Will the Premier League kill Major League Soccer?

April 20, 2013

This past week, NBC announced that they will show every single match of the Premier League campaign in the United States beginning at the start of next season, which begins at the end of the summer in 2013.  This means that NBC will literally use its empire of networks to broadcast Premier League games from England during the weekends.  There is even a graphic going around, showing that on May 11th, 2014 – what is referred to as “Championship Sunday” or the last day of the Premier League season – there will be games on the following NBC channels: NBC, NBC Sports, USA, Bravo, CNBC, SyFy, Esquire, MSNBC, E! and so forth.  I’m sorry, but Premier League on SyFy seems to be quite a reach, but NBC has paid $250 million for the 2013 Premier League rights, and they want to do things the right way.  As their press release notes:

Details of the 2013-2014 NBC Sports Group Premier League programming include:

  • All 380 matches presented live on television with studio pre- and post-game coverage;
  • All 380 matches streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra;
  • Games not aired on a designated NBCUniversal channel will be made available to distributors via Premier League Extra Time, a package of overflow television channels available at no extra cost for each of their customers who receives NBC Sports Network;
  • Championship Sunday – May 11, 2014, when all 10 Premier League matches will be available live on a different NBCUniversal channel;
  • 76 Spanish-language telecasts, 10 on Telemundo, 66 on Mun2;
  • More than 600 hours of Premier League original programming.

NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA: Every Barclays Premier League match will be streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra, the NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktop, mobile and tablets and, in most cases, on the digital platforms of participating cable, satellite, telco and other video subscription services. The vast majority of Barclays Premier League matches will be streamed via “TV Everywhere,” available on an authenticated basis to subscribers of these services.

NBC happens to have the rights for Major League Soccer as well, which they pay $10 million a year for.  In this current deal, NBC shows usually one or two MLS matches a week, with the Premier League they will be showing around 10 matches a week through the season.  Some people have discussed that the deal would be beneficial for MLS, as it would draw more soccer fans to the NBC network who could then carry over watching Premier League matches to MLS matches.  I believe that this logic doesn’t fully fit.  First, the MLS matches would usually not transition smoothly with the Premier League, unless the MLS started playing at 10 or 11am, which would mean much less fans in the stadium.  At this point in time, fans in the stadium are the lifeblood of the MLS, as the revenues from television, once distributed, aren’t even worth a quarter of a team’s salaries for a season.  In this, the Premier League may not kill the MLS, but could draw some major attention away from the professional soccer in the U.S.

Time will tell how this deal affects MLS, but I personally think obtaining the Premier League rights was a great move by NBC.  For many years, I was part of a that crowd of people who paid extra money to get Fox Soccer on their cable plans to watch matches early on Saturdays.  Now, NBC will bring the Premier League to a national audience on over-the-air channels, meaning that people can watch certain Premier League matches without paying.  I think that this move could really help heighten the popularity of the Premier League, though I’d be curious to see how well ratings do on NBC during college football season.  The games wouldn’t overlap, but I am not sure how many college football fans will turn on their television sets early to catch Fulham play Everton.


Liverpools threat of breaking away from the Premier League Broadcasting deal.

October 12, 2011

A few days ago I talked about the landmark case in regards to Premier League broadcasts in Europe, and how there may be important changes coming in regards to how the rights are sold across Europe.

Now the threat is not from decoder cards and external forces, but internal ones.  Liverpool has started to make threats about breaking away from the Premier League’s current overseas broadcasting deal.  Liverpool’s challenge is that the TV rights for Premier League clubs should be sold overseas on a club-by-club basis.  In other words, Liverpool believes they and other clubs should have the right to sell their own broadcasts overseas.  Liverpool’s managing director even came out publicly and stated that this is:

“a debate that has to happen”

The Guardian notes that the current Premier League deal is set up as follows:

Since the Premier League’s foundation in 1992 its success has been largely based on the principle of collective selling, where each club no matter how lowly can expect a fixed share of TV deals with “merit” awards for finishing positions as an add‑on. Changing this model would risk revolt from the smaller clubs who stand to lose most, and thus threatens the league’s very structure.

Liverpool thinks that the super powers of the Premier League, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal (the clubs who are usually at the top of the table) should be getting a bigger share, as they are the ones who are bringing in the large audiences.  Again, these are deals which are worth billions of dollars to the Premier League, but if the money was not split evenly, and were sold on an individual club basis, it would mean an even greater imbalance in club revenues.  And of course, club revenues are a big part of buying talent, and hence being able to perform on the field.  Such a deal would be problematic in my mind, as it would destroy any sense of competitive balance in a league that already has balance issues, especially at the top.  Furthermore, it could mean that the mid-level and low-level clubs would be even poorer, and would not be able to field as attractive a product.

I point to La Liga, where two teams (Barcelona and Real Madrid) dominate the league in regards to revenue, and pretty much dominate on the field as well.  I think the Premier League, for the sake of having a better product, should continue to share revenue, and have the TV rights package deal sold in a single group.


Vuvuzelas: What’s the Best Response?

July 21, 2010

One by one, Premiership clubs in England are banning the vuvuzela (that really annoying instrument played incessantly at the World Cup).  But the Premier League authorities won’t simply impose a blanket ban and instead are leaving the decision up to the individual clubs.

Which begs the question: What is the best response for, say, Blackpool, recently promoted to the Premiership?  The top clubs have banned them already (Spurs are the latest), the clubs with large stadia and many fans.  Blackpool is a much smaller club with a smaller stadium and likely less noise with which to intimidate visiting teams.  Wigan might be asking similar questions – could their stadium become a less pleasant place to visit for other teams if their fans are busy blowing vuvuzelas all afternoon?

I guess this is something akin to a nice empirical example of a game – the action is (ban, don’t ban), the players are all the Premiership clubs, they don’t move simultaneously though, and the pay-off isn’t clear yet likely dependent on what the other clubs do.  Now the big clubs have imposed bans, their stadia will remain quiet, peaceful places – but the homes of strong teams.  Will the bans mean players at those clubs are less used to the drone of vuvuzelas and hence the pay-off of allowing them to blown means more points from home games this season?

Assuming bans aren’t imposed by all clubs, it certainly gives some variation upon which to carry out some analysis.  The absence of a counter-factual however (how would Blackpool have done if we repeated the season and they did/didn’t impose the ban) complicates things, but assuming a club that was in the Premiership last season allows vuvuzelas, this could be somewhat akin to a natural experiment – the players certainly didn’t sign for any particular club to avoid vuvuzelas or because they like them…


English Premier League Proposes Shake-up

February 15, 2010

After toying (was it really two years ago?) with the idea of a 39th game in Asia, the Premier League in England appears to have come up with a possibly quite useful suggestion for shaking things up and making them a little bit more interesting: Play-offs for the fourth Champions League spot that England gets.

The teams finishing 4th to 7th would enter a play-off competition with the winners going into the Champions League, and presumably the runners up heading into the Europe League.

This is apparently a suggestion to break up the dominance of the so-called Big Four in England – Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – who have dominated the last decade in English football.

I have to admit, it wouldn’t be my suggestion for shaking up things at the top – that would be to limit squad sizes. It would seem to me that such a proposal wouldn’t necessarily affect Man United and Chelsea, who are the really dominant sides at the top of the Premiership, and instead affect Arsenal and Liverpool, who have more usually taken up 3rd and 4th in the top four over the years.

It would also take things away from something I think should be cherished about European football versus North American sports – the league system, and its ascendency in determining team quality, rather than one-off big games like the Superbowl and play-off finals, where often anything can (and does) happen. But then, the latter is entertaining, and if Manchester United keeps winning the Premiership every season, things will get pretty boring. I guess some change is better than no change…