By IVES GALARCEP
The ever-changing landscape of professional soccer on American television underwent another seismic shift with the news that NBC Universal has secured the rights to the English Premier League in the United States starting with the 2013/2014 season.
The EPL confirmed the news over the weekend that NBC had indeed beaten out Fox and ESPN for the rights, with reports putting the final deal at three-years and approximately $250 million.
The deal continues NBC’s impressive foray into covering soccer, which kicked off with the network securing rights to Major League Soccer before the 2012 season. NBC’s coverage of MLS has been widely-regarded as a significant upgrade over the previous coverage provided by Fox Soccer Channel.
Now NBC will turn its attention to covering the wildly popular English Premier League, and the network has made it clear it will provide thorough coverage of the EPL using its full complement of channels. NBC Sports Network will serve as the key hub for coverage, but marquee matches will also be shown across NBC’s family of networks.
“It will not be unlike the Olympics where you saw programming on CNBC, Bravo, USA or MSNBC,” NBC chairman Mark Lazarus told Sports Illustrated. “We are working to make it a consistent schedule so fans know exactly where to find games. But the Premier League fan will be able to get to every game live.”
Unlike previous EPL TV deals, which saw games shared by NBC and Fox, NBC’s new deal will keep all Premier League game solely on NBC channels, meaning no more EPL coverage on the two networks that had become synonymous for covering the league.
What does this mean for American soccer fans?
It means being able to watch English Premier League matches on channels that are more widely-available, and just as importantly, it means the end of having to pay extra for the chance to watch the full complement of EPL matches.
Fox Soccer provided ever-improving coverage of the EPL, but the channel isn’t nearly as widely-available as the NBC family of networks are. Also, watching that extensive coverage came at a price for American viewers, be it via the premium Fox Soccer Plus, or through an online subscription to FoxSoccer2G0.com.
The news is a devastating blow for Fox, and specifically Fox Soccer Channel, which is losing the rights to its premier property. It is the latest in a series of lost rights deals for the struggling network, which also lost Major League Soccer rights to NBC as well as Italian Serie A and French Ligue 1 rights to beIN Sport.
What next for Fox? The network still has UEFA Champions League, as well as some other minor properties like the CONCACAF Champions League and Scottish Premier League, but with NBC boasting a strong portfolio of soccer and beIN Sport holding the rights to multiple major European leagues, Fox Soccer is set to endure a devastating slide from the premier soccer network in America to, at best, the third most relevant soccer network in the nation. At least until 2015, when the network begins covering events associated with its acquisition of World Cup TV rights (events ranging from the 2015 Women’s World Cup to youth world cups prior to the 2018 World Cup).
If NBC’s coverage of the English Premier League is as impressive as its coverage of Major League Soccer has been, American soccer fans will be the real winners in this quarter-billion dollar TV deal. Not just because of what promises to be improved coverage of the most popular soccer league in the world, but because of the increased visibility for the sport in this country.