It used to be back in the day that Saturday mornings were where kids got their fix of weekend cartoons. Bugs Bunny, Scooby Do and on and on they went, filling network TV for hours. Now kids shows are on demand, and Saturday mornings especially are being filled more and more with another kind of desired program for young people and old alike; soccer from all over Europe, especially The Premier League on NBC.
While Fox has increased its load of live soccer programming, especially with the Bundesliga, NBC was first and is in many ways still the most innovative in continuing to pioneer and engage Premier League fans new and diehard with a wide and very deep programming lineup across its networks. The quality and the depth of coverage has not just sated club loyalists now in the States, it has really helped usher in a new engaged fan base clamoring to see EPL stars live every week, on whatever device they choose. The result hasn’t just made it OK not just for soccer but for sports like rugby and F1 to be shown live in the mornings on weekends, it has made it must watch for all interested, from homes to clubs across America.
Still NBC needs to continue to grow and enhance the coverage of its elite soccer programming, and on Thanksgiving weekend they took a smart, bold and effective next step, taking over the South Street Seaport in Manhattan to welcome hundreds of fans from every club in the Premier League to join in a daylong celebration live across every NBC network, the same as you would see ESPN or now FOX do live Saturdays from a remote location highlighting whatever the biggest college football stop is of the fall. It was a grand experiment of traditions brought to the US for Premier League soccer, replete with the Premier League Championship trophy with Chelsea FC and scores of kids doing drills for five hours on a beautiful holiday weekend, capped off with some great soccer. A first-time celebration by the network which has really put the Premier League on the map in the US and has set the standard that other elite leagues are climbing towards.
Now for the casual fan tuning in before they raced off to visit friends or go shopping, was the live audience show with diehard fans anything new? Well for MLB, or the NFL or college sports, certainly not. It also isn’t the first time the elite soccer clubs of the world have brought their legends or their hardware to out on display for fans here. That happens fairly regularly. What it was, was a smart move to take a next step in broadcast fan engagement, one which will have great legs going forward should NBC, or another network carrying elite global soccer, want to replicate or expand the idea. Trying on a holiday weekend, built around the Liverpool Chelsea match, had some risk for sure. Would people traipse into Manhattan early on a Saturday to fill a hall? Would brand support a pretty expensive remote broadcast and all that would go with it? The answer for all was yes and then some. Lines went around the block, social engagement was from coast to coast (probably even helped by the fact that people were home for the holiday, not off carting kids around to their own soccer matches which they probably would be earlier in the fall) and the test proved that the concept of a large engagement showing the depth and passion for a wide swath of EPL clubs was not just worth the risk, but could have a great reward.
Is it something that can be done every weekend with a road show? No, it’s way too soon, and NBC’s great studio shows are where the main thrust should be. Does it mean this can be an annual or semi-annual event? For sure. Could it be replicated by other leagues? Probably for select events (El Clasico is one that comes to mind), but maybe not to the scale we saw this past weekend.
In a weekend where we were giving thanks, NBC provided a great thank you to Premier League fans who loyally watch their clubs and engage not just in broadcast, but across social as well. A grand experiment whose time was right, and who showed some great opportunity going forward.
Well played, for both the diehard and the casual fan.