The English Premier League, home to storied clubs such as Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United, has a new television partner in the United States.
NBC Universal formally announced Sunday night it has become the exclusive English- and Spanish-language media rights holder to all 380 Premier League matches across all platforms and devices in the U.S. Starting next August, the EPL will appear on a variety of NBC properties including NBC, NBC Sports Network, NBCSports.com, as well as Telemundo and mun2 for Spanish-language coverage. Matches will also be live-streamed on the NBC Sports Live Extra platform across web, tablet and mobile devices.
A source with knowledge of the negotiations told SI.com that NBC Universal's winning bid was $250 million for a three-year agreement, a sum more than triple the $23 million per year that Fox currently pays for its deal. Sports Business Daily first reported that Fox and ESPN (who partnered for the rights) had been outbid by NBC Universal.
In an interview Sunday night with SI.com, NBC Chairman Mark Lazarus said NBC Sports Network will be the primary carrier of EPL games and that EPL fans will have access to every game on the schedule through an NBC platform. "It will not be unlike the Olympics where you saw programming on CNBC, Bravo, USA or MSNBC," Lazarus said. "We are working to make it a consistent schedule so fans know exactly where to find games. But the Premier League fan will be able to get to every game live."
EPL clubs play 38 league matches over a 41-week period from August to May. The league has six traditional weekly broadcast windows, including three on Saturday, two on Sunday and one on Monday. According to Lazarus, broadcasts on those windows add up to about 200 games per season. Lazarus said the remaining 180 games will be made available "digitally or through some sort of arrangement with MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) on some sort of pay television package."
As part of the new deal, Lazarus said EPL fans can expect a number of games to be broadcast on over-the-air NBC. Those matches will likely air Saturdays and be shown live. Lazarus predicted viewers might see up to 18-20 games on NBC during the season, which would be a significant increase from Fox's over-the-air broadcasts.
While offering few programming specifics, Lazarus said NBC will provide a "significant" amount of shoulder programming around live-event coverage of the EPL, including pre- and post-match shows, as well as highlight and weekly wrap-up programs. "The quantity or quality of what is on today will not be compromised in any shape or form," Lazarus said.
Lazarus said NBC has already had early talks with BT (formally British Telecom), which acquired a set of the UK rights to the EPL, and the two could partner on production. As far as broadcasting talent, a subject of fanatical concern for soccer fans, Lazarus said he thinks NBC has some talent on its roster that will translate well but he will be in acquisition mode. The network has an exceptional soccer play by play announcer in Arlo White and it's a near-guarantee he will play a significant role on EPL broadcasts.
"We think Arlo fits very nicely, and we are working to see who fits this content," Lazarus said. "I don't think you can take someone calling an MLS game on a regional sports network, put them on an English Premier League game and have the same tone that the fan is accustomed to. We believe in the indigenous voice. And the fact we have Arlo doing our games speaks to that. We think that there is a tone and tact that the international soccer fan expects and we will not disappoint."
The EPL has been the jewel in Fox Soccer Channel's programming, and much of the network's programming centers around commentary and news of the league. Fox Soccer has averaged about 136,000 viewers for live EPL games this year, down from 142,000 viewers in 2011-12. The network still has the rights to World Cup programming, beginning with the Women's World Cup in 2015. They will also air UEFA Champions League, UEFA's Europa League, the F.A. Cup, the CONCACAF Champions League and Gold Cup. "FOX Soccer has been the primary US voice of EPL for almost two decades, and has done much over the years to increase its popularity, value and availability," Fox Sports said last week in a statement. "We wish them well."
Swiping the EPL gives NBC the most significant soccer portfolio among American broadcasters. Last year NBC signed a three-year media rights agreement with MLS to televise more than 40 matches per year and NBC-owned Telemundo will air the Spanish language coverage of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Clearly, NBC is counting on the EPL to bring eyeballs (and affluent ones at that) to NBC Sports Network, which could use an infusion of high-caliber programming with the NHL on lockout and depressed MLS ratings.
Lazarus said when he took over for Dick Ebersol in May 2011, he and his executive team targeted the EPL as a strong fit alongside other NBC international properties such as the Olympics, NHL, the IndyCar series and Tour de France. (NBC has since acquired the rights to F1.) "It's a good fit," Lazarus said. "We will do great things for them and they will do great things for us."