NBC’s coverage of the Premier League this season began on as much of a high note for network officials last August as they could have imagined. The network scored the most-viewed opening weekend for the league ever in the United States and, more significantly, secured an unprecedented six-year renewal of its league rights just as the final year of its existing contract was starting.
|NBC’s storytelling strategy paid off with Leicester City’s success.
The network saw a 26 percent increase in total viewership for Premier League match broadcasts for the 2015-16 season compared with 2014-15, reaching more than 36 million viewers. That increase was due in part to a shift in match programming. NBC Sports carried all 380 Premier League matches via its family of TV channels and live-streams again this year, with 228 of those airing on a cable or broadcast network. That’s up from 195 the previous year.
Average viewership for NBC’s match windows increased 7 percent, to 514,000 viewers compared with 479,000 in 2014-15. NBC also saw a 26 percent increase this season in unique viewership through its NBC Sports Live Extra offering, up to 2.6 million viewers.
“To see that kind of growth in audience across all windows, we felt it was a really strong season after a really good start,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “Sixty-five percent of all Premier League games are broadcast [nationally] on a linear level, which is more than any other sport on national TV, which makes it even more impressive.”
Miller cited a number of factors for the strong numbers, ranging from the network’s decision to add a 10 a.m. ET window on USA Network to the continued popularity of the weekly “Men in Blazers” program on NBC Sports Network.
Over the past year, the network aired features on Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney and its former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, as well as a four-part series on Crystal Palace and a feature on AFC Bournemouth. Further, speaking to the network’s range of coverage, of the Premier League’s 20 clubs, only three had fewer than 15 matches broadcast across NBC’s networks during the past season.
“It’s about building the value of the league and the teams, and it’s not just about covering the big teams, and that’s something we know is very important to the league and the shareholders,” Miller said.
That strategy paid particular dividends this year, given upstart Leicester City’s run to the championship. “It’s hard to put Leicester’s incredible run into perspective, but it certainly helps that we have showcased all 20 teams in the U.S.,” Miller said.
Miller said it was too early to discuss the network’s specific plans for next year, but he said that given the network’s new extension and the success of its shoulder programming seen to date, coverage should be expected to increase.
“After the clubs have seen how we treat them, and coaches, management and players see it too, they’re more willing to give us better access, which leads to more awareness, which leads to more fans, which leads to more ticket and merchandise sales, and so on,” he said. “It’s essentially a circle that helps us all.”
One possible new aspect for NBC’s coverage that might come next season is the introduction of more of the history of the league and its teams. Miller said that while some of the features that have aired previously have delved into history, many viewers of the broadcasts may only have knowledge of the league dating to 2012 or 2013, when they started watching the broadcasts in the United States.
“It’s something we try to do with the NHL broadcasts where we think it’s important to celebrate that history and those moments, and that’s something we’re going to try to do with the Premier League now, too,” Miller said.
That may lead the network to showcase more of its part-time voices, like former Premier League players Gary Lineker and Tim Howard (also a U.S. national team star), but Miller said there are no plans to bring on any new staff for its rotation of permanent broadcast talent. He also said that while incoming NBC broadcaster Mike Tirico is a big soccer fan, there have not been any discussions to involve him in the network’s coverage.
Miller sees an additional opportunity with the start of the 2016-17 Premier League season, as well. The first two weeks of the season will occur during the last two weeks of the Olympics and NBC’s coverage of the Games.
“Launching a season during an Olympics is unprecedented,” he said, “and might be the biggest thing we have going for us.”