League productions Barclays Premier League World, Preview, and Review. They are, respectively, a magazine show, a weekly preview and a weekly review. These programs moving to NBCSN was perhaps the most excited my Twitter followers got over the weekend.

***

This all amounts to a very extensive commitment. NBC will promote the Premier League heavily throughout their other sports properties, but really, you just need to flip over to NBC Sports Network starting in August and chances are you'll find something featuring the league. This could be a real activation point for football fans across America, a way for diehard fans to continuing loving the sport as much as they already had, but also to give people who maybe see the league as a curiosity or maybe just follow it casually an excuse to go into the deep end with it.

Scudamore said the EPL's 20 clubs all see this as a marketing opportunity, and why wouldn't they? This is broadcast television exposure in the United States, and cable television immersion unlike any network has given the league before. While the price NBC paid might be a bit high, it's hard to imagine betting on superserving fans of the EPL this much won't pay off in the long run.

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