(AP) NBC bets big on English Premier League soccer
By RACHEL COHEN
AP Sports Writer
British sports announcer Arlo White remembers visiting relatives in Chicago more than two decades ago and flipping through a seemingly endless array of television channels.
Starting Saturday, White will call NBC’s $250 million experiment that tests how many Americans now find joy in a glimpse of Premier League soccer _ and how many more will latch on with the games no longer buried in the hinterlands of the channel lineup.
As part of its three-year contract, NBC Sports Group will broadcast all 380 games from the Premier League this season in some form _ more than what’s even available in the United Kingdom. The main U.S. outlet for the EPL will shift from Fox Soccer to NBC Sports Network, doubling the number of homes in which those games are available.
Under the EPL’s previous three-year deal with Fox, which was worth about $80 million, some matches were sublicensed to ESPN.
Games on ESPN and ESPN2 last season averaged 208,000 households. For NBC Sports Network _ which was averaging 273,000 homes in prime time for this year through late July, according to Nielsen _ it’s a chance to add live sports on weekend mornings and weekday afternoons.
But the company’s investment is as much a bet on how viewership can grow in a fertile environment as on the sport’s prior popularity. That means a big advertising and marketing push _ including the spot starring former “Saturday Night Live” star Jason Sudeikis, spoofing the American football-European football divide, that has more than 4 million YouTube views.
The idea is that airing more games and making them easier to find will mine a previously untapped audience whose interest is already piqued.
Beyond the games on NBC, NBCSN and the company’s other networks, matches will be streamed online and televised in the Premier League Extra Time package. That service allows many cable and satellite subscribers who receive NBCSN to watch every game for free.
NBC could have charged for the package, which is common for other sports. But in the pursuit of new viewers, the wide variety of choices is valuable.
NBC likes the EPL for the affluent, educated demographics of the fan base, and those people are juggling multiple devices as they watch sports.
And for customers who are considering going without cable or satellite service, the package may be enticement to subscribe.
NBC will emphasize the fierceness of the rivalries in English soccer, a focus that proved popular during the recent lockout-shortened NHL season.