Will MLS Benefit From NBC’s Premier League Deal?

On this week’s MLSTalk podcast, we spoke of NBC Universal acquiring the US broadcast and digital rights for the English Premier League. For those of you who would like an excellent primer on what NBC envisions for this deal, Jonathan Tannenwald has published an interview with NBC Sports President Jon Miller that sheds some light.

While I don’t want to rehash too much of what they spoke about, my perspective is that Major League Soccer could very much profit from this deal. While resources will be pushed into producing the Premier League, if done properly, the sport as a whole may profit from this contract.

The NBC deal signed by MLS in the Summer of 2011 was looked upon as a positive for the league, and from a production standpoint it has been a significant upgrade. Yet this has not manifested into the ratings boost everyone had hoped.

Soccer’s main struggle in America continues to be the stigma espoused by the American sports fan. Decades of generalizations about the toughness and excitement of the sport have been instilled upon generations. Many immediately scoff at the notion of watching a game on television - to prove it, write a soccer-espousing Facebook post and see how many of your friends deride it. It’s true that everyone has their likes and dislikes, and there are going to be people who always dislike soccer. But things are changing, and the demographic is there now - if you can reach it.

And this speaks to a point Miller actually brought out as the main reason this will help MLS: “This is good for MLS because it makes the sport more important to us.” Without improvements in ratings for MLS on NBC and NBC Sports Network, I would doubt the media giant would consider putting much more weight into covering the league if that remained their only soccer offering.

The Premier League changes that. Yes, much of their resources will be devoted to the English league. But with the investment NBC Universal made into the Premier League ($83MM per season), the stakes are raised. Much has been written about the growth opportunity of soccer in America, but finally there may be a network with the backing, infrastructure, and desire to fully promote the sport in this country.

Once the Premier League coverage begins in August 2013, if NBC Sports Network uses this as an opportunity to produce a top-quality soccer review show similar to Fox Soccer Report, that would be a positive start in my opinion. It might not be daily, but perhaps this allows for the intermingling of the Premier League and MLS, as well as other leagues and international competitions that interest Americans.

Even better would be if NBC Sports Network sets out to challenge ESPN as the dominant sports media entity. In this day and age, it’s all about making your product out to be better than the other guy’s. Watch ESPN’s Sportscenter and see how much they promote their own products over others. If you wonder how the NBA has gotten so popular, a lot of that has come from the extra promotion done by ESPN through a show that started as a pure results show in the 80′s but morphed into a combination results, analysis, and self-promotion tool.

And in that model, NBC could develop a key ingredient to success - knowledge of the players. Personal investment in a sport can be twofold - in a team and in players. The NBA became popular because of Bird vs. Magic, Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, and now Lebron. Soccer needs these kinds of personalities, but ESPN isn’t giving viewers this kind of insight into soccer figures. FOX Soccer has tried, but their viewership is insignificant on the grand scale. NBC has a chance to do it right, and help people learn about the Rooney’s, the Messi’s, and the Henry’s. If you can get names, faces, and personalities into minds, and people will begin to open up.

In additon to promoting soccer outside of matchday coverage, there is also a need for consistency in coverage. In Tannenwald’s interview with Miller, he revealed that NBC’s plans are for 18-20 EPL matches on broadcast NBC. That works out to about a match every two weeks. I could foresee two approaches to this process:

- Sporadically show the biggest matches - the Manchester derbies, for instance - regardless of their time or day off the week, making it very difficult for the newbie fan to reliably tune in for matches

- Consistently show matches from a specific time slot for weeks at a time - say 7 weeks in a row. This would gain some viewers each week, with the next match being well promoted both during the current match as well as midweek.

That second option would go a long way to win more people to the sport. I postulate that this would help  MLS regardless of whether it breeds more of the Europhiles who find MLS less appealing. A percentage of the new viewers will want to experience the game for themselves live. Some may save their money for years to get to Europe, some may decide to go check out their local team to see what it’s about.

If NBC can generate more fans for the sport, many of them probably will not become fans of MLS - but some will. A big part of that will lie in whether they have the ability to adopt a team. I know I have a tough time sitting down and watching an NFL game that doesn’t involve my favorite team (thus the reason the NFL loves fantasy football, creating interested observers of otherwise neutral games). MLS needs to get into new markets, whether through expansion or relocation.

Sports get”big” in America because people know when and where to find them, in addition to feeling a personal connection to the sport. It helps to have personalities, and both the EPL and MLS have those. But when it becomes routine that they can find soccer on NBC or NBC Sports Network most Saturday afternoons, they’ll start making it a part of their weekend.

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42 Responses to Will MLS Benefit From NBC’s Premier League Deal?

  1. Charles says:

    Earl, you mention MLS in the title then barely again.

    There is no doubt that the people that watch the joke league benefit. Fox was aweful and ESPN was just ok. NBC will crush that bad era out of memory.

    The question is, is it good for MLS.
    I say maybe. How is that for taking a stand ?

    IF NBC cross promotes too much, it ruins the great MLS experience they have going. For example, watching a game on ESPN, they are talking player RVP transferring from second tier team to Man U for 15 minutes of a game, then mention is 5 more times later. I don’t want that. No one should want that.
    Focus on the MLS game, focus on MLS players playing, etc.
    Ditto for the reverse. Many watching the EPL probably don’t even cares a lick about MLS, so don’t talk 10 minutes of Wondo’s season to promote your game later that day.

    Also, if NBC were to focus on the bigger money league too much, obviously this isn’t good for MLS, as lesser money league.

    NBC has done all the right things and has taken MLS VERY seriously. First to ever do that. More games on NBC for the playoffs again, they are picking up more games than scheduled at the beginning of the year.

    There is no reason to think they won’t do MLS right in trying to do cover both leagues.
    I hope that thought process and NBC’s plan of attack is correct.

    • The original Tom says:

      Charles, I disagree. I have a local team, in my case in the MLS, but I am a fan of the game; it is interesting to hear news of the sport during a slow part of the game. Likewise, in an American broadcast, it is fun to hear about MLS players while watching the highest level of the sport.

      • Charles says:

        But you are a “adopt a team fan” of some team in England though no ?

        Most people I know, then again probably big difference Seattle to Colorado, don’t adopt a team and get up at 4:30 AM to watch them, they just root for their Sounders, maybe watch the Euro club playoffs once in a while.

        • The original Tom says:

          No, not a Premier League team. I have other teams, though, places I’ve traveled, teams I’ve watched with their fans in bars, etc… I like Ajax because of a book!

          My English team is a minor league team.

          • The original Tom says:

            Oh, and I didn’t adopt my English team, I have family from that town and had been to games there befiore and after the MLS started.

    • Earl Reed says:

      That’s your opinion Charles. The 3 others in the US who only like MLS and not European soccer will certainly agree with you.

      • Charles says:

        I love comments like these:

        I am supposed to feel dumb now because only 2 others follow MLS only. Not true btw, but if it were true, I have already proven many times I am on the right side of these arguements.

        This website is not good for my ego, to be part of the smartest 3 all the time.
        See below for the latest example. Robert is most certainly incorrect in his latest attempt to pull an Earl and marginalize MLS/US soccer fans.

    • Sgc says:

      “MLS” comes up 9 times in the body of the post. And I think if you follow his thesis, which is that the main thing is getting more fans of televised domestic league soccer (I put my own spin by adding “televised domestic league” just to avoid conversation about the huge numbers that watch the World Cup once every four years and then stop watching the sport), it makes perfect sense.

  2. Tijuana Robert says:

    I admire your optimism Earl but MLS continues to disappoint in ratings. Soccer fans want to watch the best players or their local club and for most of the country we do not have a local MLS franchise. MLS needs to focus on the game first and stadiums second.

    • Earl Reed says:

      People will root for teams, but there aren’t enough areas with a team to support. That’s why NY2 is very speculative and risky - you have an area in Florida that is ripe to support at least one team, but they are hellbent on squeezing another franchise into an area that doesn’t support its current team - at a significant cost. The product is improving, but I think the cross-promotion of the two leagues will be successful with an infrastructure like NBC’s.

    • Charles says:

      You sure about that Robert ? It seems the NBC would show LESS games, not picking up more games than originally agreed upon like they have with Seattle games.
      Where are you getting your stats from ?

      There seems to be a trend with you. You make a prediction, you are wrong and then you ignore it and go on to predict the same thing from a different viewpoint.

      For example, remember the Sounders would never draw more than 32k ? then 36k, now it is probably 43k ?

      Remember the TV contact talk ?

      The overall MLS commentary on how MLS is going to fail, but now attendance is growing in leaps and bounds.

      Now you are predicting bad TV ratings again ?

      Go ahead and change the subject in your reply.

  3. The original Tom says:

    Earl, I think the cross promotion of the sport is probably good, I know I kept forgetting about MLS games on NBCsports early in the season because they were promoted during EPL and Champions League games. Now NBCsports is on my radar, and I think getting the EPL will put it on a lot more soccer fans’ radars. Having said that, I worry about the SportsCenter factor- if ESPN doesn’t have a stake in something, it dissapears from SportsCenter which is on all the time in bars and restaurants.
    I hope Fox Sports gets the Bundesliga, I’d like to watch that league more.

  4. jason says:

    i think doing EPL on NBC (not NBC Sports) actually cannibalizes MLS. while NBC Sports caters to the sports specific audience, NBC caters to the general audience whose attention span on sports is generic and they can only take in so much at a time. with EPL, the interest on MLS will be much diminished.

  5. nickp says:

    good for nbc and mls fans

  6. nbc says:

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  7. John Phog says:

    I don’t see how this can be anything but good for MLS.

  8. brad says:

    mls just isnt an entertaining league the quality is not good enough yet any premier league game is 10x more entertaining then a mls match. It takes time for the league and the quality of american soccer to develop and they must get rid of the salary cap to make it on par with europe. World class players want two things, competition and money right now the mls only offers “designated player” salaries for a few players. if they opened the salary cap more world class players would come and the competition would improve vastly

    • Earl Reed says:

      In that case, no one has any reason EVER to go watch their local high school football team or soccer team or anything. They just aren’t good enough - that’s malarkey. MLS is getting it right in trying to build the fanbase at the park. England’s coverage of its own league isn’t as thorough as the US’s coverage of the English league (as far as the ability to watch countless matches). We have it really good over here, and there are a segment of fans who are a bit spoiled because of it. The ONLY downside I see of MLS right now is that there aren’t enough teams around this country to allow people to support fully. That is changing, but the trend to overstuff markets with two teams (see Chivas USA, NY2, and even the DC/Loudoun NASL team) worries me. There are areas that could support 2nd or 3rd Division teams that do not have them.

    • JayMon says:

      Brad you have it all wrong man WAKE UP! So tell me why MLS is growing every year and Executives from “other” leagues are coming to talk with Garber etc about how MLS is built from salary caps to player contracts ect. The only major league worth its salt in Europe is located in Germany! All these “TOP” clubs have major cash flow deficits but survive because of their super wealthy owners. And I might add that you are starting to see that changing with the mandates from EUFA. I agree that the BPL is more exciting but there are only 4-5 teams fighting for EUFA. I’d pass on a Bolton v Sunderland sorry. MLS is doing it right (they are profitable, they are committed to SSS, and as the cap grows you will see more high profile players come to MLS during their prime, it’s only a matter of time. Look at the NBA, MLB, NHL etc. MLS will be 1 of the top leagues in the world in time. Sooner rather than later IMO

      • Hal says:

        Sorry but MLS is irrelevant even for American soccer fans.

        You’re in a bubble. MLS is going to have to adapt and change to suit how Americans are perceiving the global game.

        The salary cap needs to go yesterday. It holds the quality of the league back immensely.

        The same goes for single entity and the draft. There is so much wrong with MLS.

    • Charles says:

      Earl you are correct of course. Never understood the infatuation with the “relegated teams, but can’t watch MLS/College/HS” mentality.

      And I agree with your logic to your opposition for more big market teams, but you are overlooking important pieces, imho.

      One, the big market teams will make more money for MLS, which will enable money to flow to smaller markets…because MLS shares revenue.

      Two, because NY/LA are so big, they need to be diluted. Garber gets this. He is helping NY/LA for both of these reasons. It helps Philly.

      JayMon, those top companies, yes I said companies, in the EPL are making a lot of money. They support the other teams in the TV revenue sharing agreement, yes revenue sharing. (Oh no, tell me they don’t do that.)

  9. Drew Farmer says:

    What I would like to see, is an American broadcast of MLS in which the commentators
    A) know what they’re talking about
    B) use soccer terminology and not American-isms.
    C) stop using the NFL, MLB or NBA to compare with soccer. Stop comparing MLS team A with NFL team A or situation A in MLS with situation A in the NBA.

    • Chris says:

      Drew, have you not seen Arlo?? He’s very good. As a Sounder fan I suppose I’m fairly biased, but It hink he’s been very well received throughout the country. He certainly knows the game, uses soccer terminology, and I don’t recall him using too many US sports comparisons although he would maybe sprinkle one in here or there just to show that he’s a brit that actually understands American football.

    • Joe says:

      I would like to see more silence during a MLS match. Not total silence, just selective comments that pertain to the match itself. Watch a EPL game with the EPL commentators and there are alot of runs of silence. They let the game speak for itself. Then they throw in a bit of play by play. Then maybe a few small tidbits about a player or team here and there. MLS commentators need to stop “educating” the audience. Let us just watch and enjoy the game.

  10. Matt says:

    I agree with the above poster. I know Lalas and Twellman are the poster boys of the MLS, but they have to go. Don’t get me wrong, they are smart guys and everything, but when they cover a game it’s like they forgot they’ve ever watched a soccer match before. I know die-hards and people in the broadcasting industry who shake their heads when they hear some of the commentators for MLS. If MLS wants to be taken seriously, they need to get top-notch commentators. Mentioning the NBA or drawing yellow lines to showcase a winger’s “route-running ability” just kills credibility with anyone well-versed in the game.

  11. Dean Stell says:

    Funny how these things always degenerate into a EPL vs MLS discussion, huh? With people justifying why the support the clubs they support.

    This is both good and bad for MLS. On one hand, it is bad: it invites side-by-side comparison of the two leagues and MLS loses badly on that front. It just isn’t as good of a league and the players aren’t as good. Unless someone lives in Denver, why watch Rapids games when you can watch EPL games?

    But….if more casual and non fans catch some exciting EPL games, some of them will like it and they’ll be more likely to go to live games in their area (whether they are MLS or other). This helps everyone as it leads to more revenue going to local teams.

    • The original Tom says:

      I agree, but replace Rapids with Real Salt Lake!

    • Charles says:

      I will answer. Why watch a MLS game over the EPL game ? ……..
      because the EPL is already all but predetermined. For example, Arsenal, pretty good huh ? Against ManU lost 18 times in EPL play, won 7, the rest draws. How do those numbers look against Everton or some other solid middle team. They have to be a joke, no doubt. I don’t follow the league and was able to predict 4 out of the 5 teams, 1 month in to my friend that does.

      MLS has a VERY good product, no need for fans to apologize.

      • Dean Stell says:

        I see your point and I know that some people enjoy the unpredictability of MLS (or the NFL) and hate the predictability of the EPL (or MLB).

        Just understand that there is a different set of fandom that likes predictability. If you’re an Everton fan, you know kinda what the season has in store for you: finish in the top 7-8. If you’re a United fan you know you’re hoping to finish 1st. If you’re a QPR fan, you’re hoping to not get relegated.

        If you look at it different way, having those solid expectations going into a season can ADD drama because each time you drop points, it feels like a DISASTER! Or each time you steal a point it feels like a HUGE win.

        With the MLS side I support, it’s just harder to tell. I don’t really know what to expect going into the season, so I have a harder time getting worked up one way or the other.

        Just saying that unpredictability isn’t attractive for all fans.

        • Charles says:

          Agreed. Very different mentalities.

          They still have a Monarchy believe it or not. That still absolutely blows my mind. More so than people actually watching a league where the same team wins every year.

      • Hal says:

        except it’s not determined.

        Man City won the league last year for the first time ever.

        If you think you are so sure you will finish in the top 4 I suggest you go straight to the online bookies. You’ll make out very well.

        MLS is not a good product. The regular season is meaningless with no drama.

  12. Daniel Feuerstein says:

    The real question is this, where is that reader who commented on MLS being relegated away from that Real Soccer Channel as that real soccer channel just lost their bread and butter to NBC?

  13. Hal says:

    It’s my opinion that a large % of American soccer fans avoid MLS because MLS is too Americanized. Their is a plastic quality to it. MLS tries to be like the NFL with conferences and playoffs. This isn’t that surprising since many of the MLS front office guys come from the NFL. It wouldn’t surprise me if their future plans for MLS included regional divisions. All this turns off a large % of fans in the USA who see the game through a more euro-centric narrative.

    Now, I’ve come to this opinion through talking to other American soccer fans at pubs, online, and soccer fans i know personally. I’m not aware of any quantitative data that either backs it up or dismisses it. It’s just the feel i get being in the trenches of American soccer fandom.

    MLS just finished their regular season. SJ won the Supporters Shield. How many American soccer fans know that? I would submit very few.

    I wonder if MLS continues to have such piss poor playoff TV ratings if they will finally scrap this ludicrous system where the MLS playoff winner is the overall season champ. At what point will they realize that the soccer fans in this country don’t like playoffs?

    a single league table with a league champion would bring interest to the MLS season.

    you could also have a separate post -season tournament. But they need to be separated. The league champion should be the league table winner. Until this changes, enjoy irrelevancy.

  14. David says:

    I actually think that this deal will help MLS through the concept of agglomeration (The term economies of agglomeration is used in urban economics to describe the benefits that firms obtain when locating near each other (‘agglomerating’). This concept relates to the idea of economies of scale and network effects. Simply put, as more firms in related industries cluster together, costs of production may decline significantly (firms have competing multiple suppliers, greater specialization and division of labor result). Even when multiple firms in the same sector (competitors) cluster, there may be advantages because that cluster attracts more suppliers and customers than a single firm could alone).
    NBC Sports seems to have been setting up to be more of a soccer channel since they acquired the rights to MLS games last year, the only thing that was missing was a legitimate anchor, and it appears that the EPL would be that. Think of it like a shopping center without that giant Wal-Mart (EPL), the other random stores (cycling, ironman, whatever else NBCSN shows) and even the supermarket (MLS) struggle to get customers. This acquisition of rights will raise the network’s profile and the eyes that it gets on it. I really do think that this will help MLS in both the short and long run.

    • Charles says:

      Not really sure the EPL is an anchor, you really think guys are going to watch ? The big games maybe.

      I hear you though. The more NBCSN is turned too, it moved up to channel 220 on Directv, the more games are watch by more.

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