NBCSN's first weekend of English Premier League coverage opened to rave reviews. With as well as ESPN covered the league and the resources Fox Soccer put towards it, the bar was already set high for the new partnership. Although it has only been just one weekend and enthusiasm should be tempered until NBCSN broadcasts a full season of the EPL, all the signs are pointing in the right direction. The level of commitment, professional quality of the broadcasts, and hours and hours of live games and studio programming is immense. In fact, after the first weekend, you could make the argument that NBCSN's Premier League investment is unmatched across sports television.
Outside the NBC network's broadcast of Swansea City vs Manchester United Saturday afternoon, all the other games were syndicated from the league's world feed (including Martin Tyler on Monday's Manchester City-Newcastle tilt). The real distinguishing factor so far is the studio programming, especially NBCSN's flagship EPL show – Match of the Day.
At 11 PM ET Saturday night, Gary Lineker of the BBC welcomed American EPL fans to Match of the Day, a recap show that has aired in the UK since 1964. I've always heard about Match of the Day and was certainly intrigued as an EPL fan to see this fabled program come to the states and came away thinking it could be not just NBCSN's top studio show, but one of the top studio shows in all of sports.
The American version featured NBC's main EPL trio – Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, and Robbie Mustoe, but they took a back seat to the soccer. With 2 hours to fill and only 7 games to cover, MOTD is full of highlights. Much like you see on the EPL Review Show, the highlights aren't handled by the studio, but rather the original commentary from the game broadcast. It's such a different and often times more enjoyable way to experience highlights versus the traditional format with an anchor reading over the action. Hearing the original commentary accompanying the highlights sounds much more natural with no forced stats, catchphrases, jokes trying to share the spotlight.
Secondly, with so much allotted time, the top games of the day are more like compressed games than highlights. Over the entire first hour, the show recapped Man Utd-Swansea, Villa-Arsenal, and Liverpool-Stoke. Each game was given 10-12 minutes of highlights, meaning EPL fans get more action from their highlight show than any other sport is given. After the highlights come post-match interviews with the coaches and then analysis in the studio from Lowe, Mustoe, and Earle.
You can already sense the budding chemistry in the studio. As she showed on our podcast last week, Lowe is knowledgeable and energetic. I've been a fan of Mustoe's work since he was at ESPN and the interaction between he and Earle is insightful and natural. In particular, their comparison of Liverpool and Man Utd finishing chances at the video board gave solid details on the differences between a side struggling to get back in the Top 4 and the defending champs. There's no forced debate in the studio, no obsessive focus on stars, no forced laughs, no pre-ordained narratives. I don't say this lightly, but the comfort level watching these three in studio is reminiscent of Inside the NBA in that there's an obvious chemistry from the outset. Sure none of the three have the personality of Charles Barkley and you're not going to be finding humorous clips on YouTube the next morning, but the dynamic works for MOTD. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any actual clips from the weekend online, so you'll have to take my word for it or I don't know, watch it yourself or something.
The flow between highlights, interviews, and analysis over the course of the two hours was really the perfect way to end the first day of the EPL on NBCSN. The quality and format of this show makes me think other networks, specifically league networks, should pursue a similar format. Instead of producing NFL GameDay, why doesn't NFL Network attempt a more in-depth 2 or 3 hour show for Tuesday nights? Why can't MLB Network or NBA TV try a more in-depth late night show where the highlights are organically drawn from the original home and away telecasts?
The only thing I could compare MOTD to is Inside the NFL, but even then we're talking about 16 games in 1 hour versus 7 games in 2 hours. The extensive nature of MOTD allows the fan to experience a full day's slate of games in one evening. Soccer fans have come to expect top level coverage from ESPN and NBCSN is carrying the flag quite nicely. Match of the Day may even excel into being one of the top studio shows in not just soccer, but all of American sports.