When Major League Soccer signed a new three year deal with NBC just prior to the 2012 season it was pretty exciting. When Versus (the former name of NBC Sports Network) took over the NHL broadcasting, it was largely viewed as a positive affair. They provided the needed analysis and shoulder programming that other stations, like ESPN, simply wouldn't give it. The same was expected out of MLS and NBC, by and large, and made good on its promise.
In keeping with this momentum to become the soccer network, NBC acquired the rights to the EPL from 2014 for a reported $250 million for the next three seasons, about $220 million more than they're paying MLS. However, besides knowing that it will eventually come, what NBC actually would do with their new league largely remained a mystery until this morning. According to a report on Sports Illustrated, here's what we can expect:
Stateside fans of the Premier League expect matches to be available over-the-air, and NBC Sports said its initial schedule will include 154 games on NBC Sports Network, 22 games on other NBC Universal channels and 20 games on NBC. There will be 184 games airing on Premier League Extra Time and 76 Spanish-language broadcasts on Telemundo (10) and Mun2 (66). There are plans to air more than 600 hours of original and weekly studio programming on the NBC Sports Network. NBC said it will air 30 hours of original Premier League programming weekly.
That's a lot of coverage.
What I want to focus on in this discussion, however, is not how NBC will show EPL games, but rather how this affects their current MLS coverage.
It would be a lie to say, as of this August, MLS will be NBC's premier soccer product on television. We can already see that's simply no longer going to be true. By comparison, the EPL's coverage is going to absolutely blow MLS out of the water. But that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing.
The natural way the MLS and EPL schedules are set up lends itself to a productive relationship. Because of the time difference there should be little overlap and it should be easy for NBC to schedule its large EPL games away from its large MLS games. It's not exactly likely that MLS would schedule its big rivalry games (Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders) or it's big market games (LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls) matches during the same time a Manchester United vs. Arsenal game is on. What's more likely is that they'll attempt to have one run into the other, which is great. We've seen what kind of boost to ratings that can give MLS.
More importantly, however, is that this should be seen with a vision for the future. MLS isn't a ratings champion right now. It's getting better, but it's been slow. NBC wanted to take on MLS, presumably, to bolster its new flagship sports network and soccer is growing every year in this country. Taking on the EPL will only solidify their efforts in the sport. While it's not a guaranteed event, should the EPL do well ratings wise it will likely drive them to continue their efforts to build up solid ratings for the domestic league.
There are, of course, some gloomier outcomes of this new partnership between NBC and the EPL with regards to MLS. They could decide that the EPL is the soccer league Americans want to watch and ditch MLS altogether. But that just doesn't make sense to me. They've invested a lot of time and energy into MLS and the sport at large. My guess is that this move is simply to bolster their overall soccer package and that can be really good for MLS.
What do you think of NBC's EPL coverage? How do you feel MLS fits in in the future?