As part of NBC’s Peacock rollout this week, three games from the English Premier League were moved from linear TV to the new streaming service. None of the matches — Burnley vs. Wolverhampton, Manchester City vs. Bournemouth and Newcastle vs. Tottenham — were particularly thrilling. However, the use of EPL games to draw in Peacock users could be a smart strategy for both sides of that business arrangement.
Peacock being a free service (at the baseline) means fans that otherwise may have been shut out from watching many NBC-owned soccer games on NBC Sports Network were now able to watch — all for the price of a couple minutes of downloading the new app on a supported device. For those already watching the EPL (and many are given the fact that it’s one of the few team sports available for fans to tune into right now), it’s an easy way to boost early subscriptions.
The question beyond this initial foray, however, is whether or not it’s enough to drive paid subscriptions in the future.
Because the free ride ends for most on Premier League content pretty immediately. Next season (which starts by late August/early September given the schedule adjustments around COVID-19), 175 games that would’ve previously appeared on NBC Sports Gold will air on Peacock Premium instead. “Premium” (with ads) is free for Comcast subscribers, or $4.99 per month for everyone else, though there are a variety of annual deals in place right now as well.
Again, for the EPL fan, they were potentially already paying for NBC Sports Gold, so paying around the same (or less) to get Peacock Premium AND receive access to other content beyond just the streaming-only soccer games is a win. But it’s also not new money into NBCUniversal’s coffers. The question is now whether or not a passing interest in the Premier League is enough to attract users that otherwise may not have considered the Premium option.
Personally, I think it won’t be. Soccer’s already a tough sell to the uninitiated in the U.S. outside of the World Cup, and the promise of that or golf and extra Olympic programming isn’t likely to draw a crowd that wasn’t already paying for NBC Sports Gold. While there will be plenty of live sports on Peacock Premium, that list also won’t include key properties like Notre Dame football, the NFL or NHL — the sort of things that are more likely to drive paid subscriptions.
Just guessing here, but the large majority of Premium subscribers seem likely to join because of the other, non-sports content they get instead. There’s literally twice the amount on-demand programming with premium, with full seasons of shows, plus movies, classic shows, news, windowed content, movies and early access to late night programs. That’s the draw. Premier League just gets to be a cherry on top.
That cherry, however, could be greatly beneficial to the EPL as part of its NBC deal.
To-date, a lot of Premier League games on TV air on NBC Sports Network — a channel that not every linear TV viewer has, and cord-cutters are even less likely to have access to. If you want to watch all of your club’s games (or just as many games as possible in a given week), you’ve previously needed NBC Sports Gold, an app with limited use aside from access to a wider array of sports content. This inherently creates a smaller, niche audience and subscription base.
In this new world with Peacock Premium, though, you’ve already given free access to the Premier League (and all of its games) to every Comcast subscriber, and are now offering far more benefits for those that want to proactively pay for more games.
Part of what’s made the NFL so popular over the years is that it’s nationally available on channels everyone has. The same has been true of Notre Dame’s place in college football, possessing a prime spot on NBC for six or seven Saturdays every fall and potentially putting the Fighting Irish in every living room in the U.S. — whether they’re Catholic or not, or regardless of whether they’re even a Notre Dame fan.
There are challenges for the EPL, of course — namely that since it’s a foreign league, there aren’t the same regional and city-based rooting interests you’d find in American sports. It’s not easy for fans to just glom onto a team and start actively investing in the way it may be for American fans to do so with Major League Soccer, which at least hosts its clubs in cities the audience knows and/or lives in.
Still, this move ultimately seems to make the Premier League a more widely-distributed property in the U.S. — and as a result, one that’s grabbing more audience and advertiser attention in the process, too. That doesn’t mean it will be competing with the NFL or any of the other major North American sports leagues (or top colleges ports) for eyeballs. It does mean that there are more opportunities for that to occur down the road, however.
That march will need quicker adoption, though, and perhaps more people seeing Peacock as a replacement for linear TV. NBCU projects 30-35 million U.S. users on Peacock by 2024, which isn’t a huge number given the timeframe, and would not ultimately make much of a dent in the EPL’s popularity stateside. There’s international growth potential, of course, but there’s already an appetite for these games in most non-U.S. countries.
It may be awhile before we see exactly what benefit’s been created here for the Premier League. But from a fan of the league’s perspective, it’s at least exciting to see a new opportunity to grow viewership here in the U.S.