If you're a fan of Premier League soccer, you have a better chance of seeing your game of choice here in America than you would … in England.
For the first time, every single one of the Premier League's 380 games will be available live to the U.S. audience, via NBC and its fledgling sports network, while certain games cannot be seen on television in the United Kingdom.
This reality has left many English fans distinctly unimpressed and pushing for change, while for the long-suffering U.S. soccer community it represents the final step in a transformation from the dark old days of virtually zero coverage.
It wasn't so long ago that American soccer fans had to conduct frustrating searches for box scores in the fine print of newspapers to find out what was going on in big leagues such as England, Spain and Italy, plus an occasional treat of delayed highlights from random European games.
"When I was in college in the 1980s I would go to the library once a week and catch up on the soccer reports in the London Times," said Nick Green, soccer columnist and blogger for the L.A. Daily News. "There was virtually no television coverage of it whatsoever so that was what you had to do. It started to change when Fox Soccer World arrived in the late '90s and since then it has just taken off."
The blanket coverage in the United States comes as a result of a three-year, $250 million deal brokered between the PL and NBC, which will split games between the new NBC Sports Network and its online platform.
Both the size of the investment and the depth of the coverage have raised eyebrows, both stateside and even in the UK, where fans have been made well aware that the NBC package offers more choice than anything they are able to purchase.
Blackout restrictions impact certain games in the UK, primarily those kicking off at the traditional start time of 3 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET) and even those that are covered require a complex combination of television packages to see.
"The concept that [English] people won't go to matches if they are televised at those times is out of date now," said London-based Liverpool supporter Chris Prodromou. "It is time we had the same options as people in other countries, especially as most games involving the big teams are sold out anyway."
In England, 116 games are shown on Sky Sports, plus 38 more on BT Sport, with each service requiring a separate subscription or a specific Internet package. Many Internet-savvy fans have resorted to tapping into illegal streams from foreign broadcasters, according to Charlie Wyett, football correspondent for The Sun newspaper.
"People have grasped the fact that these other games are now available if you know where to look," Wyett said. "But television rights continue to be a big issue over here and big revenue too."
Lucrative rights packages such as these are part of why the PL is so flush with money and why heavyweight investment groups, many from the U.S., have so eagerly bought into English soccer.
NBC sees the PL as an ideal platform upon which to build the brand of its new sports network. The key question will surround the extent of the American appetite for the product.
Even non-soccer fans can be persuaded to take a look at a contest like Manchester United vs. Chelsea – one of the most mouth-watering matchups of the early season on August 26. But will there be much demand for Stoke vs. Hull or Cardiff vs. Sunderland, even among the hardcore fans?
Time will tell, but NBC's investment can only be seen as a positive for the game and a sign that at least one check-wielding American network believes strongly in soccer's future.
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