On Sunday morning, NBC and most of their sister channels aired 10 Barclays English Premier League (EPL) soccer games. The reason why the network made the decision is not too complicated. Simultaneously airing all the games is part of the networks three-year broadcast deal with the league. The $250 million deal brings extensive coverage of what many call the best soccer in the world to viewers in the United States.
While professional soccer is still attempting to gain a foothold in the United States, Major League Soccer (MLS) is growing. The league still has a long way to go to reach the levels of the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB. The peacock network is banking on the growing popularity of soccer in North America. Little League Baseball, which has been the king of youth sports for so long with over 3 million kids participating, has seen that youth soccer has almost equaled their numbers. US Youth Soccer reported in 2012 that they also had over 3 million kids registered.
With the number of youth soccer players in the United States, NBC is counting on the young athletes becoming viewers of professional soccer on television with dreams of someday being on the same pitch. Major League Soccer has seen a major growth with help from the EPL and other premier leagues. International friendly matches bring European teams to the USA to face MLS teams. In 2012, EPL team Swansea City played a match against the Colorado Rapids and in 2013 both Norwich City and Stoke City faced off against four different MLS teams. This July the most recognized soccer club in the world, Manchester United of the EPL will face the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl.
There is more behind why the 10 EPL soccer games aired simultaneously by the networks of NBC on Sunday. The games were part of the EPL’s Championship Sunday. Just about every game held some sort of meaning for seven of the teams. The top four teams after the games on Sunday will move on to play in the Champions League next year. The Champions League is made up of the top teams from the different European premier leagues. And while the top teams in the EPL were battling for not only the chance to move into Champions League Play, Manchester City and Liverpool were going after the league championship. Liverpool did win their game, but needed City to lose. Manchester City spoiled Liverpool’s victory with a win of their own capturing the EPL title.
While four teams were battling for a spot in the Champions League, teams at the bottom of the league standings were fighting for their lives in the EPL. The bottom three teams after the games today would face relegation to the English league’s second tier. After the dust settled Sunday, Norwich, Fulham and Cardiff found themselves in the relegation spots. In order to return to the EPL top-tier, the teams must be in the top three of the lower league next season.
The games that NBC simultaneously aired over their networks today gave viewers a choice of what game they wanted to see. Broadcasting all 10 EPL games at the same time was very similar to the March Madness college basketball coverage by CBS and Turner Sports. And NBC is doing something right. The viewership for the EPL games has just about doubled from the numbers ESPN and Fox Soccer saw last season. When the games today ended, in a scene very similar to college basketball, fans stormed the pitch in celebration as Manchester City captured the EPL championship.
Commentary by Carl Auer