NBC Sports Group Unveils Expansive BPL Coverage Plans

NBC Sports Network at Center of Soccer Presentation with 154 Matches, 600 Hours of Studio, Original Programming

"They went all in with us; we’re all in with them.”

That’s how NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus described the programmer’s upcoming coverage plans for the Barclay’s Premier League, England's top and arguably the globe's best soccer circuit.

During a press conference at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on April 16, the NBC Sports Group -- which last October acquired the exclusive U.S. media rights for a reported  $250 million, triple the current outlay -- will be in full-on striker mode when it kicks off coverage of the Barclays Premier League in August, as the programmer will show all 380 matches live during the 2013-14 campaign across various TV and digital platforms. In addition, there will be upward of 600 hours of original and weekly shoulder programming that will push the number of hours devoted to all things BPL past 1,000. The circuit’s rights are currently held by Fox Soccer, with some matches sublicensed to ESPN2.

NBC Sports Network will be the focal point with 154 matches, while Premier League Extra Time, a package of overflow TV channels that will be available at no extra cost to subscribers of the national cable service, is scheduled to show 184.

NBC will air 20 matches, and Spanish-language broadcast network half of that. Cable network mun 2 is on the pitch for 66. Other NBCUniversal channels, including USA and CNBC, will televise 22 matches next season. All matches will be flanked by pre- and post-game fare, emanating from the programmer’s studios in Stamford, Conn.

Moreover, all BPL matches will be available on NBC Sports Live Extra, the network's live streaming product for desktop, mobile and tablets.

Over the course of the 41-week, 38-round season, BPL matches typically will air Saturdays at 7 a.m.(ET) and 10 a.m. on NBC Sports Network. When Saturday coverage airs on NBC, those matches will start at 12:30 p.m. Sunday action begins at 8 a.m. on NBC Sports Network and continues at 11 a.m. on that network and Telemundo. NBC Sports Network’s Monday coverage will start at 2:30 p.m

Durng next year's Championship Sunday -- all 10 league matches will be played simultaneously on May 11, 2014 -- NBCU will cover all of the games live on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA, MSNBC and E!, among other channels.

Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the BPL, said the circuit wasn’t unhappy with Fox Soccer and ESPN, which he said helped grow BPL in the States. During an interview after the press conference where the media plans were detailed, he said in many respects “it's harder for the incumbents [to retain the rights package] because you’re comfortable with their gloves.” Financial considerations aside, BPL was swayed to switch because NBC Sports Group’s “presentation was the best we’ve ever seen, bar none.”

Lazarus in an interview said the Premier League Extra Time suite of overflow channels would be in play for the Saturday matches in the 10 a.m. (ET) window. One game will air on NBC Sports Network, while the other five will be made available to distributors, “which we hope they’ll take for their customers,” he said, likening the package to the channels that are used by NFL Sunday Ticket, MLB Extra Inning and NHL Center Ice out-of-home packages. The difference: subscribers to NBC Sports Network wouldn’t have to pay extra to see those matches.

Conversations with distributors to secure carriage for the overflow channels were initiated in recent weeks. “We’re getting great interest in them. We have the rights to do whatever we want with these [matches],” including offering them on pay-per-view package, Lazarus said. “We believe this is part of the value proposition for NBC Sports Network and we hope that operators will say they should add NBC Sports Network as part of that.” The network currently counts some 86 million subscribers, versus about 50 million for Fox Soccer Channel, which is morphing into FXX this September.

Lazarus believes BPL is poised for Nielsen growth.

“It will fluctuate by windows. We’re bullish we can grow the sport from where Fox and ESPN have taken it. They have done a nice job in presenting it well, and given it a lot of exposure," he said. "We think that with NBC Sports Group's all encompassing, exclusive presentation, where viewers know when and where to go, we’ll grow off that.”

During the 2011-12 season, Fox Soccer Channel averaged 185,000 viewers over 118 matches, and 208,000 watchers through 112 games during this campaign. ESPN2 averaged 302,000 with 46 matches last season, and 244,000 for 40 games this campaign.

NBC Sports Group plans to begin extensive marketing of the BPL during its upcoming nine-event “championship season,” which includes horse racing’s triple crown, the National Hockey League, tennis’ French Open and U.S. Open golf.  Lazarus said the company is “mindful” that the current carriers still have matches to televise. “It’s not appropriate to market over their content. Once the season is over [in May], we’ll begin our promotion,” he said.

As to advertising, NBC Sports Group will follow the model employed by other soccer telecasters in this country and the one it uses with Major League Soccer -- meaning there will be no breaks or crawls during the continuous match action. Sponsor logos, though, sometimes will be affixed to score bugs, according to Lazarus. Commercials will run during pre-, post-game and halftime coverage, not to mention in the extensive shoulder programming that will air on NBC Sports Network.

Arlo White, NBC Sports Group's top play-by-play voice for Major League Soccer coverage and the Olympics, will return to the U.K. to call at least 75 BPL matches on-site. He will be assisted by either Lee Dizon or Graeme Le Saux, former BPL and English national team members.  NBC will present the world feed for matches, when its commentators are on the sidelines.

After finishing her Premier League and FA Cup jobs with ESPN UK next month, Rebecca Lowe will move to the U.S. and head NBC’s on-ari studio programming in Stamford. She will be assisted by Jamaican National Robbie Earle and former English footballer Robbie Mustoe. Gary Lineker, the former England national star, is on board as special contributor and will sometime host on-site studio coverage in the U.K.

All told, NBC Sports Network plans to air more than 600 hours of original and weekly studio programming around the BPL. The following are the programmer’s description of the shows:

*Premier League Countdown – A preview of the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League season;

*Premier League Download – With the help of a number of high-profile celebrity supporters, comedians and journalists, Premier League Download will explore what it is that’s so intensely loved – and loathed – about England’s topflight league. Long-time supporters will enjoy the lively commentary, while new fans will learn the language of the only league that matters;

*Premier League 36 – NBC Sports Network’s acclaimed 36 series that follows athletes for the 36 hours leading up to a game/match/race comes to the Premier League;

*Premier League Goal Zone – A 30-minute program airing after the matches on Sunday with highlights of all the goals scored on Saturday and Sunday;

*Game Cut-Downs – On Monday nights, NBCSN will present a two-hour show featuring cut-down versions of the Manchester United and Manchester City matches.  On Tuesdays, a two-hour program will feature the Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham matches;

*Match of the Day – A two-hour show featuring extended highlights with the natural calls of every game on Saturday.  This show is modeled after the highly-regarded BBC show of the same name.  Match of the Day will re-air on Sunday mornings;

*Match of the Day 2 – A 90-minute show featuring extended highlights with the natural calls of every game on Sunday. This show is modeled after the BBC show of the same name;

*Match of the Week – On Sunday nights, NBCSN will re-air the best match of the weekend in its entirety;

*Barclays Premier League World – A weekly magazine show produced by Premier League;

*Barclays Premier League Preview – A weekly show produced by Premier League that previews the upcoming week’s matches;

*Barclays Premier League Review – A weekly show produced by Premier League that recaps all the matches from the past week.