Soccerball go! NBC’s $250m Premier League package kicks off with familiar line-up

US network recruits English pundits for expertise but still manages an own goal

Los Angeles

There was at least one glaring error in the NBC Sports Network’s first day of coverage of the Premier League, or “EPL” as it is known in the US.

On Saturday, the American broadcaster captioned a photograph of a Dutch Manchester United striker: “Ruud van Nistelrooy, Manchester United Forward (2001-2006)”. The Dutch United striker in the photograph was, in fact, Robin van Persie.

Yet the US coverage of the English league proceeded without many transatlantic mistranslations, not least because its New York studio is staffed exclusively by English pundits. This weekend marked the start of three seasons of Premier League football to be broadcast exclusively in the US by NBC, which paid $250m for  the honour. The network also shelled out for English commentating talent, though not all its names will be familiar, even to UK viewers.

The man known as NBC’s “Voice of the Premier League” is Leicester-born Arlo White, who once worked as a reporter for Radio 5 Live. In 2010, he was appointed the in-house commentator for Seattle’s Major League Soccer (MLS) team, the Sounders. Last year, White was elevated to the role of NBC’s play-by-play commentator for all MLS matches. On Saturday, he was joined in the commentary box by the former Arsenal defender and BBC Match of the Day contributor Lee Dixon.

The network showed three live matches on Saturday: two on NBC Sports and one on its flagship channel, NBC. According to Deadline.com, its overnight audience ratings were the highest on record for a Premier League opening weekend in the US, with around 67 per cent more viewers than in 2012, when the first three games of the season were shown on ESPN and Fox Soccer.

Back in the studio, NBC’s so-called “shoulder programming” – its highlights coverage – is helmed by the ex-BBC and -ESPN football reporter Rebecca Lowe, who used to walk to school in west London with Peter Crouch. On NBC’s US version of Match of the Day, Lowe was joined by the ex-Jamaican international Robbie Earle, who provided detailed analysis with the help of a hefty computer monitor. Earle was sacked by ITV during the 2010 World Cup, after tickets allocated to him for family and friends ended up in the hands of a marketing firm, in breach of Fifa regulations.

Earle’s NBC punditry partner is Robbie Mustoe, a former Middlesbrough midfielder who moved to the US to coach university football following the end of his professional career. According to the NBC Sports blog, ProSoccerTalk, Lowe, Earle and Mustoe “established an effective rapport, taking it in turns to speak about different aspects of the match. After Arsenal lost at home to Aston Villa, Mustoe noted of the visitors, ‘They went 1-0 down this game very early on and came back with tremendous character and that firepower that we know they have.’”

In using exclusively English-born commentators, NBC Sports is following the example of ESPN, which it aspires to rival as America’s premier sports broadcaster. The two face competition from the new Fox Sports network, which launched this weekend. NBC is also the home of Sunday Night Football, America’s most-watched television programme. In 2012, the network was criticised for its coverage of the London Olympics, which it broadcast with a time delay.

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