English Premier League / Opinion

NBC Sports had it right, now it’s wrong

Ok, so Premier League Pass isn’t breaking news. NBC announced it before the Premier League season started, and while I heard some chatter, there was far from an uproar. The big matches will still be televised every week, right? Whatever.

But Wednesday really got me thinking about it. Wednesday was an uncommon Premier League Wednesday with all the big clubs in action. Still, there was one glaring problem: Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Everton were all behind the NBC Sports Gold subscription (Premier League Pass) paywall. Meaning, if you didn’t pay $49.99 for the pass, you could not view those matches. Not with a TV subscription, not on any device, not at all.

It used to be different.

Back in 2013, when NBC first bought the rights to the Premier League, I was living life. As a die-hard Fulham supporter, I could finally watch all our matches on weekends. With a TV subscription — a simple login that could be passed around between friends, mind you — every single match was available on any device. My friends and I often had two or three matches going at once and it was pure soccer bliss.

Then, we tragically got relegated. But that’s a different story. Even without Fulham in the Premier League, I still took advantage of the system and watched whatever match I wanted to, when I wanted to. Fast forward to the 2017-2018 season and times have changed. All the big matches are still televised on weekends and there are still two, three or even four matches being televised at once throughout the NBC Network. That’s great, but it’s not whole.

There are always at least a couple matches that aren’t being televised. If you know anything about soccer, you know that a Premier League match is almost always competitive, opponents aside. There’s parity throughout the league and most matches are worth watching. Oh, you’d like to tune in to the 4-4 thriller at Turf Moor between Burnley and Watford? Well, too bad, you can’t switch over to the match because it’s not broadcast anywhere.

Now, again, on the weekends, it’s not such a big issue. A lot less soccer fans are working and a lot more can watch matches. A vast majority of viewers in the US are only interested in the big clubs being televised anyway, and the fact of the matter is there are far more Manchester United supporters worldwide than Huddersfield Town supporters. But what about a day like Wednesday? What were the Everton supporters supposed to do then? Cough up 50 bucks so they could watch the match?

From my view, Wednesday was Exhibit A of why the old system was so great. Most people were at work during the day and couldn’t watch at home on TV. They could maybe watch on their laptops or phones, though, and that’s what NBC should want. They should encourage streaming on other devices on a day like that. Inevitably, viewership will be way down on a Wednesday, so why not do everything you can to bolster that?

I don’t know how many people watched the Premier League matches Wednesday, but it probably wasn’t a lot.

Like everything else, however, it’s important to consider it from the other side. NBC didn’t purchase the Premier League rights thinking “hey, we want Joe-Schmo to be able to watch matches from his cubicle.” It was more along the lines of “hey, we want to make money.” And, to be fair, they spent a lot of it. It’s a seven-figure deal and, more importantly, it’s an investment. Understood.

Frankly, on paper, Premier League Pass is a viable plan — people want to watch Premier League matches, and people will pay for it. While I’m on board with that concept, I think $49.99 is too high. That’s more than streaming services like Hulu are charging for their entire Live-TV package. I also don’t think the market is big enough. Meaning, most viewers are only interested in the big clubs that are highly exposed and aren’t willing to pay for a few matches they’ll miss because of the paywall (each club has at least three such matches).

The other major problem here is Premier League ratings are down. They were down before Premier League Pass and I can only imagine it’s not helping anything. This is probably what NBC cares about most, actually, and tough decisions will be based on this. I’m not a television executive and I can’t translate TV ratings and their movement into business. I’m not going to explore viewership trends or cord-cutting, because that’s probably far bigger than a sports issue.  I’m just a soccer fan that wants to watch the best league in the world.

NBC wants money and viewership. We want Premier League soccer. What’s the fix?

Well, before I suggest reverting back to the old system and ignoring all numbers and business decisions, here are a couple thoughts: I’ll pay for Premier League content, sure, but not $49.99. I think $19.99 or $29.99 sounds better and if that means taking matches off MSNBC and CNBC and making them only available to stream, fine.

And as for weekday slates like Wednesday, lift the paywall. Not everyone subscribes and you shouldn’t expect huge viewership on a Wednesday afternoon regardless. If you’re going to charge $49.99 under the current system, the least you can do is lift the paywall on weekdays when people can only watch at work.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t watch the matches Wednesday because I was at work. Hell, I didn’t even really want to. I’d certainly stream Fulham during the week, but probably not another club if it wasn’t a huge match. But that’s not the point. The point is NBC’s viewership isn’t comprised of Fulham supporters — it’s the Liverpools and Tottenhams of the world that bring in the numbers. They couldn’t watch their club play without paying 50 bucks or illegally streaming it.

It just felt like a step in the wrong direction.


  1. Their biggest miss was not expecting people who had previously illegally streamed all of the EPL games before NBC took over to not go right back to doing so once they tried to put an additional fee on it. I streamed it from third parties previously, and I do it again. It’s not that hard and saves me 50 bucks.

  2. John P. O'Donnell Jr says:

    Sill less than MLS live. If you think it’s the best league in the world, then it’s hard not to understand why less than ten dollars a month isn’t affordable.

  3. I’m also not a huge fan of putting so much behind the paywall. Part of it has to be that the PL is expensive and the money they get from regular cable subscriptions might not make it worth it. Many people are already paying a great deal of money for those cable packages. Another $50 is steep. Not to mention it’ll likely just push most people back to illegal streaming.

    One reason the PL has gained a lot of popularity in the states has been that easy access to fans have to matches. This pass thing has to hurt that a bit (unless NBC and the PL assume they’ve hooked us all and can reel us in).

  4. This article sounds like a big load of sour grapes from a cheapskate who doesn’t want to pay for a product he’s interested in. This guy makes it sound like $50 is $500. It’s really not that much money . You’d spend more than that much attending a single professional match in person. No one owes you free PL football. And those of you bragging about streaming illegally, shame on you.

  5. I admit it. I paid the $49.99 because my 14 year old had a nervous breakdown when he found out he couldn’t get the Arsenal match a few weeks ago. What has transpired is now he watches every game he can on his ipad wherever he is – which I prefer over the youtube crap he normally watches. Am I thrilled to pay $50, nope, but it turned out to be a very wise investment.

  6. Keep in mind it’s also been a far from smooth user experience with many people having serious issues. It’s bad enough to get the bait and switch first, then the service you are paying a premium for doesn’t even work right, it really rubs salt in the wound.

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    I agree and disagree… if that’s possible. The old way was amazing. Sure… all the games, best teams, etc. But you said it yourself. Networks don’t buy the rights to things and give them away. And $50 isn’t that bad, especially given a league that runs from August to May. It’s like $5 a month. That ain’t bad.

  8. Definitely not trying to come down on you Christian, but we’ve been living the high life for the last few years of NBC coverage of EPL. I don’t think any other country in the world, and certainly not England, had access to as many games as we have had for the price of basic cable.
    A few current price comparisons:
    MLSLive was $80 last year for early-bird, $99(?) in season
    NBA League Pass $169
    MLB.tv $124
    NHL $140
    (Those all have a ton of games, so more production cost)
    NFL Game Pass $99
    I miss the days when MLSLive was only $25…

  9. The problem is that more and more things are bundled and charged extra. On DirecTV they have now an NBC Olympic Channel they want me to pay extra for to watch ski jumping and a lot of the ski racing that used to be on ‘free’ channels. Then if you wanted to see a lot of the European road bike races you now have to pay extra. It will only get worse.
    It all adds up. I therefore did not sign up for the Gold App and go to Tir Na Nog instead if Chelsea is behind ‘the wall’.
    Am also thinking hard about getting a $300 box that a lot of folks buy to watch pretty much anything.

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