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English Premier League soccer crossing the pond

By - Last modified: October 31, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Robin Van Persie, Demba Ba, Luis Suarez, Michu and Jermain Defoe. Recognize any of those names?

How about West Bromwich Albion, Swansea, Aston Villa or Wigan?

If you do, you know your English Premier League soccer. If not, get ready, because it’s making its way over the pond in a big way.

Earlier this week, NBC Universal announced it had won the bidding for the rights to show EPL games in the U.S., beating out the previous rights holders, Fox and ESPN. Their three-year contract, worth $80 million, is expiring. NBC Universal also signed up for three years but offered a whopping threefold increase, to $250 million.

Why is this worth so much? NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus is 100 percent correct in his explanation when he says that EPL is “the pre-eminent soccer league in the world, and is on the cusp of exponential popularity growth here in the U.S.”

The games will be shown on NBC’s up-and-coming NBC Sports Network cable channel, with Spanish-language broadcasts on Telemundo. There will be some changes planned for how NBC will handle the coverage. Whereas ESPN would usually show just one or two games per week, with others on the harder-to-find Fox Soccer Network, NBC will own and show every single game in some format.

Games can be streamed live online, on other NBC networks, as they were during the Olympics. But unlike the hated Olympic tape delays, all games will be shown live. Lazarus predicted that 18 to 20 games would be shown live nationwide on NBC on Saturday mornings.

This is just a part of a soccer strategy that NBC is executing. It already has a contract with MLS and has the Spanish language rights for the next two World Cups through Telemundo.

This is a big splash for the nascent NBC Sports, especially taking it from the competition. Its previous big deal was a 10-year $2 billion purchase of NHL broadcasting rights.

“We think we're acquiring a set of assets that has unique affluent male appeal that's very attractive to advertisers and attractive to cable operators,” Lazarus said regarding the EPL deal.

I’ve seen EPL interest growing over the last few years, so this sounds like a great move to me. Excitement over the last two World Cups, shown on ESPN, has overlapped into more EPL interest.

I also find the scheduling really appealing despite the time difference. There’s very little competition on TV on Saturday mornings. And local interest is at its height, with a few bands of team supporters meeting up regularly in local bars to watch games together.

So you think $250 million is a lot? The EPL’s deal with British broadcasters, for the same three year deal, was worth $4.86 billion. That’s comparable to the size of the NFL’s total deals among ESPN, NBC, CBS and Fox.



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