NBC's Purchase of EPL TV Rights Marks the Start of a New Age for American Soccer

Andrew JordanSenior Writer IOctober 29, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Clint Dempsey of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his side's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on September 29, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Fox Soccer has been the main source of Premier League viewership in the United States over the league's existence during the past two decades.

Throughout their time broadcasting the beautiful game, the network has moved away from showing Australian Rules Football and rugby to solely focus on the Premier League.

This effort resulted in Fox buying the rights to the UEFA Champions League in 2009, along with World Cup rights for 2018 and 2022.

Fox's momentum in the American soccer community was brought to a halt with yesterday's news that Premier League rights for the next three seasons are going to NBC Universal. According to The Washington Post, NBC paid $250 million over three years to broadcast the league over their networks.

All 380 Premier League matches will now be broadcast over the NBC family of networks. This means the joint partnership between ESPN and Fox will be extinct following May.

The completion of this move signifies the start of a new age for soccer inside of the United States. Just like they did last year when they bought the rights to Major League Soccer, NBC is now in the middle of an attempt to become the premier soccer channel in the United States.

With the start of the new NBC Sports Network to replace the old Versus network earlier this year, NBC made an effort to make soccer a premier sport on the new channel.

This effort by NBC has paid dividends in its first season. Although they are only available in 78.1 million households as of this past July, the network was able to draw an estimated 121,000 viewers per match in their inaugural campaign, 78 percent higher than Fox did the year prior.

NBC Sports has also created original programming with the young league.

They extended their popular 36 series to the league (MLS 36). This show has already highlighted San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski during his 36 hours leading into this past summers' All-Star game.

During the 40 MLS matches that NBC Sports agreed to air this season, the network brought on Arlo White, the former announcer of the Seattle Sounders, to call their matches.

NBC Sports also agreed to put three regular season fixtures on their parent station. For two years after their 2006 agreement, ESPN only showed one MLS regular season match on national television, which was the season opener.

The accomplishments that NBC have compiled for soccer in the U.S. during 2012 are impressive. But more impressively, NBC is starting to become a channel that needs soccer in order to survive.

Due the current labor strike in the NHL, NBC has very little it could show. The network is telecasting some college sports from the A-10, but much more is needed for the network to achieve success in sports television.

NBC Sports is doing something that no one in the American soccer community could have envisioned even a few weeks ago: a major sports network needing soccer to triumph over its other sports to help the league remain successful.

Having the Olympics did boost programing on the network. But soccer turned out to be the biggest draw on the network during the 30th Olympiad.

Both the unforgettable 4-3 semifinal win by the United States over Canada and the gold medal final in women's soccer were two of the most remembered events from the games. That final between Japan and the United States is the highest ranked event in the history of the network, with 4.35 million viewers watching the fixture.

The American soccer fan will ultimately benefit the most from this move. NBC Sports is making a legitimate push to becoming the destination that the American soccer fan will want to visit.

Considering how ESPN has started to abandon the game in recent years after losing bids for the Champions League, the World Cup and now the Premier League, NBC can now control the second-most popular sport for people between the ages of 12 and 24.

These moves indicate that American soccer fans will get analysis, along with watching games that they no longer have to go through a brick wall to find.

Considering what American soccer fans have gone through over the past few decades, this is some of the best news that they could have ever hoped for.


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