Last year's Premier League viewership was brutal, but NBC has plans to improve 2017 coverage, starting with the opening week of the season.

By Richard Deitsch
August 10, 2017

In the increasingly tough world of sports television ratings, last year was brutal for the Premier League. The viewership per window for games on NBC, NBCSN, USA and CNBC averaged 420,000 viewers, down 18% from the previous season which saw 514,000 viewers per window, and down from the 479,000 who watched in 2014-15. It was the Premier League’s lowest average viewership since NBC acquired the package in 2013.

It begs the question whether this is a viewership trend for the league, or an aberration based on mitigating factors. “Obviously a lot of sports were down last year,” said NBC Sports coordinating producer Pierre Moossa. “From a production standpoint we can control only what we can control, and what we can control is putting on the best possible product. We want to focus on coverage but obviously ratings are how you are judged in this industry.”

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Moossa said he believes one of the major factors that hurt viewership last year were major fixtures played during the week. (SBJs Austin Karp pointed out that NBC’s coverage was significantly hurt by a shift for the Manchester Derby games. Last year those games aired in much less-desirable time slots for a U.S. audience than previous years, and that led to a 46% audience drop in those games). Moossa said his research showed that the start of the Premier League season got a little lost amid the airing of the Rio Olympics. He also said the Premier League ratings were down only 5% from last year after Dec. 1. The good news for NBC was that NBC Sports Digital had its best EPL season yet among live minutes streamed. Viewership numbers also remain way up versus when ESPN and Fox split the package.

“Do I see it as a trend? I can’t predict the future but what I can tell you is there is a huge interest in the Premier League,” Moossa said. “The start of last year did not have the momentum we wanted and obviously last fall [the U.S. election] was very busy in the world. Candidly, we have not had a big Manchester United club nor a championship race that lasted to the final days of the season.”

As always, the production quality for NBC’s Premier League package is as good as any in sports television, and one of the areas where Moossa and the soccer staff believed they could improve was the opening week of the Premier League season. To that end, they are attempting to turn this weekend into more of an event feel for American viewers. NBC has sent its on-air talent on-site in England this weekend where Premier League Live host Rebecca Lowe and analysts Graeme Le Saux, and Robbie Mustoe will work from an on-site studio. In addition, play-by-play announcer Arlo White, Lee Dixon, and Robbie Earle will be pitch-side. On Friday, NBC will air the first-ever Friday night opener in the Premier League (Arsenal hosts Leicester City) with White calling the match with Kyle Martino. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN with a special one-hour season preview show followed by Premier League Live.

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The next day features the first-ever Premier League match for Brighton & Hove (vs. Manchester City). On Sunday the announcers head to Old Trafford for Manchester United-West Ham United (11 a.m. ET on NBCSN). There were be additional NBC production personnel on site including Moossa. “We wanted to launch the season with momentum and create awareness for the league,” said Moossa. “It just felt like a celebration to start the season. We thought, ‘Why should we not be over there to launch the season?’ We want you as a viewer to experience what it is like to be on the grounds even though you are not there.”

Three games in the 10 a.m. ET window on Saturday will be streamed as part of NBC’s new Premier League Pass. The critical response to this new pay service has not exactly been positive.

Here’s the schedule for the first weekend of the season:

DATE TIME (ET) MATCH NETWORK
Fri., Aug. 11 1 p.m. Premier League Live from Emirates Stadium NBCSN
Fri., Aug. 11 2:45 p.m. Arsenal v. Leicester City
NBCSN
Sat., Aug. 12 7 a.m. Premier League Live from American Express Community Stadium NBCSN
Sat., Aug. 12 7:30 a.m. Watford v. Liverpool NBCSN
Sat., Aug. 12 10 a.m. Chelsea v. Burnley NBCSN, Universo
Sat., Aug. 12 10 a.m. Everton v. Stoke City CNBC
Sat., Aug. 12 10 a.m. Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield Town NBC Sports Gold
Sat., Aug. 12 10 a.m. Southampton v. Swansea City NBC Sports Gold
Sat., Aug. 12 10 a.m. West Bromwich Albion v. Bournemouth NBC Sports Gold
Sat., Aug. 12 12:30 p.m. Brighton & Hove Albion v. Manchester City
NBC, Universo
Sun., Aug. 13 7:30 a.m. Premier League Live from Old Trafford NBCSN
Sun., Aug. 13 8:30 a.m. Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur
NBCSN, Universo
Sun., Aug. 13 11 a.m. Manchester United v. West Ham United NBCSN, Telemundo

NOISE REPORT

(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. Episode 131 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast features a sports media roundtable featuring Chad Finn, the sports media writer and general columnist for the Boston Globe and Boston.com, and Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand. On this podcast, we discuss Jay Cutler leaving Fox Sports for the Dolphins and what that means for Fox Sports; Disney’s plans for an ESPN OTT (over-the-top) streaming service and what the future of ESPN might look like; what happens if cable keeps shrinking and digital TV companies don’t invest in sports content; why Fox Sports has kept Katie Nolan off its airwaves; what ESPN will do in terms of replacing Dan Shulman; whether Pete Rose will stay employed by Fox Sports; whether stories about Colin Kaepernick drive eyeballs and page views; Chad’s battles with Boston-based WEEI Radio and whether he is a fawning profile writer; what a sports journalist should do when a subject or someone close to a subject compliments a piece you wrote; how often you should give an organization a heads up, if ever, on a negative piece you a writing; and much more.

The podcast also features an interview with Dari Nowkhah, the lead host of the SEC Network and co-host of ESPN Radio’s weekly Dari and Mel Show (Saturdays). For this segment we discuss how Nowkhah approaches his role for SEC Now; whether SEC viewers expect him to be a fan of the conference; what SEC program has the most rabid fan; why he left Bristol to be the host of ESPNU; whether Nick Saban gets favorable treatment both locally and nationally; how his agent submitted his resume and tapes to ESPN without him knowing; being the son of an Iranian immigrant; losing his child (Hayden Michael Nowkhah) after 39 days and how he and his wife, Jenn, channeled that grief; the non-profit he and his wife are part of that financially assists families of children awaiting a life-saving organ transplant; the significance of the Alabama-Florida State opener, and much more.

 

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

PODCAST BREAKDOWN

What does Jay Cutler joining the Dolphins mean for Fox Sports’s No. 2 NFL team? – 1:30

Why are sports networks obsessed with bringing in big name athletes? – 6:00

The recent Disney earnings call and ESPN increasing its stake in BamTech ­– 14:30

The potential for more layoffs at ESPN – 19:00

Ourand’s piece on the presumption that the Google, Netflix’s and Amazon’s will swoop up sports rights – 20:30

What will Fox Sports do with Pete Rose ­– 28:00

How popular are stories about Colin Kaepernick? – 34:00

Who will Dan Shulman’s replacement next year on Sunday Night Baseball? – 38:00

Why is Fox Sports burying Katie Nolan? – 41:50

• (Boston-based) WEEI vs. Chad Finn – ­ 54:00

How should sports writers react when a subject or a subject’s family praises the piece publicly?  – 57:00

• Should sports news outlets give the subject a heads up on time of publication prior to a negative story – 1:06.30

Start of Nowkhah interview – 1:17.00

Working for nearly a decade on ESPN Radio with Mel Kiper Jr.  ­– 1:18.00

His responsibilities at the SEC Network and why he joined it – 1:21:30

• The access the SEC Network gets at each SEC school – 1:32:00

Getting caught on a hot mic talking about Alabama coach Nick Saban’s relationship with the SEC media – 1:38.00

Whether the local and national media that cover Alabama is soft on Saban? – 1:40.00

How he went from Tulsa (the No. 60 TV market) to ESPN – 1:43.00

His father moving to the U.S. from Iran in 1967 – 1:47:00

On the loss of his son, Hayden, and how he and his wife Jenn channeled their grief into helping other families ­– 1:52:00

• Alabama vs. Florida State on opening week – 2:01.00

2. SiriusXM will air talkSPORT’s live play-by-play broadcasts of multiple EPL matches each week throughout the season on satellite radios and on the SiriusXM app. Matches will air on SiriusXM’s 24/7 soccer channel, SiriusXM FC (channel 85). Here’s the schedule.

3. One of the recent parlor games in sports media has come to a conclusion: Charissa Thompson is staying at Fox Sports. Here’s the story.

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4. If you missed it, here’s a two-part roundtable I did with six NFL beat writers.

Part 1 on the future of the NFL and CTE concerns.

Part 2 on how specific cities would react to a team signing Colin Kaepernick.

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