When NBC Sports Network won the rights to broadcast the English Premier League in October 2012, it was a groundbreaking agreement for a number of reasons.
First – the price tag of $83 million per year was a significant rights fee increase for a league that isn’t even based on this continent. Second – the fact that NBCSN would offer comprehensive coverage of the league like never before including consistent network broadcast windows and hours upon hours of studio programming. Third – every EPL game would be made available to fans through Extra Time and Live Extra for the first time. American fans may not realize that’s more EPL soccer than fans in England get to see. And finally, all of this would be done by a network that had never broadcasted English soccer before.
At the time NBC struck the deal with the EPL, I said that it would take quite the effort to match ESPN’s coverage of the global game. Considering this was a new frontier for a very young cable sports network, that may have been putting it generously. Delivering acclaimed EPL coverage, especially for a rookie network, and especially serving the very scrupulous American soccer fanbase, was an enormous challenge.
Now that the season has concluded, it can be said without question that NBC didn’t just pass the test with their first season of EPL coverage. The EPL on NBCSN may have just completed the best debut season by any network in the history of live sports coverage.
It’s impossible to quantify, but I can not think of a better first campaign for any sports package. NBCSN didn’t just reach the high standards set by the global soccer coverage by ESPN, they pushed it higher.
Soccer coverage is taken seriously by its fans like perhaps no other sport in this country. Perhaps that’s due to the smaller, more passionate fanbase. It could also be due to the fact that mature, advanced soccer coverage is a relatively new idea for American television. Sometimes it gets a little crazy as that fanbase takes offense when their sport gains wider appeal and the nationalities and accents of the broadcasters are even debated.
All fans can and should ask for from their television presenters is the best – and that’s exactly what NBCSN provided throughout the season. Here’s a rundown of why the network’s coverage of the English Premier League excelled.
The Face of the EPL on NBCSN
Very few people in sports broadcasting had a better year than Rebecca Lowe. The studio host moved from England to Connecticut to anchor NBC’s EPL coverage and she became a bonafide top star in the process. Lowe brought instant credibility to NBC from the outset as a veteran Premier League presenter and she was the guiding light for the network’s coverage. You couldn’t ask for more from a studio host in terms of knowledge and likability and she set the perfect tone for what NBC wanted to accomplish this season. From watching Lowe and the NBC studio, you would have easily thought from the quality of analysis and the way it was presented to viewers that it was emanating from London, and there wasn’t an ocean separating them from the games being played.
Lowe is clearly in store for bigger and better things at NBC. She made her Olympic debut at Sochi and she definitely deserves to be considered for a primetime role in the coming years, maybe even as a future replacement for Bob Costas. The next bad word said about Rebecca Lowe will be the first.
The voice of the EPL on NBCSN
While Rebecca Lowe provided a lead personality in the studio, NBC also had to fill the shoes of Ian Darke in the commentary box. The London 2012 Olympics was the coming out party for Arlo White. The man who was once the play by play man for the Seattle Sounders was fantastic as the lead announcer for the Olympic soccer tournament. His performance in the USA-Canada women’s game was particularly memorable.
Therefore, when NBC got EPL rights, he was a natural choice to lead the coverage. White traveled back home to England and commentated on multiple games most weeks. As cherished as Ian Darke is by American soccer fans, White deserves the same respect. He has a very similar style to Darke as he knows when to get up for the big moments, but also gives the game plenty of time to breathe in the classic English style. Whether he was working with Graeme Le Saux, Lee Dixon, or Everton/USMNT goalie Tim Howard (another unique, much appreciated feature of NBC’s coverage) White piloted the ship very capably.