Get ready for the biggest British invasion since those four mop-heads from across the Pond rocked the socks off the American public. The most talented and glamorous professional sports league in the world — the English Premier League — is coming to NBC Sports for the 2013-2014 season and beyond.
But will Americans watch “The Greatest Show on Earth”?
Soccer, or football, as most of the world correctly calls it, is the most popular team sport across the globe in nearly every country except for the United States. But the beautiful game has been making steady inroads into the American sports consciousness for decades. While soccer can’t compete yet with the big four — American football, baseball, basketball and hockey — the sport has captured the attention of an entire generation of young Americans who grew up playing soccer for their rec team or high school and have traveled to soccer-loving nations and brought those experiences back to the States. Go to a Major League Soccer or United States national team match and you will see a young, multicultural crowd chanting and enjoying the festive atmosphere as they would in Europe or Latin America.
Soccer is a global brand with teams and players who are known in the States. Even casual sports fans have heard of powerhouses like Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool. And Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres and other stars have become household names in many parts of the U.S.A.
NBC Sports Group paid $250 million for the rights to broadcast the EPL on U.S. television from 2013-16. NBC Universal will air 380 Premier League matches across all its platforms and devices, including 154 games on NBC Sports Network, 22 games on other NBC Universal channels such as USA and CNBC and 20 games on NBC. Spanish language stations Telemundo and Mun2 will also show games. And any game not covered by the NBC family of channels will be shown for free via Premier League Extra Time. Coverage kicks off August 17.
Wall-to-wall coverage of the Premier League should also boost viewership of MLS matches, which have been showing health ratings of late with a recent Philadelphia Union-New York Red Bulls match on ESPN averaging 323 thousand viewers. The last Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund nabbed 1.4 million viewers. So there is definitely an audience in the States that will watch EPL matches. But to put it in perspective, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at New York’s Citi Field averaged nearly 11 million viewers.
So while soccer is definitely on an upward trend in the United States and will continue to grow with the addition of the Premier League to the NBC Universal family of channels, it could take another generation for soccer to challenge the big four in an increasingly busy and diverse American sports landscape.