NBC Universal made headlines earlier this year by beating out Fox Soccer for the broadcasting rights to the Barclays Premier League, outbidding the incumbent with a $250 million 3-year deal. Part of NBC’s strategy for broadcasting the BPL in the U.S. was quite the opposite from Fox Soccer: mass availability, and it is paying off. For the first time ever in the U.S. fans can watch every single one of the BPL’s 380 matches via NBC’s multi-format coverage, and they are seeing the growth in viewership as a result.
In the first month of the BPL season, NBCSN, one of the flagship channel for sports within the NBC Universal family and on of the main channels for highlighted games for the BPL, enjoyed a 67% increase in viewership versus last year during the same time frame. According to a report by SoccerAmerica , NBCSN grew at more than double any other sports network on cable during that same period. The Premier League broadcasts on NBCSN are garnering an average of about 391,000 viewers, which is a 70% increase above what ESPN, ESPN 2, and Fox Soccer were able to achieve after the 5th week of the 2012-13 season last year.
We’ve already seen several big derby matches in the BPL this season, and one of them, Manchester United vs Manchester City, brought in an average of 852,000 viewers, the second-most watched Premier League match in U.S. history, according to the article. Perhaps what the numbers are showing is that NBC seems to have figured out how to bring the Premier League to the U.S. Prior to this year, BPL fans had to settle for what was shown as the game(s) of the week on ESPN or ESPN 2, or pay $8-10 a month extra for Fox Soccer, depending on your cable provider – and that still did not cover every single game as NBC has promised to do. Fox Soccer even went a step further and intentionally held a number of primetime matches on the side reserved for Fox Soccer Plus, which of course cost fans an additional charge per month to view.
If these numbers continue throughout the rest of the season NBC would likely bring in the kind of ratings and advertising revenue that would offset the opportunity cost of not charging fans for viewing the BPL matches, as their predecessors did. It should not be a surprise that with more games available and for no charge to the viewers that NBCSN’s numbers have increased at such a high rate, but as the league popularity and the sport both grow in the U.S. those numbers will only continue to build.
The challenge for NBC and its host of networks will be how to anniversary this growth next year. Everyone loves a new product, in this case the BPL for NBC, but when next year rolls around, not many network executives will want to hear excuses for a lack of growth on top of this years numbers. You can’t launch BPL coverage a second time, so the questions becomes for NBC, what do we do? If they’re success continues this season, the advertising revenue will start to come in and bigger, broader opportunities will present themselves. Those advertising partnerships will be key for NBC to grow above and beyond what they have been able to accomplish this year, and it if they are smart, they will try to leverage their multi-format platform for BPL coverage to maximize those opportunities. Engaging with consumers and fans via TV, mobile, and web is the name of the game and if NBC can offer a synergistic platform for companies and sponsors to do that, it would provide yet another point of differentiation.