Since NBC purchased rights to broadcast Premier League matches in the United States a few years ago, American fans have been able to watch or stream every single league game... so long as they have a cable subscription. That appears to be changing.
Yesterday, NBC announced a plan to revamp the way they broadcast and deliver Premier League matches to American consumers, doing away in part with their NBC Sports Live streaming coverage in favor of a new premium streaming service called “Premier League Pass” that will be in addition to the matches that are already broadcast on live TV. The stand-alone streaming service will cost $50 in addition to whatever you’re paying for your cable subscription.
At first glance, this would appear to be a boon to “cord cutters,” an increasingly large population of American consumers who are ditching cable entirely in favor of a la carte internet streaming packages like Netflix, Hulu, Sling, or Playstation Vue. However, NBC’s new streaming package will include only 130 games, just 35% of all Premier League matches.
This means that Spurs fans who were used to being able to watch every single Tottenham Hotspur match on broadcast TV, either over the air or on the overflow “Extra Time” channels, or who took advantage of the no-extra-charge streaming service of NBC Sports Live will now need to keep their cable subscription AND pay an extra $50 for the bonus “PL Pass” service to catch all 38 matches in 2017-18. And that’s crap.
Ever since NBC first latched its Premier League coverage to a cable subscription, I’ve criticized it. Live sports are pretty much the only thing that’s preventing me from dumping cable entirely, and I have indicated on numerous occasions that I would gladly pay a monthly or yearly fee in order to stream the sports that I care about either on my devices or through the Roku box attached to my TV.
Instead, this does the opposite of help the consumer. Rather than offer a robust streaming-only subscription service, NBC has taken a perfectly reasonable distribution system that has, cable requirement aside, worked for the most part extremely well and managed to piss off the average Premier League soccer fan that just wants to watch their favorite team play.
Awful Announcing does a great job of breaking it all down for you. Thanks to Spurs now being considered a “big club,” they’ll very likely have most of their games televised on the NBC family of networks, but NBC has admitted that each PL team will have at least three games broadcast on Premier League Pass and NOT on live television. If you want to be able to watch every Spurs match next season, you’ll have to shell out an extra $50 for the privilege. God forbid if you want to watch a smaller, less popular club like Huddersfield, Bournemouth, or mid-table clubs like Stoke or Everton.
Moreover, the so-called “big matches,” like the North London Derby, Manchester Derby, and other important games, will reportedly be broadcast on television, but NOT on Premier League Pass, and streamed games will, as of right now, not be archived for later viewing. Cable subscribers won’t be able to watch every game anymore, and neither will cord cutters. It’s an infuriating decision by NBC.
NBC Sports president of programming Jon Miller did himself no favors in quotes given to Goal.com about the distribution change.
“There’s probably going to be some initial disappointment,” Miller said, “but the fact of the matter is those fans [who have cable but not Premier League Pass] are still going to get 250 games a year, they’re able to see more games here than people in the U.K. are able to see.”
That’s really polishing a turd. One of the great things about NBC’s soccer coverage up until now was the incredible breadth of games you had access to. While what Miller says about NBC’s coverage compared to the UK is accurate, that’s small consolation to the growing segment of American football fans who now are in the position of having to pay more for the same level of access that they had last season. That is, to put it mildly, crappy, and no amount of “look on the bright side” is going to make me feel better.
Look, I give small credit to the Peacock for starting to finally figure out that they need to change their business model to accommodate the changing way that Americans consume their media. But this decision doesn’t help fans — it hurts them, and is a blatant cash grab targeting sports fans that just want to watch their favorite team.