In their first season covering the league, NBC Sports Network aired 160 Premier League games, with another few dozen games being shown on other NBC channels. Of the NBCSN games, the Premier League averaged 395,000 viewers per game. This is a massive increase over last season when games were on ESPN/2 and Fox Soccer. The Premier League averaged just 220,000 viewers per game in 2012-13, with similar viewership in 2011-12. For comparison, Major League Soccer’s first seven games on NBCSN this season have averaged 216,000 viewers. About half of these matches have had the benefit of being preceded by Premier League coverage.
The most watched game of the season on NBCSN was Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Manchester United on January 19th, which drew 1,019,000 viewers. Those two clubs were also the most watched over the course of the season. Chelsea’s 27 matches on NBCSN drew an average audience of 490,000 viewers; United’s 28 NBCSN matches (the most of any team in the league) were watched by an average audience of 488,000. Four other clubs had more than 20 matches shown on NBCSN: Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur. Of those, Spurs, who played a large amount of games early on Sundays due to their Europa League presence, were the only club whose viewership was below the league average.
Perhaps tellingly, the most watched game on NBC featured none of the big clubs. The Swansea-Cardiff derby on February 8th was watched by 1.2 million viewers. If you’re wondering why, the answer is simple: that was the first Saturday of the Winter Olympics. NBC aired 20 Premier League matches over the course of the season, averaging 782,000 viewers per game.
The question becomes: where can NBC go from here? Their coverage of the Premier League has been universally praised, and viewers have clearly responded. What does NBC do in the remaining two years of its contract to maintain or even improve on this? The answer may be out of their control. This year’s World Cup, though it will be aired by ESPN, may be the best boost they can hope for. With games being played at reasonable hours in Brazil, it promises to be the most-watched tournament in US history, and NBC can hope that some new viewers come across the Premier League. To a smaller extent, next year’s Women’s World Cup, being played in Canada and aired on Fox, might also help.
The biggest battle for NBC will come next fall, when the Premier League’s rights are up for grabs once more. The network has done great work in elevating the league’s presence; it would be a shame to see that taken away by ESPN or Fox.