There's been a lot of righteous anger of what is being seen as the dumbing-down of the English Premier League for American audiences now that NBC Sports is ready to unleash its soccer fury. Our own Graham MacAree had a bit of fun, even. And I'll be the first to admit that there's definitely an annoying part of NBC's marketing that assumes their potential audience really doesn't understand some of the basics about the game.
Putting the marketing aside, though, I'd like to think that American soccer fans will come to embrace what has the potential to become a real sea-change in the way that our sport is viewed here.
Obviously, this is far from the first time that a major network has made some sort of grand commitment to showing soccer matches. Every four years since at least the 1994 World Cup, soccer has become a major part of the summer sports scene. In recent years, Fox has started showing select Champions League games on their main network and NBC has done the same with regular-season MLS games. For those interested, finding televised soccer matches has never been easier even before NBC unveiled their plans.
What's different about NBC is the breadth of what they are offering. Every game will be shown live. Every. Game. That's a massive commitment no matter how you think they are handling the other aspects of it (including the archiving, which seems to be quite a bit annoying). To say that no American broadcaster has ever done anything like this with soccer would be an understatement to a ridiculous degree.
But it's not just the television coverage that promises to change the way soccer is perceived by the American sports fan, it's all the other stuff that will come along with it. Stuff like Joe Posnanski's column for NBC Sports, where he now writes.
If you aren't familiar with Posnanski's work, I urge you to Google his name and read whatever you can. He's truly one of the great American sportswriters. This is hardly the first time he's written about soccer, but no one will confuse him for being a soccer specialist. He still manages to capture much about what many of us love about the game, and specifically the EPL, in this column.
Without gushing over him or the column too much, I'll just say that this is the kind of stuff that I feel will eventually help grow the game. High-profile American writers like Posnanski are going to be writing about the EPL more now than they ever did mainly because their employers now have a reason to encourage it. I'm sure that will come with drawbacks. I shudder to think about the first time Skip Bayless decides to give his opinion on Wayne Rooney's commitment to the badge or when Stephen A. Smith starts to break down Arsenal's attack.
Regardless of the reason, I'm sure a lot more otherwise uninterested sports fans are going to eventually gravitate to soccer if for nothing else than it will be almost unavoidable. Many of those fans will eventually choose a team they are going to root for and join the constantly growing number of American EPL fans who have never even set foot in England. They might give MLS a try, decide that the level of play simply isn't enough for them and that will be enough.
But others are going to thirst for soccer they can actually watch in person. They'll find that while MLS may not match the EPL in quality, that it makes up for it in other areas. The passion at any MLS match is real. The allegiances MLS fans build are real. They may demand that MLS improve, as well, and that's not a bad thing either.
I guess what I'm getting at here is that raising awareness about soccer is not a bad thing. Sure, the efforts may be ham-handed, but as long as the actual broadcasts are quality -- and there's every reason to think they will be -- we are coming out ahead as a soccer-watching nation. As has been said many times over, we now have more access to live EPL games than people in England and I'm sure we have more access to live games of more leagues than any other nation in the world. This is a great time to be a soccer fan in America. Let's enjoy it.