A Changing Landscape: Soccer Broadcast in the Digital Age

Is this the right fix or do questions remain?

Photo via @SkySports

The way in which we consume sports content is changing. This is evident in the plague of layoffs across the sports journalism world, a response to a growing preference for video over written content, and in the increase of online content consumption through platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

On Tuesday, NBC responded to that shift. The network announced the launch of the Premier League Pass, a direct-to-consumer live streaming service that will offer 130 Premier League matches to subscribers for a season fee of $49.99, no cable subscription required.

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The creation of this subscription is a good indicator of the growing popularity of soccer in the United States, as NBC clearly feels that there is a high enough demand for more content to make the endeavor profitable.

Yet there is a drawback as it limits the availability of matches that were previously accessible to viewers, for free, through NBC Extra Time. Currently, only about one third of all matches (130) will be available through the Premier League Pass, while the remaining 250 matches will be broadcast on cable across NBC’s channels. In years prior, cable subscribers were able to access all matches on television or through NBC Extra Time.

Additionally, the transition to the subscription service leaves questions unanswered, such as which matches will be selected to be streamed on television versus on the Premier League Pass, particularly in regards to high-profile matches. Will cable subscribers have access? Or will the new group of subscribers to the exclusive online selection be able to watch?

With the transition to the subscription service, die-hard soccer fan may miss out on a must-see match should they opt for the subscription versus cable. And should they continue their cable subscription, they will be paying more to watch matches that were previously available at no additional charge. Overall, though, their viewership options will be expanding.

Throughout the season NBC Sports Gold promises approximately 20 hours of weekly coverage including live matches (at least three matches per team per season), highlights, replays of all matches and studio shows.

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While cord-cutting has definitely been a trend and moving the games online was a savvy response by the network, it might not be enough to fight the growing demand for free streamable content, which Facebook and Twitter are providing. Interestingly, NBC’s Premier League announcement came on the same day that Facebook announced, through a partnership with Fox Sports, that it would stream over a dozen Champions League matches, this fall, for free. No subscription, not even one as cost friendly as $49.99 for a year, can beat that.

While the NBC deal provides a unique library of content for the avid soccer viewer, it is unable to relate to the casual fan in its latest subscription package. Facebook’s live broadcast of Champions League matches, however, makes the sport accessible to a global audience, as long as they have a computer. This is important, particularly in the United States, as soccer continues to grow in the saturated sports market.

The NBC and Facebook announcements make one thing very clear: the days of traditional television are numbered. Yet the best way to capitalize on the change is still up for debate.

Should you make content available for free to a wide variety of consumers, bringing in, and possibly developing, the casual fan? Or should you capitalize on the superfan? The one that would pay a small fee to watch endless content? The answer to that is still up for debate.

Let Front Office Sports know your thoughts on the latest soccer media deals!


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