Why NBC's Purchase of EPL TV Rights Could Be Bad for US Soccer

Sasu Siegelbaum@SasuTSContributor IIOctober 30, 2012

NBC's acquisition of EPL television rights could hurt US Soccer
NBC's acquisition of EPL television rights could hurt US Soccer

The television broadcasting conglomerate NBC announced on Sunday that, beginning in 2013, they had acquired the domestic television rights to England's Barclay's Premier League (EPL) for the next three seasons.

NBC Sports' deal with the EPL, worth an estimated $250 million, comes as a strong blow to rival cable television networks ESPN and Fox Soccer (FSC), who are the only two stations currently showing Premier League matches in the States.

Fox Soccer in particular, has been steadily losing its television rights to several other premier European soccer leagues.

If the network does not act quickly to stop this bleeding, it may soon find itself in the same zone of obsolescence as GolTV, the once proud owners of television rights to Spain's La Liga, who now only show German Bundesliga and a few less-popular South American matches. As a result, Rupert Murdoch's satellite television giant DirecTV dropped GolTV from their broadcast packages.

Even with their extravagant financial offer, which was reportedly four times what any other network was willing to pay, NBC will feel confident that they can recoup expenses in a timely fashion, given soccer's increasing popularity in the United States.

While this might be music to the ears of English soccer fans on the "left side of the pond," who for so long had to illegally stream their beloved Gooners, Spurs, or Red Devils if they wanted to see a particular match, it may actually hinder the long-term development of soccer in the United States.

European soccer fans have long complained about the difficulty in watching European club soccer in America. Either they had to pay extra on their cable bill for a paltry selection of weekly matches, or they illegally streamed the trials and tribulations of their beloved team on the internet.

Depending on the specifics of the deal, NBC's EPL acquisition could change all of that.

As one of the largest broadcast networks in the States, with a signal that is included in most basic cable packages, NBC could potentially deliver what the EPL called the "biggest and broadest programing and promotion commitment ever in the United States."

Yet nothing is universally good. It's important to remember the grey areas, or, what's good for one party may be bad for others.

In this case, NBC Sport's previous tenants, the MLS, will undoubtedly suffer from the new deal.

Not only will MLS' television ratings suffer, but so will their revenues, and overall visibility.

It's not that every American teen who plays soccer dreams of being in the MLS, but the MLS is all many of them have on handโ€”its teams the only ones that they can see in personโ€”its players the only ones that they can tangibly look up to.

There's no denying that the EPL is among the world's best leagues. Some of the world's most accomplished footballers ply their trade for Premier League teams and dominate the limelight of world football week-in and week-out.

It's also true that English soccer is more popular in the States and than any other league. But by effectively riding themselves of MLS, NBC is yet again embracing the "logic" of capitalism at the expense of contributing to the development of a national product. Such is globalization.

Allow me to sum up the idea hereโ€”

NBC, a highly visible television network, acquires the rights to a more popular league (the EPL). Because NBC is included in basic cable packages (that are cheaper and more accessible than ESPN/Fox Sports), they will attract more viewers, and hence, generate more profits.

They will do this at the expense of the MLS, whose matches were previously shown on NBC. The MLS mostly consists of American and Central American players (it's where the majority of American players have been cutting their proverbial teeth before heading off to brighter pastures).

In other words, less MLS exposure = less interest in MLS = less profits for the MLS = bankrupt MLS = big problem for the development of domestic talent in the US.

I have no premonitions that the MLS will ever be a world class league, but if nothing else, it's middling quality has served a decent purpose over the past decade in its footballing education of some solid American talent (Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Landon Donavon, Michael Bradley).

Things may now get more complicated for the MLS. If its survival and ability to attract domestic talent was dependent on gate entrances, advertising, and to a lesser extent, television revenue, it may now need to look elsewhere for funding.

NBC shot the MLS, and by extension US Soccer, in the foot with this one.