NBC Sports officially unveiled the details of their English Premier League coverage plans today in New York. We knew NBC was going to make a huge commitment to the EPL after paying over $80 million dollars per year and shocking the soccer world in snatching rights away from Fox and ESPN. The size and scale of that commitment by NBC Sports Network to the English Premier League is more immense than any fan or observer might have expected. The level of coverage from games to review shows to magazine shows to live streams will make the most popular soccer league in the world the unquestioned #2 flagship sport for the nascent cable sports network behind the NHL.
As expected, NBC's lead soccer announcer Arlo White was named as the play by play man for NBC's EPL coverage. He will be on-site at games and call multiple games in a week. His analyst partners will both be former England fullbacks - Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux, who will rotate game duties. Both also have experience working for the BBC as analysts.
Rebecca Lowe will host NBC's studio coverage and be joined by analysts Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe. Lowe and Mustoe come over from ESPN, where they both received plaudits for their work. Earle has worked EPL games for a variety of outlets as well as NBC's MLS coverage.
The last piece of NBC's EPL commentator puzzle is a big-name surprise. Former England international Gary Lineker will serve as a special contributor to NBC's EPL coverage and on-site host for select games. After his playing career finished, Lineker became one of the foremost presenters in the UK, anchoring Match of the Day and Olympic coverage for the BBC. In fact, Lineker just signed a contract extension with the BBC and it was reported that NBC were interested in signing him full-time. Now in this limited role, he will work for both networks.
The talent lineup is impressive as NBC combines the on-site game coverage of ESPN with the extensive studio coverage Fox Soccer provides. With the rotating color analysts, it's doubtful NBC will duplicate the popular pairing of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman at ESPN. However, the depth and quality of announcers should ensure the league is in good hands for American fans.
-All 380 EPL matches will be shown on television or streamed live on NBC Sports Extra. Games not shown on an NBC Universal channel will be made available via a package of networks entitled Premier League Extra Time. 154 games will air on NBC Sports Network, 20 on NBC, 76 on Telemundo, 22 on other NBC channels (USA, CNBC, etc.), and every match on NBC Sports Live Extra.
-NBC Sports Network will air a Saturday morning doubleheader at 7 AM and 10 AM. The NBC mothership will air the 12:30 PM ET game. On Sundays, NBCSN will air another doubleheader at 8 AM and 11 AM ET. In addition, the 2:30 PM ET Monday and/or midweek games will air on NBC Sports Network. In all, that's 6 broadcast windows for a typical weekend of Premier League football.Additionally, here's the list of studio, replay, and review coverage NBC will offer from the network press release:
Premier League Countdown – A preview of the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League season;
Premier League Download – With the help of a number of high-profile celebrity supporters, comedians and journalists, Premier League Download will explore what it is that’s so intensely loved – and loathed – about England’s topflight league. Long-time supporters will enjoy the lively commentary, while new fans will learn the language of the only league that matters;
Premier League 36 – NBC Sports Network’s acclaimed 36 series that follows athletes for the 36 hours leading up to a game/match/race comes to the Premier League;
Premier League Goal Zone – A 30-minute program airing after the matches on Sunday with highlights of all the goals scored on Saturday and Sunday;
Game Cut-Downs – On Monday nights, NBCSN will present a two-hour show featuring cut-down versions of the Manchester United and Manchester City matches. On Tuesdays, a two-hour program will feature the Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham matches;
Match of the Day – A two-hour show featuring extended highlights with the natural calls of every game on Saturday. This show is modeled after the highly-regarded BBC show of the same name. Match of the Day will re-air on Sunday mornings;
Match of the Day 2 – A 90-minute show featuring extended highlights with the natural calls of every game on Sunday. This show is modeled after the BBC show of the same name;
Match of the Week – On Sunday nights, NBCSN will re-air the best match of the weekend in its entirety;
Additionally, NBC will air the Barclays Premier League World, Preview, and Review magazine shows currently airing on Fox Soccer.
The sheer tonnage is staggering. Between six live game windows, pregame, postgame, two Match of the Day programs, the Match of the Week, two game cutdowns, and a boatload of magazine and studio programming you're looking at well in excess of 25 hours a week of EPL coverage.
For EPL fans and soccer fans, this has to be like Christmas in April. Never before has the game had such consistent, expansive, committed airtime. Although it may come at the expense of MLS's growth on television, the EPL product is simply in higher demand at the moment. It's the league of choice for American soccer fans sitting at home. NBC Sports Network is going to dedicate more coverage to the English Premier League than most networks do to American leagues! I'm particularly interested to see how the American versions of Match of the Day compare to some of the other excellent studio shows across sports and its namesake back across the pond. NBC is also smart to dedicate game replays to the big clubs with the largest fanbases (the big six of Man United, Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham) as well as replaying the best game of the week Sunday nights instead of the random replay schedule often seen on Fox Soccer.
If you're not a hardcore EPL fan, perhaps you're thinking a goals show, two review shows, a magazine review show, and three nights of replays is too much. You might be right. In fact, you probably are right, it sounds a bit obsessive now that I think about it. Considering where NBC Sports Network is at the moment it makes sense. Even after adding Formula One and other bits and pieces, the network is in desperate need of programming that will draw new viewers to NBCSN.
NBC isn't building NBC Sports Network as a challenger to ESPN as we might have anticipated when the network launched. Instead, they are running what looks to be a more efficient counter-programming strategy featuring second tier sports that have passionate, dedicated fans to slowly build the strength of the network. The NHL is the first anchor of that strategy and the EPL is now the second.