It’s been a big week for NBC Sports and the English Premier League.
On Monday, NBC announced a landmark 6-year extension of the U.S. broadcast rights to arguably the world’s most popular sports league. Reports cite NBC’s investment as high as potentially $1billion. A big bet for sure; but the broadcaster has consistently demonstrated belief in the EPL product since acquiring the rights two years ago.
From talent selection and high quality production values; to extensive shoulder programming and creative promotional support, NBC has masterfully turned Saturday and Sunday mornings into appointment viewing occasions for soccer fans in the U.S. Viewership for EPL matches last season averaged 479,000.
NBC, however, is not alone in the desire to drive interest in the EPL. Several other entities also recognize the opportunity to leverage the growing appeal in the U.S.
Premier League Clubs
Global brand development is now a fundamental business objective for almost every Premier League Club and the U.S. has been tagged a priority market. The fact that five clubs (Liverpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Arsenal, and Sunderland) have American ownership is certainly a factor – but every Club recognizes the growth of soccer in the States and wants to be part of the action.
Individual EPL Clubs are engaged in various brand-building activities. In the last two years ten (10) Clubs have played summer exhibition matches in the States. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal have also doubled down on specific youth soccer alliances. Manchester United has leveraged their mega brand status to stage special EPL viewing events.
The existence of an organized supporter culture provides yet another compelling platform for EPL Clubs. Most Clubs have taken steps to harness this movement and create exclusive membership experiences, custom digital content and social engagement. Everton, for example, just reinvigorated their U.S. specific digital platform and hosted special events with Tim Howard. Developing a strong digital presence provides the Club with a direct connection to its fans and a wealth of data that drives monetization when talking to corporate partners.
Manchester City, of course, has made its intentions most obvious by assuming a controlling interest in New York City FC in MLS.
Social Media Channels
Live sports fuels social conversation and globally there is no bigger sports league than the EPL. We’ve often said that social and soccer is a marriage made in heaven and networks like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Reddit are continually developing news ways to embrace the soccer conversation – particularly the EPL.
To help kick off the new EPL season Twitter launched hashtag emojis for each Club and the League itself. According to Nielsen, three EPL matches this weekend featured in the top 7 most socially discussed sports events of the week in the U.S.
Twitter has also become the go to platform for individual players looking to build their personal brands. 63% of all Premier League players now hold verified accounts. Wayne Rooney leads the way with 11.7 million followers. Mesut Ozil (9.8M), Sergio Aguero (8.9M), Radamel Falcao (8.9M), and Cesc Fabregas (7.9M) round out the top five. Players and Clubs alike recognize the value of growing their profile with U.S. based fans and will only further deepen their level of engagement in the future.
The Premier League is now more accessible to U.S. based fans than ever before. Every game is available to watch courtesy of NBC, and the opportunity to consume digital and social content is not restricted by geographic boundaries. Every weekend I engage with the same West Ham fans on Twitter as my friends in London do.
EPL Clubs and corporate brands appreciate that sponsorship value is driven by the existence of large, highly connected, and accessible fan base. There is no question that the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea have become highly relevant brands to many soccer fans in America.
Nike and adidas have activated their high profile EPL Team partnerships in the U.S. but so have non-endemic brands like Carlsberg, Chevrolet, Barclays, Dunkin Donuts, and EA Sports. For opening weekend, UBER partnered with NBC to deliver full English breakfasts early in the morning to fans as a way to introduce their UBEReats food delivery service. As the EPL grows we fully expect to see more brands developing U.S. specific marketing activations.
One other major force that will likely come into play in the near future is gambling. English soccer and betting have been intertwined for decades. The impact of fantasy on NFL interest is also widely appreciated. As different forms of gambling and fantasy evolve in the U.S. its likely the EPL will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
A Powerful Collective Force
The collective impact of these forces will surely drive stateside interest in the EPL for several years to come. While NBC’s new investment is significant, they make their commitment in the knowledge that there are several other forces at play driving towards the same goal.
Early results from EPL opening weekend are certainly trending in the right direction. NBC Sports’ viewership was up 43% from last years record setting opening day. Chatter around EPL also led to an increase of 637% in Google searches for Premier League in the U.S. during the past week.