Alright, so we've now gotten through two weekends of this brave new world where everyday Americans can watch any Premier League soccer match they want across NBC's network of channels or online. It's only been two weeks, but we're ready to call it: NBC Sports' soccer coverage is the shit.
First, let's reminisce. When I was on the come up, professional soccer didn't really exist on television. Then we hosted the 1994 World Cup, which gave way to Major League Soccer, and that was cool because DC United was stacked and won all the time. MLS, however, is inferior to the Premier League in almost every conceivable way, and in the late '90s, the league was a mere shadow of what it is today. The 1998 World Cup helped a bit, and soon we got to watch Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea when they played each other.
But it's different now. There have been more World Cups, and they amp interest every time. Our women's national team is ridiculous and people like Alex Morgan play on it, and our men's team doesn't suck. Major League Soccer is a good, marketable product that attracts fans and keeps acquiring international stars and/or has-beens, which only adds to us wanting to know what's going on elsewhere. FIFA is one of the greatest sports games ever. More and more people are growing to love soccer, especially English soccer, partly because the Premier League's been long viewed as the best league in the world, and partly because they speak English.
Until NBC Sports, though, no networks had caught on that it wasn't just about the big four anymore. People like teams like Everton, Tottenham, Fulham, Sunderland, and Stoke for their ties to American players. (Actually, no one likes Stoke. But still.) They like Newcastle, because they studied abroad and because beer. Swansea and Southampton are hipster little clubs that have fun styles of play. There's even Manchester City, for the soulless. It was always kind of impossible to affordably watch your favorite club week-in and week-out without breaking copyright laws, though, until NBC Sports came along and decided to show every match.
Granted, the bar for what constitutes "good soccer coverage" sits just above "has soccer coverage." But what networks surpass it? Not ESPN. Even though Fox launched its own channel to cover soccer, they enlisted Gus Johnson, who for some reason is allowed to announce the game even though he doesn't know shit about it. NBC Sports doesn't have Gus Johnson. More important, NBC Sports doesn't have anyone like Gus Johnson.
It's obvious to most soccer fans what a good network would have. We want to see all the games. They come on early on the weekends, and we're still drunk from last night, so we want to be able to grab our laptop and watch the 7:45 kickoff without having to walk to the TV. We don't want them announced by know-nothings. We want that shit to be free. Unlike football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, which start and stop and jerk their way through games, soccer is free-flowing and nonstop, so a ticker at the bottom throughout the game seems to us to be a distracting, dumb fucking thing to have. NBC Sports so far has shown every single game on TV and online, and so far they've been ticker-less.
But NBC Sports' biggest revelation came last week. Spurs kicked off against Swansea last week at the same time Manchester City took on Premier League debutantes Cardiff City. Spurs squeaked past Swansea, but at the same time, Cardiff were beating City. When the Spurs match went off, you know what NBC did? They switched us over to the City game. I mean, holy shit.
NBC Sports isn't blowing anyone away, but they're using common sense. They've got good, accessible coverage, and knowledgeable commentators. They could turn up the audio so fans can experience the songs sung throughout the stadium every weekend, and even better, the constant communication that goes on between the players. But everyone could do that. NBC Sports is revolutionizing American coverage in that they're not really trying to revolutionize anything. They're just throwing the game on and getting out of the way.
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