Friday 16 August 2013
Across the world there is growing excitement for the new Barclays Premier League season that starts on Saturday, 17 August but in the United States the level of anticipation among football fans is likely to be greater as they can expect to enjoy even more of the competition than before.
"We just want to cover the sport the way it deserves to be covered"
US broadcaster NBC Sports takes over the rights to show the Barclays Premier League for the next three seasons and is promising to show an unprecedented 380 games across a host of channels, its SportsLive website and the network's apps. As well as live games, NBC will be broadcasting more than 600 hours of Premier League original programming.
"It'll be all-encompassing, not only on match day but for the entire weekend and all the entire fixtures," Pierre Moossa, NBC Sports Group's coordinating producer, says, admitting that one challenge is transporting the excitement of the Barclays Premier League across the Atlantic. "Our goal is to be overseas as much as possible to give people a sense of place and bridge that geographical divide.
"Our reporters will be giving updates, we'll show all the interviews we can, when players are on the pitch we'll be over there as much as possible. We'll have announcers on site for two games per week and they'll be able to give us reports as well."
The message is clear, NBC are not just broadcasting "soccer"; they are bringing the Barclays Premier League into America's living rooms.
One factor behind NBC's investment is that the US appetite for the Barclays Premier League has yet to be satisfied by the coverage offered.
"We just want to cover the sport the way it deserves to be covered," Moosa says. "I think the fans are going to enjoy it.
"We've been given a great responsibility and honour to cover the Premier League and our goal is to treat the game, the league and the fans with the respect they deserve."
The network made their intentions clear when they unveiled a 5,472 sq ft billboard in New York's Times Square. Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale loomed over passers-by, alongside the tagline: "Every Match. Every Team. Every Week."
Central to NBC's grand plans is to import the tribal fan culture that the Barclays Premier League inspires in England, and around the world.
"When you're trying to sell a league where many of the people are not as familiar with the stars, showing them the excitement and emotion of the fans is one good way of doing it," John Miller, chief marketing officer for NBC Sports Group, told sportbusinessdaily.com. "We want to widen the net by growing the sport and creating a rooting interest."
"We want to widen the net by growing the sport and creating a rooting interest"
To do that NBC are helping football fans across the country without an affiliation to choose a Premier League club to support. The broadcaster's website offers a programme that allows users to let their social media activity decide a club to follow.
In New York more traditional media is being used. Subway trains in the Big Apple have been wrapped in artwork featuring two rival clubs per car with messages telling passengers to "Keep Calm and Pick Man City" or "Keep Calm and Pick Man Utd" when getting on.
At bus stops in certain areas of the city, maps of New York City have been posted "assigning" clubs to certain neighbourhoods. Eight London taxi cabs, painted in Premier League club colours, will drive through the streets of the city, while traditional New York cabs will have branding with NBC's ads for its broadcasts.
Football is known as "the global game" but many still think North America is the exception. Arlo White, NBC’s lead commentator for the Barclays Premier League who has spent the last few years working in the States after moving from the BBC, is confident that interest in the sport has grown.
"I don't think football's ever been this popular," White says. "There is a huge amount of people following the game in the United States.
"The fans have passion, every Premier League game is a sell-out, and I think that is what appeals to the American audience."
"The biggest thing is to get the respect of the audience"
Lee Dixon, the former Arsenal full-back who will be providing analysis for NBC, is confident football’s and the Barclays Premier League's profile in the US will only grow with the improved coverage.
"The emergence of the US team over the last few years, the introduction of high-profile people like Jurgen Klinsmann [the US national team coach] mean all of a sudden people are taking soccer seriously.
"You can only go one way. Once the season starts and more people watch the Premier League on TV, then it's just going to get better and better."
How do NBC plan to make English football appeal to American soccer fans? "We're not going to dumb down the game or the shows but we're going to make sure that we're also not alienating people," says Rebecca Lowe, who left EPSN in the UK to front NBC's studio coverage. "It's important to strike that balance."
Dixon is also clear about the challenge ahead.
"The biggest thing is to get the respect of the audience, we need to make it clear that I'm explaining things that happened on the pitch from my experience," he says. "I don't think there's any difference talking to a British audience or to an American audience.
"Sometimes when I say things and explain them, they're quite simple, and I know what's going on in my head because I've been a pro for 22 years."
Moossa sums it up neatly.
"American fans are just going to enjoy the game being treated properly," he says.