Saturday, July 4, 2015

NBC Sports previews Premier League kickoff weekend

This week has been quite a frantic one at NBC Sports' studios in Stamford, Conn., as the Peacock family prepares for the start of the Premier League season.

NBC Sports previews Premier League kickoff weekend

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This week has been quite a frantic one at NBC Sports' studios in Stamford, Conn., as the Peacock family prepares for the start of the Premier League season.

As the countdown to kickoff continues, some of the major players in NBC's coverage chatted with reporters (myself included) on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. Here's a transcript, provided by the network.

Opening remarks from Pierre Moosa, NBC Sports' coordinating producer for soccer broadcasts:

I just want to take a brief moment and give you an overview of our coverage philosophy. The first thing and the most important thing is the match will never get in the way of the most important thing the match is paramount. The second point I'd make is that our coverage will not just be about one game or two games - it'll be all-encompassing, not only for that day but for the entire weekend and in all the entire fixtures. 

The third thing I'd say is that there's an inherent challenge with producing this show from another country. So our goal is to be overseas as much as possible to give people a sense of place and bridge that geographical divide. 

So our reporters will be giving updates, we'll show all the interviews we can, when players are in the pitch we'll be over there as much as possible and in addition we'll have announcers on site for two games per week and they'll be able to give us reports as well. 

Our studio show that's based here in Stamford, the focus will be a live newsy feel. We'll focus on smart in-depth analysis and reacting to the days and the weekend's events. And the last point I'd make too is a very simple point - that we've been given a great responsibility and honor to cover the Premier League and our goal is to treat the game, the league and the fans with the respect they deserve. 

There's been a lot of buzz about how open title race is this year and rightly so when you look at United City and Chelsea and how much they've spent.

An American fan who's new to the Premier League and maybe to soccer as a whole might look at the title race with just three teams in it and say, “well I'm used to seeing half a dozen or more teams that can be the best in a given year.”

I'm wondering what you think, for that fan who turns in to watch the Premier League, what their view should be? And certainly we'll probably see that right off the bat with the difference between United and Swansea on Saturday. 

Arlo White, play-by-play announcer: I think the casual American fan who's perhaps new to Premier League football and to soccer - I think what an element of soccer which perhaps unique particularly when we're talking in comparison to American sports is, yes, there may be a limited amount of clubs to challenge at the very top.

And as you mentioned Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, perhaps Arsenal, perhaps Spurs will be challenging for the title. But there are so many more subplots at play here that I think will interest the casual fan. When we start the education process if people are new to it - it's the Champions League spots finishing in the top four is worth millions of dollars to each team the following season.

So that in itself is like a prize as Arsene Wenger has called it. And [that has been a] trophy in recent years, and you've got your [UEFA Europa League] spots that are up for grabs as well. And then you've got the dreaded trapdoor of relegation.

And if I were to put it to an American sports fan who perhaps likes baseball, “Can you imagine the New York Yankees having a terrible season one year and then being relegated to AAA?” That's the specter that's there for the teams that finish in the bottom three of the Premier League.

They go down to the league below so I think all of these things are compelling - I think the title race in itself is going to be fantastic even if it is a three, four, five course race it can still be compelling. But those other subplots I think at play will interest a lot of American fans.

Lee Dixon, color analyst: Absolutely I agree with all the thoughts of Arlo there. I think this year certainly when you look on paper - the signings and the unknown at the top of the league at the moment with three new managers at the top four, et cetera, still signings to be made in the transfer window I think is probably going to be the most exciting Premier League so far - as far as the championships concerned.

And as Arlo quite rightly pointed out there is a you know there's leagues within leagues in this Premier League table this year and the sites to avoid relegation, you know, the bottom - obviously last year the bottom five, six, seven all were in trouble leading up to the last three games of the season.

This league is - the teams sort of mid-tabling towards the bottom are always capable of springing a surprise - we saw that last year with the league based the way it is this year is four or five teams trying to win the league - which is been unusual over the last couple of years.

It's been the usual candidates of Manchester United and City and perhaps Chelsea and Arsenal and Spurs in a way; but I certainly think this year all those teams will be taking points off each other which will lead to a compelling season I feel.

Pierre, we've never seen more tonnage of world soccer coverage in the United States than we have now and specifically this fall. Does the audience exist to support all that programming?

Pierre Moossa: I think so. I think it does. I mean people in the United States have been begging and dying for this kind of coverage and I think whether it's within Premier League, whether it's within MLS, whether it's within other leagues as well.

I think people love it I think the league and the product speak for itself. So I do think there is an audience for all this coverage.

Arlo, you have had experience in the U.S. and seen the growth of major league soccer and now with the extensive coverage on NBC for the Premier League - are we approaching a tipping point of soccer in the United States?

Arlo White: That's a good question. I don't think it's ever been this popular. I can speak as someone that visited the United States in 1986 to start with and then again I spent an extended period of time in 1991 and it was very, very hard indeed to get any sort of coverage of soccer on the television.

I can remember actually 1991 being at my aunt and uncle's house on the south side of Chicago and I was flipping through what seemed like an endless amount of television channels. I was somewhere in the 300s I think on cable TV and suddenly I saw a 17 year old Ryan Giggs thrashing in a volley from Manchester United against West Ham United and I was overjoyed that I managed to find this this little snippet of English football action.

And it's so ironic that 22 years later there's every chance that I'll be commenting on Manchester United and a team containing a 39 year old Ryan Giggs and providing that as part of this unprecedented amount of coverage to the American market.

Is it a tipping point? We'll have to wait and see. I just know that there is a huge amount of following of the game in the United States. And even if you're the fifth or sixth or seventh most popular sport in a country of 350 million people you're still very viable.

With so many games coming across the pond or whatever that transmission challenge is that exists there. How are you receiving these games and in what ways does the new Stanford facility help you in that?

Pierre Moossa: Well there are a lot of challenges and I don't want to get too much into the technical aspects - I'd rather let the technical people here speak about it but what we have setup is 16 transmission paths from the UK to us with brand new converters and we'll have redundancy upon redundancy to make sure that we are able to get those paths.

We've done a comprehensive deal with Premier League Productions to be able to work together to get these feeds over here and you know probably the biggest challenge you have is being so far away.

But when you have a state of the art facility like the one we have here and you have the support from the Premier League Production as well as our support staff here I'm very confident that there'll be no sort of technical challenges when it comes to transition.

Given America's changing demographics, particularly in the last two years - how has that impacted, I guess NBC's approach to soccer in general not just the BPL moving forward?

Pierre Moossa: I don't know if it does affect our approach. I think the one thing Arlo, Lee, Rebecca and I have spoken about a bunch is we just want to cover the sport the way it deserves to be covered and I think the fans are going to enjoy it.

We have a very intelligent fan base here in the United States so we're not going to get into dumbing down the game or changing to different demographics as much as just focusing on covering all aspects of the game - as you would in the UK, as you would if it were any other sport and I think the fans are just going to enjoy the game being treated properly.

A question for the three Brits there - Rebecca Lowe, Arlo White and Lee Dixon. I'd like to get your predictions for the season ahead - namely your top four teams in order, top scorer player to watch and the signing of the season.

Lee Dixon: I've been asked a few times about who do I think is going to win the league and I think with this transfer window the way it is I think it's totally impossible to pick anyone now.

Yes we can all point to Man City with their spending and what's going to happen to United but I think they're still obviously three weeks ago and I still think there's still three or four really big signings to be had. And that will trigger you know if Bale goes it will trigger all the things to happen.

Certainly Rooney, there's still a question mark over him. Manchester City seems to have done their business very early and I think that's a benefit to them. But I think at the moment - and you see where United are placed with game so far with Rooney, with the new manager I think they're slightly behind and I think they need to strengthen their midfield.

So I would probably at the moment probably put Chelsea at top very close to Man City and United not far behind and then the others following. It depends as well what happens with Arsenal if they end up signing - if they make a big signing which Wenger has talked about.

And they could be in the mix again but I think it's totally impossible to name a winner now and I think Arlo agrees with me on that but it certainly difficult.

Arlo White: Yes I do agree with that, Lee. Absolutely if I were - if you were to pin me down today and bearing in mind we've still got two or three weeks left in the transfer window. I think just to be contrary to Lee let's get things off to the right start so I disagree straight away.

I say Manchester City to start to finish first - a hair's breadth ahead of Chelsea. Manchester United not lagging as far behind as I think people are expecting - I think there's still a strong core there - which can be added to of course before the transfer window closes.

Then I think [there are] Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs for that fourth spot. And maybe someone like a Swansea City come into that argument but very much on the outskirts of it and on that track I think one of the players to watch this year - and there are many exciting new signings - but Wilfried Bony - the Ivorian striker who's come into Swansea. 31 goals in 30 games last year.

It doesn't always translate to success in the Premier League - there have been players would come over from The Dutch League chasm and I remember from Chelsea a few years ago who haven't replicated that form in the Premier League. But there's a lot of stuff that he seems to have - the weapons to be make a quite an impact on the Premier League this year.

Rebecca Lowe, host of NBC's studio show: In my experience a bit like Lee was saying it's very difficult to predict and you actually end up changing your mind I think after every weekend you suddenly say it's going to be somebody else who's going to win the league.

But at this stage in August with so much more to happen I'm going to go with Chelsea to win it, City to come second, I'm going to go Spurs to come third and United to come fourth.

I think I'm going to go top scorer is going to be Roberto Soldado and one to watch I'm going to go Ravel Morrison - the West Ham player who had his difficult time off the field but Sam Allardyce and apparently he's found God as well.

So the combination of Sam Allardyce and God may well calm him down a bit this season and I think he scored six goals already in preseason and he's come through the ranks in United so he's got a pedigree. So I go for him as one to watch.

You know everywhere you go here in the United States, you see a number of different jerseys from the Premiership and also when there's a friendly in the area, I mean tickets are hard to get. What do you think has piqued the interest of the American soccer fan to English Premier League soccer?

Arlo White: I think the history behind the Premier League - I know it was only named the Premier League in 1992, but the top flight of English soccer seems to have romanticism about it.

It's where football was invented, it's where the concepts of having league competitive soccer was introduced in the 1880s. And I think clubs like Manchester United, like Liverpool, like Arsenal and more recently perhaps Manchester City and Chelsea and ((inaudible)), they resonate throughout the world. I mean wherever you are in the world.

And I covered sport across the globe be it South Africa, be it Thailand, be it Australia. You often find people in those far off places that have as much knowledge, if not more, than you do.

Specific to the American market, that's what I think attracts, also the style of play. It's fast, it's physical, it is more technical I think than people give you credit, but perhaps not to the letter of La Liga at the moment. And the Bundesliga is coming on very strongly.

But where every match matters, every game is a battle. The fans of passion at every game it seems is a sell out, and I think that's what appeals to the American audience.

Rebecca Lowe: I would agree with Arlo in terms of the global appeal, because I remember similar to Arlo, I came over to the States in 1999 tried to watch United by Munich in the Champions League Final when I was at boarding school over here* and struggled to find it.

And now, I would say that every continent in the world, like Arlo says is so knowledgeable and just loves the division. And I think American and the United States is maybe - and people when they are traveling out of the U.S. see what this game is doing to the rest of the world, and perhaps they are starting to think they want a piece of that.

And the other thing about the style of play as well is the unpredictability of it. I think there's a lot of sports divisions in the sports leagues around the world where the winner is predictable, of not only the division or the season, but also of the game that you're watching. And that is certainly not one thing that you can say about the Premier League.

* - Lowe briefly attended Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pa., about three hours west of Philadelphia. 

Lee Dixon: I think football has always been very popular amongst the kids in the U.S. I've been going to America for a long time. But I think the introduction of the Premier League and the fact that the Premier League sees the U.S. is a really big marketplace and playing pre-season over here, etc. It's a huge attraction and I think football has been always very popular.

I think the emergence of the U.S. team over the last few years, the introduction of people like high profile managers like Klinsmann coming into the game. And it's all of a sudden, people are taking American football as in soccer seriously.

And I think now that has translated over to actually watching the game and the coverage over the last few years on the U.S. TV has been increased. And we've got to a point now where we are on the eve of NBC's coverage which I feel has certainly been involved in British broadcasting over here, from a football point of view, is on a level if not better in the organization and the preparation going into the season, has taken me by surprise. It's been really thorough and it's very exciting to be involved in.

And I think you can only go one way. I think once the season starts and more people watch the Premier League on TV, then it's just going to get better and better product.

Talk about the challenges of connecting with American audiences discussing the Premier League. What is different about it? Is your preparation different or is it generally the same thing?

Lee Dixon: No, I think general preparation for games will be the same. It's pretty much like playing. You get into a routine of what you do pre-match and pregame and I'm going to do very similar thing.

But I think there are challenges to a different audience. I think that's something me and Arlo together will be - will have been working on so far and we will do throughout the season.

I think the biggest thing is to get the respect to the audience, that we're explaining things that happened on the pitch from my experience and as Pierre said before, the game is the most important. We won't be dumbing down the game or act to try and explain things that perhaps is in a condescending way.

I think, you know, my ability to, or my strengths are analytical. I think hopefully that comes across in the co-commentary with Arlo. Arlo, you know, he is a very experienced commentator and he will call the game. And when there's things to be said from an explanatory point of view that I see - and I try to do it as simple as possible.

And so I don't think there's any difference talking to a British audience or to an American audience. I think sometimes when I say things and explain them, they're quite simple, and I know what's going on in my head because I've been a pro for 22 years.

But I think the key to it is to say it like it is in your head and it comes out. If people can understand that which they seem to be able to, then it doesn't matter what country you're from. It's the game of football and the rules are pretty - the laws of the game are pretty easy to understand. And I think the excitement level, and as I said, the game takes care of itself.

So no real specific - there might be the odd occasion where I have to rethink the way I say something because you perhaps don't - the audience might not understand the British-ness of what I'm saying. So I think that will come as we go through the season.

But I'm really excited to have this opportunity to be able to share what I've learned by playing the game for as many years as I have.

Arlo, where are you based this year? What city will you be in England because I know obviously you're going to be doing a lot of different games throughout the country?

Arlo White: It's been a very, very strange experience.

There I was sort of going along merrily in Connecticut having a wonderful summer and commentating each week on major league soccer games. And then as if someone has waved the magic wand, I've appeared back in my old house in the midlands of England in a place called Derby.

It's in east midland, it's very central. It means that most of the country is accessible. So it's been an interesting few weeks as we've waited the arrival of our furniture and stuff and we get re-established over on this side of the Atlantic.

In terms of getting to games, and we're going to have a lot of back-to-backs, Saturdays and Sundays. On occasion it will be Saturdays and Mondays, so we will be using various modes of transport, you know, buses and cars and trains and planes to make sure that we get around to all of these games.

But it's quite advantageous to be in such a central location.

Rebecca, what are some of the challenges for you in your new endeavor?

Rebecca Lowe: New challenges would be I think similar to what Lee was saying. I think a lot of the preparation is similar, but there will always be that slight difference in the British nature of how I talk about football on the television as to maybe how some United States people watching will want to hear it.

So I think I need to be aware some terms we take for granted in England within the game, are going to be another language. So I need to be very aware of that so that's a challenge to get that right.

And as Pierre said at the beginning, we're not going to dumb-down the game or the shows, but we're going to make sure that we're also not alienating people. I think it's important to strike that balance; it's a difficult balance to strike.

Another challenge I think is to concentrate on ten games over the course of the weekend. I came from ESPN U.K. where we concentrated massively on just the one every week so we went into great depth. And I could tell you every single stat about those particular teams.

But often the other nine games going on that weekend were in my mind, but very much secondary. Especially at ten o'clock in the morning in the United States when we do our 10:00 am kickoff, there might be three, four, five, six, sometimes seven other games going on which we need to be across and ready to talk about at half time and at full time.

So it's going to be a challenge, but I think we'll get into a rhythm of it. And I'm really looking forward to just watching so much football, and I think as well, just the challenge of adapting to a new country, a new system, a new network, and just kind of making sure I get all those things right and engage enough with the viewer coming from the States to wherever they are watching us from.

For fans who are maybe on the west coast or who aren't necessarily going to be up for the early morning game on a Saturday, are those games going to be live only or will they be on demand either through cable providers or online in some form?

Pierre Moossa: We're going to have a little bit more information on the On Demand going forward. But I will tell you is that during the ten o'clock window during the entire day, anything that happens early on we'll full sum up. And in addition at night you'll have the match of the day which is a long form highlight show where you'll get some very good game play with expert analysis around it.

So if you miss the early games, you'll be able to get caught up very easily and we will make sure that we cover them throughout the day.

On the live match broadcast themselves, are you supplementing Premier League Productions at all with any additional cameras?

Pierre Moossa: We're taking all the Premier League Productions coverage. There will be no additional game coverage.

The one thing that I've thought about for awhile is you have a group that is on site covering the game properly, and for me to think that I could do it better from over here or changing out extra cameras is silly. They do excellent coverage and their coverage doesn't need to be supplemented; it's quality.

You guys have brought up the transfer of Wayne Rooney a couple of weeks last. Any bold prediction about what's going to happen with Rooney? Do you think he'll stay? And if he does leave, what teams do you think he might land with?

Arlo White: Inside information Lee?

Lee Dixon: Well according to [some people]*, he should be selling to Fulham. 

I think he will leave. I think that this next two or three weeks he's got to make some decisions about what he wants to do. I think he's being quite quiet of late.

I think he wants to play, I think he's in a position - I don't necessarily think he should, but I think he will. And I think he's going to get sold from United's point of view. I don't see Wayne Rooney going abroad, so it may mean selling him to somebody, you know, one of the rivals which I think would literally take the title away from Manchester United. So if he went to Chelsea I think United's chances would be, depending on you know, what happens in their transfer window with three weeks left.

But it would be a huge blow to lose him and then a double blow for him to go to somewhere like Chelsea. So, and Arsenal is still sniffing around as well.

So I mean from his point of view, he doesn't owe Manchester United anything and they don't owe him anything now. I think it's a case of what he wants to do as a player. Does he want to go elsewhere and challenge himself or does he want to stay at one of the best clubs in the world?

I don't think money is an issue. I think, you know, once you go past a certain figure which he went past a long time ago, money becomes incidental. I think it's an ambition thing and a piece of mind.

He can be a troubled soul at times and I think a happy Wayne Rooney you get the best out of him. And he doesn't seem very happy at the moment.

* - The transcript marked this part as inaudible, and I wasn't taking notes at the time. It was a joke about Fulham fans, of course. If my memory's right there's one on the NBC crew, but I forget who it is.

Arlo White: I think that history tells us that once players agitate to this level and become this disgruntled, they invariably get what they want. I think there was a recent example, perhaps above the trend, with Spurs and Luka Modrić and they managed to get an extra year out of him. But generally speaking in this situation, the player tends to go.

But having said that, and I think the American owners in the Premier League are aghast at what we term over here, player power. So you're looking at the owners of Liverpool and Manchester United, the Glazers, who are digging their heels in here. And they are not allowing the players to dictate terms to them.

And Spurs are doing like ways surrounding Gareth Bale. They will make sure if they can't keep the player, which they obviously appear to be attempting to do on all three counts, then they will get the deal that they want, not just, you know, allowing the player to get the deal that he wants.

So much like a row of dominoes, I think when one sort of goes, it will send an influx of cash into the market. And then, you know, maybe the next moves will follow very shortly after that.

It's almost like a game of poker at the moment between these enormous clubs and we're talking about, you know, tens of hundreds of millions of dollars here. It is the off-season's dominance story line which is a shame in some respects because we've got some exciting managerial appointments in the league this year.

But it's a game of cat-and-mouse. And I think once one signing goes, you know, some will be sure to follow. But as I say, history tells you that players, generally speaking, get there with eventually. But the clubs are not allowing them to have it easily.

Rebecca Lowe: I'm not saying that he won't go, I just can't see how United and how David Moyes - even though he probably doesn't make the decision - can let him go. Because as Lee said, if they let him go to Chelsea and Chelsea win the League which they probably would once they have Rooney up front.

I mean it's hard enough for David Moyes to take over Sir Alex Ferguson after 38 trophies and 26 years as it is, without losing a player as good as Rooney, and to the rivals who will probably then win the league at United's expense.

How he can be put in that position by his own when they could keep him. Yes, he would be miserable, he may be poisonous, but there are ways to deal with players who are unhappy.

I just don't know how they can do that to their own manager. If it happens and Chelsea wins the League and United finishes second, third, or fourth or whatever without Rooney, David Moyes is going to be left feeling very, very angry indeed and it won't be necessarily his fault.

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