Comcast-owned NBC Universal acquires U.S. broadcast rights to English Premier League soccer
After days of speculation, Comcast-owned NBC Universal finally announced Sunday night that it has acquired the rights to broadcast English Premier League soccer games from 2013 through 2016.
NBC will air games on multiple channels and platforms, including its over-the-air television network. The primary outlets will be NBC and NBC Sports Network, with Telemundo and mun2 showing games in Spanish.
A press release issued by NBC stated that "additional NBCUniversal platforms and networks will occasionally be scheduled to air Premier League matches."
Other channels under the NBC umbrella include USA Network, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC and a dozen Comcast-branded regional networks across the country.
Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch reported Sunday night that NBC plans to air 18 to 20 games per season over the air.
NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus told Deitsch that NBC's broadcast plans "will not be unlike the Olympics where you saw programming on CNBC, Bravo, USA or MSNBC."
Broadcasts will include pregame and postgame shows produced by NBC.
The Associated Press reported that NBC expects to put six games a week on television and others online.
Streaming will run through NBCSports.com, as well as the NBC Sports Extra mobile and tablet apps. No further information was announced as to how viewers will be able to access online streaming of games - and it's not yet known whether televised games will be simulcast online.
It also is not yet known whether a paid subscription will be required to watch games online. In the past, NBC has charged for online streaming of the Tour De France, but not other events. Online streaming of NFL games is free of charge, while Olympics content has been free but has required authentication through a cable provider.
NBC's Olympics broadcasts drew some criticism for tape-delaying significant quantities of content, even if that content was streamed live online. Lazarus told the Associated Press that all of its Premier League television broadcasts will be live.
The value of NBC's rights fee for its Premier League package was reported last week and confirmed Sunday night: approximately $83 million per year over three years, adding up up to $250 million in total.
As for what broadcasters you'll see in NBC's presentation of Premier League games, Lazarus is already well aware that he has an experienced Premier League voice on his payroll. Arlo White, NBC's lead voice for Major League Soccer broadcasts, called Premier League games for BBC Radio throughout the 2000s.
"We think Arlo fits very nicely, and we are working to see who fits this content," Lazarus told Deitsch. "I don't think you can take someone calling an MLS game on a regional sports network, put them on an English Premier League game and have the same tone that the fan is accustomed to."
Lazarus added that he expects NBC to hire additional talent as well.
The Premier League will be the second soccer property in NBC's current protfolio. Last August, NBC agreed to a three-year deal with MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation that began this past March. Games air primarily on the NBC Sports Network, with NBC airing three MLS contests and a few U.S. national team games.
The Philadelphia Union have been featured regularly within that deal. This year, they have appeared eight times on the NBC Sports Network and once - this past Saturday - on NBC over the air.
In a press release, Lazarus called the Premier League "the preeminent soccer league in the world."
The current English Premier League rights deal with Fox Sports and ESPN runs through the end of the current season, which finishes in May 2013. Fox has been the EPL's primary U.S. rightsholder since 1996, and in recent years has sublicensed some games to ESPN.
Fox and ESPN announced this past Friday that their attempt to retain their rights deal for a further cycle had been turned down. That left NBC Universal and al-Jazeera-owned beIN Sport as the only two candidates. beIN was silent throughout the bidding process, leading to many rumors about whether or not the network was attempting to strike a deal.
Whether beIN was involved or not is now irrelevant, though. That will likely do much to allay soccer fans' fears that they would not be able to watch games easily, as beIN has struggled greatly to get widespread cable and satellite distribution since its launch in August of this year.