Matchweek 3 of the 2020-21 Premier League season wrapped up with a quite an appealing match on Monday, with defending champions Liverpool hosting Arsenal. But this match wasn’t on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, or even USA – it was on Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service.
In fact, Peacock has hosted most of NBC’s Premier League content in this young season. With 28 matches in the book through Matchweek 3 (a pair of matches in the first week of the season were postponed due to Manchester City and Manchester United competing in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, respectively, in August), just 11 matches have been on NBCSN, while two have been on NBC and a whopping 15 have been on Peacock.
The selection of televised matches has been bizarre – Liverpool’s season-opening match with Leeds United was on NBC, but their more marquee matches with Chelsea and Arsenal were on Peacock. The two Manchester clubs have each had one match on NBCSN and one match on Peacock. Chelsea still hasn’t appeared on NBCSN, with one match on NBC and two on Peacock. Arsenal have been on NBCSN twice, but their biggest match of the season (Monday’s clash with Liverpool) was on Peacock. Tottenham and Everton each made their NBCSN debut this past weekend after two straight weekends on Peacock.
In fact, the only team that has been on either NBC or NBCSN in each of the first three weeks of the season has been none other than Leicester City, whose three matches (with West Brom, Burnley, and Man City) have all been on NBCSN.
And while NBC does deserve some criticism for some of their decisions, it’s not all on them.
When the Premier League returned in June, more broadcast windows were approved. This came after pressure inside England, with fans being unable to attend games. The 10 AM ET (3 PM in the UK) window is normally blacked out for live match coverage in England to protect live attendance, and the windows were spread out without fans in grounds in order to allow everyone to watch every match. So instead of matches airing in a maximum of six windows, they could air in a maximum of ten windows. Initially, it wasn’t expected that the league would take advantage of all of these windows each week. That hasn’t been the case: through three weekends, zero matches have started at the same time. Each window has consisted of one game.
Needless to say, that’s a problem, especially when, as a network, NBC has built NBCSN around dominating weekend mornings with the Premier League. When the 10 AM ET Saturday window features Crystal Palace twice, that’s not very appealing, but NBC has zero other options to air in its place. It’s not as if NBC is *choosing* to air Palace instead of say, Chelsea – it’s just that Palace is the only match on in that window.
NBC has also been hamstrung by commitments to other sports. In Matchweek 2, just two of the weekend’s ten matches weren’t on Peacock, but that wasn’t because of some sort of aversion to the Premier League – it was because NBC had both the US Open and Tour de France that weekend. Those events didn’t just hurt the Premier League, as NBC’s Notre Dame coverage two Saturdays ago was bumped over to USA because of the US Open on NBC.
That doesn’t mean the network itself is without blame. Of the six Monday Premier League matches thusfar this season, only one (Sheffield United-Wolves back in Matchweek 1) hasn’t been relegated to Peacock. Instead of broadcasting Liverpool-Arsenal this Monday, NBCSN aired an hour of Mecum programming and a three-hour block of poker. I get that NBC wants to nudge people towards Peacock, but when the network isn’t even airing live programming in place of the Premier League, all they’re doing is unnecessarily upsetting fans and attracting their ire.
If there’s a possible light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that Matchweek 4 sees something resembling normalcy, thanks in part to the lack of Monday matches because of the upcoming international break. Five matches are on Peacock this week, but of those five, only two involve Big Six teams – Chelsea-Palace on Saturday and Arsenal-Sheffield United on Sunday. NBCSN has a tripleheader on Sunday and on Saturday, one game will air on NBCSN and one will air on NBC. The five Peacock matches include all three 7 AM/7:30 AM kickoffs, the aforementioned Arsenal-Sheffield United match (NBCSN is choosing to air Wolves-Fulham instead, for whatever reason), and the 3 PM Saturday Newcastle-Burnley match.
Putting five matches per matchweek behind the Peacock paywall would put the total for the year at 190, and “more than 175” were initially promised. As long as it doesn’t seem like the big matches and more popular teams are getting paywalled each and every week, I think the initial furor will calm down. But if the Premier League keeps giving those teams and matches timeslots that don’t fit into NBC’s scheduling, I’m curious if we’ll see a shift from the rigid Saturday and Sunday morning timeframes that NBC has attempted to control while airing the Premier League. For now, October will continue to see the expanded inventory of windows, and the Premier League will reportedly be making decisions on a month by month basis about whether to continue the practice.