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NBC To Broadcast Britsh Soccer League


There's no joke in American sport circles. Soccer is the sport of the future and always will be. Is the future here? Big time soccer finally has a major American television contract, but it's not the L.A. Galaxy, Chicago Fire, San Jose Earthquake, or Columbus Crew. The NBC sports network has started broadcasting a full schedule - should that be schedule - from Britain's premier league. That's Manchester United Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, the Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham.

Yeah, there's a team called West Ham. The British premier league is perhaps the most popular sports league in the rest of the world. We're joined now by John Ourand, media reporter for Sports Business Journal. Thanks for being with us.

JOHN OURAND: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Why would NBC plunk down all this money for this?

OURAND: Well, NBC has a cable network that's called NBC Sports Network, and what the British Premier league brings is just a really avid fan base that loves the sport. So British soccer doesn't bring in the audience that, say, American football does or that Sunday night baseball gets. But it brings in about half a million viewers on weekend mornings, and they're betting that those half-million viewers would change their cable company or video provider if somebody didn't offer NBC Sports Network. So, this is a way to get NBC Sports Network into more homes. It's a way to get NBC Sports Network more money.

SIMON: And we should explain: half a million viewers is big in cable. I mean, that's more than what the news channels will be getting on a weekend morning.

OURAND: Oh, absolutely. It's nothing to sneeze at. It's big. They watch it live, so the advertising works for it. It's also generally a young male demographic, which is just manna from heaven for these networks.

SIMON: Does this deal indicate in any way that soccer has finally arrived?

OURAND: Not necessarily. I think that it's still a niche sport in America. What this deal does that Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool - these are big brands that are international. And so NBC is making a bet that these international brands will have that rabid fan base, much more so than the Chicago Fire or D.C. United.

SIMON: There are a lot of American owners of premier league teams at this point. Certainly, Liverpool is owned by John Henry, Man U by the Glazer family, Arsenal is owned by an American. Why?

OURAND: I think there is a sense that the American sports market is mature, or at least is maturing - billion-dollar TV contracts, brand new stadiums. There's the sense that over in England there's still a lot of room for growth over there to build new stadiums, to make the fan experience a lot better than it is and earn more money that way. There's also, Manchester United is much more of an international brand than the Dallas Cowboys. So, there's much more an upside to owning an English team, I think, than an American team.

SIMON: By the way, you mention Manchester United. I have to pause for a moment. (Singing) Ole, ole, ole, ole. Sorry.

OURAND: That was very nice.

SIMON: Thank you. I love Man U. I'm a big Man U. fan. What challenges, on the other hand, do they face with a national audience for this in the United States? I mean, we're talking about a league that doesn't have playoffs, as we understand it. There's not the specter of do-or-die game like the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals.

OURAND: Well, NBC is paying right around $83 million per year for the rights to carry these games. So, the challenges are to make that back. 'Cause in soccer you don't have these ready ad breaks. Another challenge is that the British Premier League, they sell every three years. So, NBC can spend these three years building up the league and three years from now, ESPN wants it back, Fox wants it back and they're in this dirty bidding war. And that's how they got it this time. ESPN built up the Premier League to the extent that NBC came in and swooped in and got it. That's a problem. These are up every three years, which makes it hard to sort of build around it and really invest into it.

SIMON: John Ourand, a media reporter for Sports Business Journal in our studios. Thanks so much.

OURAND: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.