Comcast's NBC Sports Group to broadcast every English Premier League soccer game live on TV and free of charge online
NEW YORK – For the first time ever, a sports league with a major television presence in the United States is televising all of its games nationally, and making them all available free of charge online.
But it's not Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA or the NHL.
It's the Barclays Premier League, England's top soccer competition. Long one of the world's most-followed leagues, the EPL – as it's commonly known – is about to make an unprecedented splash on American shores.
The NBC Sports Group, a subsidiary of Comcast, paid nearly $250 million last year for a three-season rights deal that will begin in August. On Tuesday morning, the company held a press conference to lay out how it will bring the action across the Atlantic Ocean and into American homes.
And in case the scale of NBC's investment wasn't clear before now, the Peacock network's staged event provided ample further evidence.
It was held on the set of "Football Night In America" at NBC's Rockefeller Center headquarters. But instead of the usual NFL livery, the stage was surrounded by vivid photos and videos of Premier League action.
All 380 Premier League games each season will be televised live on one of NBC Universal's many channels, and streamed online for free to customers who authenticate through participating pay-TV providers.
Viewers will also be able to watch games through the NBC Sports Extra app for mobile devices and tablets.
It's a model similar to the way NBC presented online coverage of the summer Olympics last year.
"It's a groundbreaking deal for us," NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said. "We were challenged and pushed by [the Premier League] to think differently, and to come to the table with our assets both from a television point of view and a digital point of view. I think our plans achieve that, and now our execution moving forward will achieve that."
Here's how you'll be able to watch games on TV.
NBC will air 20 games on its over-the-air network. On pay-TV channels, NBC Sports Network will have 154 games, CNBC will have nine games and USA Network will have six games.
In addition, a total of 76 games will air on NBC Universal's two Spanish-language channels: 10 on Telemundo and 66 on mun2.
Much like the NFL, EPL broadcast windows are the same from week to week. That will allow NBC to tie certain channels to each broadcast window.
On an average Saturday, NBC Sports Network will show a game at 7:00 a.m. and a game at 10:00 a.m., and NBC will show a game at 12:30 p.m. On Sundays, NBCSN will show a doubleheader at 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., with the latter game also airing on Telemundo or mun2.
Midweek games will be shown mainly on the NBC Sports Network, with a broadcast window starting at 2:30 p.m.
That doesn't account for all 380 games, though. Many EPL games kick off simultaneously throughout the season, especially in the 10 a.m. Eastern time slot on Saturdays. So they can't all be on a major channel.
The 184 games games that will not shown on one of NBC's main TV channels will be shown through a set of new channels NBC is launching called Premier League Extra Time.
Extra Time will be made available at no charge to pay-TV distributors that carry NBC Sports Network. NBCSN will be available in 86 million homes nationwide – approximately 85 percent of all cable subscribers - by the time the 2013-14 Premier League season begins
No matter what channel the games are on, they will all have pregame and postgame studio shows.
On the final Sunday of the season, all 10 games kick off simultaneously. NBC will air them all across 10 different existing network and pay-TV channels. None will air through Premier League Extra Time.
All of the English-language broadcasts will have announcers live in stadiums, with studio analysis from NBC Sports' home base in Stamford, Conn.
Most of the game broadcasts will come from the Premier League's in-house broadcast feed that is transmitted around the world.
For its big games, though, NBC will have its own crew:
- Arlo White will be the network's lead play-by-play announcer. For the last year and a half, he has been the voice of NBC's Major League Soccer telecasts. From 2009 through 2011, White was the play-by-play voice for the Seattle Sounders' local TV and radio broadcasts. Prior to that, he spent nine years with the BBC.
White will move back to his native England this summer, and is expected to call 76 games each season across NBC's channels. Once that move happens, Portland Timbers and Fox Soccer play-by-play announcer John Strong will take over White's MLS duties.
White will continue to call a limited number of MLS games, most notably during the playoffs. He may also call U.S. national team games that air on NBC's channels.
- Former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon and former Chelsea midfielder Graeme Le Saux will share duties as color analysts alongside White. Unlike NBC's MLS broadcasts, where color analyst Kyle Martino works from the sidelines, Dixon and Le Saux will have a traditional position alongside White in the commentary booth.
Dixon currently works for ITV, and Le Saux for the BBC. Both men will maintain those positions, and their work with NBC will not conflict with their primary assignments.
During Tuesday's press conference, NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood emphasized the importance of having announcing crews be in stadiums, instead of calling games off monitors.
"Our number one objective is to be true to the sport." he said. "We think it's very important to have authentic voices, and to call every match from the United Kingdom."
NBC has also hired four voices for its studio crew:
- Renowned soccer presenter and former England national team star Gary Lineker will be a special contributor, and will sometimes host studio coverage from on-site.
- Rebecca Lowe will host NBC's studio coverage from Stamford, Conn. A former host for ESPN's British channel, Lowe will be a familiar face to American viewers through her work covering soccer on ESPN in the United States. She was a a studio host for coverage of the 2011 Women's World Cup and the 2012 European Championship.
In addition, before starting her professional career, Lowe spent six months as a high school student at Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pa.
- Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle will move from ESPN to NBC to work as studio analysts alongside Lowe. Mustoe has lived in the United States since the early 2000's, and Earle since 2011.
In addition to his work with ESPN, Earle has been a color analyst on Portland Timbers local broadcasts. He won 33 caps for Jamaica's national team during his playing career.
Along with live games, there will be a wide range of highlight shows and studio shows on NBC Sports Network.
The most prominent of them will be "Match of the Day," a two-hour show on Saturday nights with extended game highlights. The show will re-air Sunday mornings.
If that name sounds familiar to you, there's a good reason for it. NBC secured the right to use the title of the internationally famous British Broadcasting Corporation Premier League highlights show.
And just as the BBC airs a "Match of the Day 2" on Sundays, NBCSN will have a 90-minute program with that name on Sundays as well.
Other ancillary programming will include:
- "Premier League 36," a behind-the-scenes player profile series produced by NBC. It will be based on NBC's "36" series on National Hockey League and Major League Soccer players, in which an athlete is followed during the 36 hours leading up to a game.
- "Premier League Goal Zone," a 30-minute show after Sunday's live broadcasts that will feature all of the weekend's goals.
- "Match of the Week," a Sunday night replay of the weekend's best game.
- Condensed versions of games involving six of the Premier League's most popular teams: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. The two Manchester teams will be featured in a two-hour show on Monday nights, and the other four teams will be featured in a two-hour show on Tuesday nights.
- "Premier League Download," a show about the culture of Premier League soccer that will be hosted by non-athlete celebrities, including comedians and journalists.
- Programming syndicated internationally by the Premier League, including the well-known "Premier League World," "Premier League Preview" and "Premier League Review" weekly shows.
NBC Sports president of programming Jon Miller said that the total amount of coverage will add up to approximately 30 hours per week.