NBC Sports Kicks Off Premier League Season With Major Onsite Production Effort
In a first for the start of the season, all NBC programming will come from stadiums across England
For the first time in the history of English football’s top flight, the Premier League will kick off its campaign on a Friday evening, when Leicester City visits Arsenal (airing live on NBCSN, 2:45 p.m. ET) at the Emirates Stadium in North London. And, for the first time in the five-year history of NBC Sports’ U.S. coverage of the world’s most popular domestic soccer league, the broadcaster’s U.S.-based production team will be onsite in the UK for wall-to-wall coverage throughout the weekend.
“We wanted to make sure that we launch the season with momentum and create awareness about the Premier League and, ultimately, raise our coverage to even higher levels,” says Pierre Moossa, coordinating producer for NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League. “That enthusiasm and energy has translated, and we’re really excited about starting the season up this coming weekend.”
From three locations in three days — Emirates on Friday, American Express Community Stadium (home of newly promoted Brighton & Hove Albion) on Saturday, and Old Trafford (the legendary stadium for Manchester United) on Sunday — the NBC team will be serving up onsite studio coverage for prematch, halftime, and postgame shows, in addition to pitch-side locations placing commentators just feet off the playing field.
Moossa and NBC’s Premier League team felt that the time was right to kick off a season with a bang, much as NBC might do for the start of an NFL season in the U.S.
“We wanted to make the opening weekend into an event,” says Moossa. “As we reviewed things we could do, we kind of thought to ourselves, Why haven’t we done that? Why haven’t we done this? It was kind of a ‘duh’ moment. That was really the genesis of it.”
This weekend’s productions will be a bit of a hybrid effort, with onsite production and operations talent hopping between the three venues and working in collaboration with the team across the ocean at NBC Sports Group’s broadcast center in Stamford, CT. Also traveling to the three sites will be a full production truck, out of which the onsite production team will cut and switch the show. The feed will be sent to Stamford, where the group’s typical control-room team will pump in graphics, highlights, and sound bites from around the league and finalize the show for transmission to viewers across the U.S.
The on-air talent at the desks will also be calling highlights off a return feed from Stamford to the UK. “As quirky as it sounds and as complicated as it sounds,” says Moossa, “the system works really well.”
Planning has played in NBC’s favor. Traditionally, the specifics of the Premier League schedule are released in three-week chunks, leaving limited time to plan and coordinate sites. Going onsite at the beginning of the season (NBC has been onsite in previous seasons, typically around April) gave the crew double the time to make plans.
“Ultimately, the purpose of this is not to be a gimmick,” Moossa explains, “but to improve and enhance the experience. Fortunately, through Premier League Productions and through our research onsite, we’re able to do both.”
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Premier League season, it’s not lost on anyone at NBC Sports that this weekend is the beginning of a nine-month marathon. NBC Sports’ live-production efforts are aided by the league’s world-feed producer, Premier League Productions (PLP).
As the U.S. domestic-rights holder in both English and Spanish (NBC-owned Telemundo offers Spanish-language coverage in the States), NBC Sports receives 18 feeds from PLP on any given match day. They include a dirty and a clean feed, a high-up tactical camera capturing the entire field, a low–end-zone angle for tight shots of a scrum in the box, and a slew of slo-mo shots. PLP also has access to onsite EVS replay servers so that, when a goal happens, it fills one of its feeds with a steady stream of replays for its partner broadcasters to play back.
“There is no other sports league in the world that provides the amount of resources to the international broadcasters as the Premier League,” says Moossa. “It’s not even remotely close, and what’s so special about that is, it allows you to essentially customize your broadcast. We now have all the angles, and it’s a matter of choosing the most appropriate angle to make the point [we] want to make. It’s not about showing off everything we’ve got. It’s about making sure we cover the event properly.”