NBC Sports will offer fans a choice in how they watch the remainder of the Premier League season: with or without artificial cheers and jeers pumped into broadcasts.
Professional leagues and TV network partners worldwide have attempted to solve the dilemma of how to create game-like atmospheres without fans present.
Germany’s Bundesliga, as an example, returned to play behind closed doors on May 16 without fan noise before league executives quickly shifted gears. Spain’s La Liga, which itself restarted this week, has opted to feature both fan soundtracks and virtual spectators to fill empty seats on its telecasts.
“The week before the Bundesliga returned, the conversations we had were that we had to be authentic and that [imported fan noise] was disingenuous,” Pierre Moossa, coordinating producer for NBC Sports, said. “Then you watched the first [Bundesliga] match, and it was a very different experience. I’ve done a complete 180.”
According to NBC Sports, NBCSN and NBC will pump in “atmospheric advanced audio” provided by EA Sports – the publisher of the FIFA video game franchise. For a more natural experience, fans can tune in on NBC Sports Gold via Premier League Pass or on Peacock with an active subscription. The league’s broadcasters in the U.K. will also be using artifical fan noise during broadcasts.
The Premier League will resume on June 17 with a jam-packed schedule – 35 match days over 40 days – in what NBC Sports dubs an Olympics or World Cup-style format. NBC will have its on-air talent in its Stamford, Connecticut, studio for pre-game and post-match coverage. The network’s commentary team, led by play-by-play announcer Arlo White, will additionally call matches from inside the venues.
“It will be very odd with no crowd, but with a little bit of help from our friends at EA Sports hopefully that won’t be too much of a problem for everybody,” White said, adding that NBC Sports’ commentary team will stick to two-person booths to better practice social distancing and will also wear face masks up until kickoff.
The Premier League’s return also marks its debut on NBCUniversal’s newly-launched Peacock OTT streaming service. NBC Sports had initially planned to begin broadcasting Premier League games on Peacock next season alongside exclusive coverage of the 2020 Ryder Cup in the fall, but the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until next year changed that.
Peacock is formally launching for all U.S. consumers on July 15. Only Comcast and Xfinity Flex subscribers have had access to the service since it soft-launched in April.
Seven matches will be available to stream on the Peacock, Moossa said. In January, NBC noted the service would ultimately make 140 Premier League matches not shown on television available for free to Comcast and Cox subscribers beginning next season. Other users will pay $4.99 per month.
NBC Sports Gold is also now offering Premier League Pass for $9.99 through July 31. The product normally costs $64.99 per year.
According to Deloitte, even with the league’s return to action, Premier League clubs stand to lose around $1.12 billion in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. Approximately $500 million of that sum has already been lost thanks to eradicated match day revenues and broadcast rebates, SkyNews reports. Manchester United became the first English club to confirm it expects to pay $24.4 million to broadcast partners on its quarterly earnings call last month.