Stoke City at Liverpool
7:00 a.m. Saturday (NBCSN, NBCSports.com, NBC Sports Live Extra)
Perhaps the most ambitious soccer broadcasting package in American sports history is set to kick off. NBC Sports begins its three-year, $250 million English Premier League rights deal this weekend. All 380 games each season will be shown live on television for the first time ever.
The new season begins with a trip to Merseyside. It’s been a long time since Liverpool was a powerhouse, but forward Luis Suárez is one of England’s biggest - and most controversial - stars. Stoke’s squad includes Americans Geoff Cameron and Brek Shea.
In addition to the TV broadcasts, every game in NBC's deal will be streamed live and free of charge on the web, tablets and mobile apps, via authentication through pay-tv companies that have signed carriage deals.
NBC promises to remain authentic to the game, knowing that English soccer fans are among the most demanding of any sport. But the Peacock also aims to bring non-soccer fans into the tent, and will need to in order to produce ratings that justify its spending.
Striking the right balance in tone is a puzzle that has foiled every American television network that has ever broadcast soccer. Only the best and most dedicated have overcome the challenge.
The task at hand for NBC was set in stark relief Tuesday. A tweet explaining the rules of soccer brought a tidal wave of criticism from fans worldwide, and an admission of defeat.
NBC needs only look to its own history for an example of getting the balance wrong. It ran commercials during live games at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The American soccer community was smaller back then, but those who committed to watch games at odd hours haven’t forgotten.
ESPN gave us hockey’s Jack Edwards and baseball’s Dave O’Brien while spurning a true soccer voice in J.P. Dellacamera. Fox has used British legend Martin Tyler at some times and American shouter Gus Johnson at others.
From everything we’ve seen so far, NBC is up to the task. The announcing crew, led by Arlo White, is top notch. The on-field product on the field speaks for itself: stars, drama, big money and end-to-end action.
It's almost time for the curtain to go up - and you won't want to miss the overture. Few traditions in English soccer match Anfield's raucous rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone" in the moments before kickoff. You can be sure the famed Spion Kop will be in full voice on Opening Day.
If that doesn’t wake you up early tomorrow, nothing will.
Fulham at Sunderland
10:00 a.m. Saturday (Premier League Extra Time, NBCSports.com, NBC Sports Live Extra)
Part of NBC’s huge EPL coverage plan includes the creation of special overflow channels for simultaneous kickoffs. Those will be used every Saturday morning, which often see five games played at once. They'll also be used on some Sundays and weekdays throughout the season.
Sunderland’s biggest offseason signing was U.S. national team striker Jozy Altidore. The Black Cats spent $13 million on the transfer fee, a record for an American player. Fulham is led by dynamic Costa Rican midfielder Bryan Ruiz. Altidore will see him again next month when the Ticos host the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier.
Manchester United at Swansea City
12:30 p.m. Saturday (NBC10, mun2, NBCSports.com, NBC Sports Live Extra)
The final building block of NBC’s Premier League coverage is a commitment to show a game on the over-the-air network almost every week. There’s no better way to start than with the reigning champion Red Devils, who are far and away England’s most popular team.
Robin Van Persie leads United as new manager David Moyes makes his Premier League debut. Wales-based Swansea had a busy offseason, signing a potential star in Ivorian forward Wilfried Bony. He’ll team up with Spanish dynamo Michu in what could be a very entertaining attack.
Whether you watch this game in English or Spanish, you'll be treated to a top broadcast crew. On NBC, Arlo White will be at the Liberty Stadium with former Arsenal and England defender Lee Dixon. On mun2, Spanish-language legend Andrés Cantor will work with Sammy Sadovnik at Telemundo's studios in Miami.
I think you get the point by now about how to watch games online. So from here on I'll just use the TV network.
Newcastle United at Manchester City
3:00 p.m. Monday (NBCSN)
The race for the Premier League title really begins in the offseason, when teams spend huge sums of cash to boost their squads.
Manchester City dropped a whopping $146 million on just four players: midfielders Fernandinho and Jesús Navas and forwards Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic. They’ll have to score early and often to win the title back from city rivals United.
Newcastle are England’s equivalent of the Eagles. The team has some of the country’s loudest and most loyal fans, but they haven’t won anything in decades. Forwards Loïc Rémy (who's injured at the moment) and Papiss Cissé have a lot of work to do in order to end that drought.
Aston Villa at Chelsea
2:30 p.m. Wednesday (NBCSN)
Along with the two Manchester clubs, London-based Chelsea is the other big favorite to win the Premier League title. The Blues host Hull City to open the season on Sunday (11:00 a.m., NBCSN), then host American goalkeeper Brad Guzan at Stamford Bridge in midweek.
Chelsea’s squad is stacked with stars. Veterans Fernando Torres and Frank Lampard are joined by youngsters André Schürrle, Romelu Lukaku and Oscar. But the biggest star of all is manager José Mourinho. The Special One is back with the team he loves most after a fractious departure six years ago.
Levante at Barcelona
12:30 p.m. Sunday (beIN Sport)
Spain’s La Liga kicks off this weekend, which means it’s time to see once and for all whether Barcelona’s Neymar and Lionel Messi can play together. There are few bigger storylines anywhere in world soccer. If it goes well, the blaugrana will be one of the game’s best spectacles. If it doesn’t, it could be an all-time train wreck.
Real Betis at Real Madrid
2:55 p.m. Sunday (beIN Sport)
Madrid has spent all summer trying to buy Tottenham star Gareth Bale. The fact that los Merengues are willing to pay as much as $200 million for the Welsh star is a sign not only of his talent, but also their desperation to counter Neymar’s arrival at arch-rival Barcelona.
You’d think a team with Cristiano Ronaldo, Meszut Ozil and Xabi Alonso would be good enough to win as is. But just winning the league isn’t enough: they have to upstage Barcelona too. That’s why Madrid president Florentino Pérez is under pressure to get the deal done.