Friday, November 19, 2021

Why is the PL TV deal so big?

The English Premier League announced a large new TV deal yesterday. NBC has retained the United States' rights to broadcast the league for the next six years.

The deal:
Length: 6 yrs (2022-2028)
Cost: $2.6 billion
Cost per Year: $430 million
Rev per Team, per Yr: $22 million

Just about every network was involved in bidding for the league. ESPN, CBS, Amazon, WarnerMedia, etc which pushed the yearly increase to three times the previous deal of $150m a year.

So, why is it so big? What made a foreign soccer league so desirable?

Everyone is reporting on the basic figures, but nobody seems to know the answers to these two questions. Here's what I think.

A. It's the top league in the world. Technically, it can be debated where the better players are but Americans love the perceived best, the richest, the most exciting.

B. It fits The US Sports Culture Calendar.

For me, this is easily the most important ingredient. "Culture" is something that takes generations to form and once it takes hold, it's nearly impossible to change (or destroy). The US has formed a very defined sports culture.

• NFL and College Football in the fall.
• MLB Playoffs/World Series
• NBA at Christmas
• Bowl games, NFL Playoffs
• NHL in the winter
• March belongs to College Basketball
• NBA, NHL Finals
• MLB is hotdogs and beer in the summer

That's basically what it has been since the 1980s and etched in stone after the 1994 MLB strike. There's not a lot of room for anything else.

The PL fits, foreign summer tournaments fit, MLS does not

Major League Soccer tries to squeeze in during the lightest part of the sports calendar. 1/3 of the decision to use (and continue to use) this calendar was logistic - most MLS early teams shared stadiums with other pro teams. Another third of the decision was the thought that young people wanted something super-rad and baseball was for old people - and the final third was there were more national windows open. 

MLS has been sitting on this for 25 years. Each decision MLS made still impacts the league and it is reflected in ratings and viewership. In effect, because of the way they are built, they compete with just about everything on the calendar above.

Enter the Premier League and NBC. 

The network's commitment to covering the league is key while the seriousness and passion of the coverage come off as authentic. Because of where the league is, it solved all of Major League Soccer's challenges I mentioned above.

1. They don't share stadiums.

2. People of all ages like soccer, not just young people.

3. The most important... free morning windows for games. "IT FITS" into the US calendar instead of having to try and elbow its way in (like MLS).

In the past, for European soccer, networks would put up a game or two on random weekend mornings and then move on to some other sport more in tune with the US Sports Calendar. Even now, we see that kind of coverage with ESPN and the Bundesliga. They put up a couple games before sending it over to ESPN+ in favor of morning college football and NFL shows. It's a good example of trying to squeeze something into an existing culture thinking it'll take root.

For my entire lifetime (which is approaching a half-century, Christ!), "soccer" has not been the problem. Americans love soccer. In the decade I was born, the old NASL was the thing for a number of years. Rec leagues started all over the country in the 80s. The World Cup in 1994 is still the most attended and watched in the tournament's history. The Women's World Cup in 1999 is a proud touchstone moment for anyone generation X and above in this country. From that point forward it was the USMNT run in 2002. "Go-go USA" in 2010. In the last 10 years, we've seen the rise in Liga MX's popularity to the point where it gets big 4 types of ratings (but enter stage right, future changes, unfortunately).

Soccer has always been here. I think ratings will continue to improve over the next 6 years and if NBC keeps doing what they are doing, the Premier League will become a 10 month long normal part of the US calendar.

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