Five Year Broadcast Deal Announced For Irish League Football

Remember them? If you’re old enough to enjoy a pub quiz then you most likely know well that they forged out pretty notable Premier League playing careers in the 1990s at Wimbledon and Middlesbrough respectively.

Admittedly they did so when the focus was on the more successful teams winning titles but the expansion of access to live games over the course of that fondly recalled decade will probably ensure their names ring a bell in Ireland.

Mustoe played in three Wembley finals as part of an exciting and, for the era, relatively expensive Boro team while Earle will forever be the first Jamaican international to score at a World Cup, doing so with a well-placed header that drew the Reggae Boyz level against a brilliant 1998 Croatia side whose 3-1 victory set the table for an unforgettable third place finish.

So where are they now? Earle and Mustoe have created a highly successful second act as football pundits in the US. And they have done so as part of the meteoric rise of the league across the 50 states and DC.

They both transferred across from ESPN’s football coverage to NBC when the latter took over the Premier League deal from Fox in 2013. Fox had begun the process of moving the league to the mainstream from what had been a niche viewing experience if you happened to have the package and the patience. And NBC’s production values across their platforms have more than done justice to the trajectory.

Earle graciously agreed to be a guest of honour for the aforementioned ASNY event and he invited along his work colleague and fellow ex-pro as well as his family and other friends and associates.

Both Robbies had also agreed to this novelty auction item of a day of golf, lunch, and football talk and they took to the stage to help boost the interest further, prompted to do so by the hosts, Alexis Guerreros and Christian Polanco, a football-themed comedy duo who have built up their popularity as TV hosts and podcasters under their professional moniker, The Soccer Cooligans.

Earlier that day, NBC confirmed publicly that they had renewed their deal with the Premier League in a new six-year agreement worth roughly €2.3bn. It was a good and expected corporate decision but also a tacit acknowledgement of the popularity of the people who are the faces of their coverage, fronted by Rebecca Lowe and also starring Earle, Mustoe, Tim Howard for a bit of native flavour, as well as Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux in the commentary booths.

Earle was also an ideal person to invite as a guest of honour for a soccer event themed around racial equity and social justice given his powerful reaction on live TV in June of last year to the “All Lives Matter” banner which was flown over Burnley’s Turf Moor by racists with too much time and money on their hands. That sad day he spoke emotionally about the realities of being a black man in America and urged his fellow hosts and analysts to lean into the difficult conversations.

The announcement of the extended deal ensured the pair were in celebratory mood last Thursday and the bids kept rising until ultimately, the super fan of the Two Robbies secured herself a golfing excursion with them at a New Jersey country club. As it transpired, the bidder and one of the Robbies wasn’t even a golfer but it mattered little, such is the popularity of the duo.

NBC is the second-largest TV network in the US, based on the all-important average viewership figures and, of course, advertising revenue. When it comes to broadcasting live sport, they punch well when they choose to.

Most prominent, they own the rights to what is perennially and untouchably the highest-rated television show in the nation; Sunday Night Football. Every Sunday, the juggernaut of the NFL gathers steam during the early and late afternoon slots owned by rivals CBS and Fox who air AFC and NFC games before everyone tunes into what is, in theory, the most anticipated match-up of the week that evening on NBC.

The network also jealously guards the rights to the Summer and Winter Olympics and manages to capture the imagination of the viewing public evenly across most of the events with gymnastics and figure skating enjoying the broadest appeal over the past couple of decades.

If you’re looking for a straightforward metric of how bullish NBC execs are about the potential for further growth in the popularity of the Premier League in America, then consider their need to stave off the competition by more than doubling the previous $1bm price tag for six years of exclusive rights.

US-based football fans will have access to all 380 matches each season and, such is the time difference, that you can still have a regular social or family life not involving the television in the afternoons and evenings. The potential for growth is evident too — matches are averaging 609,000 viewers this season which, believe it or not, is the highest average to this point since the 2015-16 season and is a 14% jump up from last year.

NBC accidentally chose a memorable season to begin airing the league games in 2013. That was Man City’s victorious season which culminated in Steven Gerrard slipping at Anfield, allowing Chelsea’s Demba Ba to begin the destruction of Liverpool’s title hopes. It was also the year that Ryan Giggs temporarily succeeded David Moyes at Old Trafford and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Cardiff City were relegated. Impactful on a whole other level was Jason Sudekis’s jovial soccer coach character Ted Lasso appearing on screen for the first time as part of NBC’s early marketing push. Lasso took over Spurs for six hours as an out-of-his-depth American football coach which helped the newly minted Premier League partners poke fun at themselves.

In other words, their first foray was as loaded up with plotlines as a shot-calling executive could have hoped for.

The narrative arc for the subsequent seasons has included title wins for Leicester and Liverpool and the revolutionising reigns of Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp so it was a no-brainer to keep it going at all costs through to the 2027-28 season.

They beat out challenges from ESPN and CBS who reportedly made a joint bid, while Fox, Amazon and WarnerMedia were also in the reckoning.

The rest of Europe’s five larger leagues are spread across different outlets for American viewers; ESPN has the rights to the Bundesliga and La Liga, CBS does well with the pretty popular Serie A and beIN Sports is patiently waiting for Ligue 1 to grow off the backs of the PSG signings.

CBS also recently went all in for the rights to the Champions League and they have been providing some very impressive coverage at the far less marketable hours of mid-afternoon Tuesday and Wednesday.

Making the league even more attractive to NBC executives are the deepening ties between this country and the league. There are, of course, a few US internationals including Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and Manchester City’s Zack Steffen while Norwich City’s Josh Sargent is also in the mix as the US prepares to build a squad that can reach its exciting potential by the time they share hosting duties of the World Cup in 2026. Less people-pleasing but more significant are the US-based ownerships at a number of clubs, including Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Aston Villa.

When the deal was announced, NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua applauded the “tremendous partnership that has been established with the leadership and club owners of the Premier League” which ties into one other key element —the pleasant surprise in the UK at the depth of the commitment shown by NBC when it comes to presenting the league to America.

Gone are the days of talking down to viewers who have adopted their clubs in some sort of countercultural abandonment of the big four leagues in the US. And it will be interesting to see how comprehensive that return on investment will be by the time the World Cup returns here in 2026.

- @JohnWRiordan

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