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Volume 21 No. 2
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Premiership chief ‘knocked out’ by NBC’s pitch

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore was in New York last week as NBC Sports Group announced its coverage plans for the league’s 2013-14 season, the first year of a new three-year, $250 million broadcast deal. All 380 matches during the season, which begins in August, will be carried over NBC’s networks and digital platforms. NBC

Sports Network will have 154 matches on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Monday afternoons. NBC will broadcast 20 Saturday matches, primarily with noon ET starts. Games also will be shown on USA Network and CNBC.
Soccer reporter Christopher Botta spoke with Scudamore about the Premier League, about NBC and about the growth of soccer in the United States, a market he called “crucial” for his league.
“I’m privileged enough to do business in 212 countries,” Scudamore said of the league’s worldwide span. “In China, there might be 1.2 billion people; in India, there may be 1.3 billion. But no country consumes sports like the U.S.”

The NBC Sports Group executives said you pushed them to deliver their best for coverage in the U.S. Can you provide more specifics about your requests of them?

At the media event (from left): NBC Sports’ Jon Miller, Scudamore, and NBC Sports’ Mark Lazarus and Sam Flood.
SCUDAMORE: To be very candid, our rights are sold, normally, to the highest bidder. Besides the economic terms, what was very important to us in the U.S. was the strategic nature of the exposure of our league on the network. The U.S. sports broadcasting market is a crowded place. If you’re going to make strides, as we want to continue to in the U.S., you have to make an impact.
It’s not like we were unhappy with our current partners (Fox and ESPN), but these guys at NBC — I’ve never been as impressed as I was by the strategy they put together with all of the networks. We were knocked out by the presentation they made to us in England about their level of commitment to broadcast our matches.

Your league is seen as strong both financially and popularly, so in what areas does the league need to improve?

We focus first on quality of play: attracting the world’s top talent and making sure our facilities are as good and as safe as possible. The challenge for us right now is attendance. Economic times in the U.K. have not been great, and there’s a large amount of people for whom going to one of our matches is an important part of life. But there are cost constraints, so we’re always looking for ways to fill every stadium.

MLS has a stated goal of being one of the top soccer leagues in the world by 2022. What is your view of MLS, and do you believe that goal is reachable?

Richard Scudamore
SCUDAMORE: I’m a big admirer of (Commissioner) Don Garber and Major League Soccer. To me, you can see the strides they’ve made in the last few years just by watching their matches. The quality of play on the pitch is often superb — a big leap from the league’s earlier days. I believe Don and his team can definitely reach their goal, and I know the Barclays Premier League would welcome that. In fact, if MLS or any of the other leagues become more successful than us, that would be fine with me, too. What’s good for soccer is good for all of us.

There is a feeling in the U.S. that after a few starts and stops, the popularity of soccer as a spectator sport has finally taken off. Do you agree with that?

SCUDAMORE: Yes, and it comes from various directions. There are now a lot of middle-aged adults who played soccer as kids in school. That makes the interest wider. The success of the U.S. women’s team internationally has made a big impact. The commitment of many of the broadcasters, including NBC, Fox and ESPN, to show the World Cup qualifiers, MLS matches and many of the world’s top leagues plays a role, too. It all goes into the melting pot that has sparked interest in the game at levels we’ve never seen before in the U.S.

Sports broadcasting in the U.S. over the last decade has brought a lot of increased access: microphones on coaches and players, and cameras in team meeting rooms. Your league, for the most part, has held the line. Do you ever see that changing?

SCUDAMORE: I cannot honestly say that you will see cameras in our locker rooms. We leave it up to the discretion of the teams to decide what they will allow. Keep in mind that we have hundreds of broadcast partners with our games. If we open the doors to one, like NBC, we can have quite the problem on our hands with the others. But there’s another thing: There’s still a mystery to what goes on in our locker room, and I think there is something special about that.