English Premier League On NBCSN About Content Or More?

NBC Sports Network was looking to make a splash when it launched English Premier League Football (Soccer) this past weekend and it seems like it did the trick.  While much of the build up was focused on whether the $250M per year was a sound investment, the payoff on the investment will rely on much more than the actual ratings of the televised matches. To me, the more interesting question is whether good content will draw viewers as much as engrained history does – will English Premier League draw viewers where Major League Soccer has not?



To get the business side of things out of the way, here’s Cynopsis’ synopsis:

NBC Sports Group’s debut of the Premier League the on Saturday paid dividends for the sport as the league drew record ratings nationally. The triple-header on NBC and NBC Sports Network averaged a 0.5 rating overall, to mark a 67% spike over the equitable three opening Saturday games saw a year ago in 2012 (a 0.3 average). NBC’s telecast of Swansea City/Manchester United delivered a 0.8, the highest overnight rating in US history for a Premier League opening day matchup. On the local front, Washington, D.C. topped all U.S. markets for the game with a 2.2, followed by Tulsa, Austin, Seattle and Buffalo. Online, fans also streamed more than four million minutes of Premier League action via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Certainly, you can get caught up on the growth year-to-year, but the general public know where to find the opening day matchups last year? It was probably the mixture of NBC’s promotion and so many EPL clubs coming to the States to play exhibition matches. But, taking that at face value and the fact that there is more coverage this year than last, is just doubling a small baseline enough to make it a success?

As with other sports like Hockey or even Major League Soccer, there’s something to be said for generating large viewership for a population who may not have grown up with a sport.  We can safely say that the American population grew up with American Football, Baseball and Basketball. But, only a limited part of the country grew up with Hockey and barely any grew up with home-grown soccer.

While transplants to the US have deep affinities for their home teams – whether it be South American, Mexican or European leagues – will those not from the UK buy in to EPL? Will it be enough to generate 1/20th of the audience for the NFL to make it worthwhile? (The 1/20th figure is based on $5B per year the networks are paying the NFL from 2014-2022.) It may very well be enough.

Usually, with sports that have not been a part of someone’s life, people need to have a personal experience with it – perhaps attending a game or knowing fanatics of teams or the sport in general. Personally, I enjoy soccer, but it wasn’t until I was able to attend an EPL match that I was able to get excited enough about it. I certainly would not have tuned in to watch the Chelsea/Hull City opening weekend match while flying from LA to New York.

So, will NBC have to do something to generate even more excitement for the game, or are they happy with the numbers they might have and the awareness it might bring for the network?  It could be argued that the coverage leading up to opening was worth far more than $250M in marketing and awareness for the network. (Though it was odd to see an ad for Fox Sports 1 through DirecTV during the match…)

Or, will it be a boisterous cheer that the EPL fans are known for singing at the top of their lungs in stadiums ringing hollow?

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