Earlier this week it was announced that NBC Sports had signed a new six-year contract to continue as the exclusive U.S. television network of the English Premier League. NBC began airing EPL matches in the fall of 2013. This new agreement will see NBC retain the EPL broadcast rights through the 2021-22 season.
It’s amazing how much things have changed in the states with regards to professional soccer both at home and abroad.
In the late 90’s there were only a handful of bars in New York that broadcast matches live via satellite. Back then Dublin based Setanta Sports had the rights to Premier League matches and games were only available at the few bars in the city that carried Setanta programming. Even then, if you wanted to watch live games from the U.K. you were required to pay a cover charge of $10 for regular matches and $20 for FA Cup finals and other major tournaments.
In those days it was common to turn up at Nevada Smiths in Manhattan’s East Village at 7 A.M. on a Saturday morning and find the place packed with fans drinking pints and singing their clubs’ anthems. Fans that turned out were predominantly ex-pats with a sprinkling of Americans.
The Premier League became a bit easier to follow when Fox Sports World launched on November 1, 1997. For the first time, EPL fans could watch live matches from the comfort of their own home. Of course you had to have cable television, but it was a real step up from heading out to a bar at the crack of dawn to watch matches.
The channel eventually became known as Fox Soccer Channel and showed at least three to four matches every week. The network also aired games from other leagues around the world and broadcast a weekly preview and review show of each week’s EPL action.
Thanks to Fox Soccer, the EPL grew in popularity in the U.S. and attracted new fans to the league. Unfortunately for Fox Soccer, their coverage of the English game was so successful that other media companies saw an opportunity to get in on the action. When the rights to the league were up for renewal, Fox Soccer was outbid. The channel folded on September 2, 2013.
Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season NBC won the right to be the exclusive U.S. broadcaster of the EPL. The cost of the three year deal was approximately $250 million. NBC’s new six year deal is estimated to be close to 1 billion dollars.
Historically, the United States was slow to warm to the world’s most popular sport. Soccer was often dismissed as boring and ignored in favor of the country’s traditional four professional sports; football, baseball, hockey and basketball. With the growth of Major League Soccer and regular broadcasts of matches from England that’s all changed. Now, it’s common to see people walking around the city wearing jerseys from teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and other major European clubs.
At the same time New York is now home to two Major League Soccer clubs. When the Red Bulls hosted New York City Football Club last Sunday Red Bull Arena was sold out with just over 25,000 fans.
NBC Sports has obviously seen these changes and realizes the value of soccer to the network. During the 2013-14 season NBC averaged 438,000 viewers a game. This was up 118 percent from the audience that tuned in to EPL matches on Fox Soccer, ESPN and ESPN2 in the previous season. Last season NBC saw a 9 percent increase in viewership with an average of 479,000 viewers per game.
With NBC broadcasting every EPL match of the 2015-2016 season, fans of the English League will have plenty of soccer to choose from each week.