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Tuesday, August 14 Business

NBC Sports eyes growing English Premier League audience

Dozens of stars of the World Cup will return this weekend to their day jobs in England, and a Stamford-based broadcaster will chronicle their exploits in their club teams’ colors.

The English Premier League’s 2018-19 season kicks off Friday with a matchup between last season’s runner-up, Manchester United, and 2016 champion Leicester City. Entering their sixth season carrying the league’s matches, NBC Sports Group officials said they want to capitalize on the interest in the World Cup and soccer’s growing stateside popularity to increase their audience and improve their programming.

“The World Cup has introduced a lot of people to a lot of stars in the league,” Pierre Moossa, NBC Sports’ Premier League coordinating producer, said in an interview. “The fan base in the U.S. is very intelligent, and they have very high expectations for the broadcast. It’s our job to deliver for them. Every year, we look to improve all aspects of our coverage and production.”

Comprehensive coverage

American viewers will have plenty of opportunities to watch the Premier League players who represented their countries during the World Cup in Russia: NBC Sports plans to carry every game of the first two months of the season.

Last season’s NBC Sports broadcast lineup will team up again for the new campaign. Rebecca Lowe anchors the shows, while former Premier League players Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe and former U.S. international and Major League Soccer player Kyle Martino serve as analysts.

For the second straight year, the announcing team will work on location during the opening weekend, with coverage from the stadiums of Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and London-based Arsenal.

“We have a wonderful professional relationship where we all bring up the level of each other and support each other and push each other to be the best analysts we can be,” Westport native Martino said in an interview last year. “Those are some of my best friends.”

In Stamford, approximately 60 work on each match day at NBC Sports’ headquarters at 1 Blachley Road on the city’s East Side.

NBC Sports is not planning any sweeping changes to its coverage this season, but Moossa said the organization wants to better tailor the programming to the American audience.

“We’ve done a lot of focus groups to evaluate the viewer experience in the U.S., and one of the biggest areas was that they missed a feeling of communal viewing,” Moossa said. “The time difference between here and England doesn’t automatically lend itself to that communal viewing experience. But we want to be inclusive and welcoming and celebrate the American Premier League season viewing experience.”

In a related move, NBC Sports hosted last November in lower Manhattan its first Premier League fan festival, which drew a crowd of several hundred.

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Across southwestern Connecticut, many restaurants and bars carry the games. Tigin Irish Pub, at 175 Bedford St., in downtown Stamford, uses Apple TV to show all the matches on NBC Sports’ NBCSN cable channel and subscription-based Gold digital service.

“We’ve always had lots of fans from the big teams, but now we’re seeing more people who support the smaller teams,” said Tigin bar manager Meg Gruse. “And some of the casual fans who came in during the World Cup come back for the Premier League games. With the layout of the pub, and being able to show multiple games at the same time, we create an environment that embraces soccer culture.”

Growing the game

NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2017-18 season reached a record 39.3 million viewers, up 14 percent from the previous season, according to data-analytics firm Nielsen Co.

In the most-watched contest of last season, about 1.72 million across all platforms saw Manchester United’s 3-2 defeat of Manchester City on April 7.

On NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, a record 4 million unique viewers watched during the past season. They consumed 740 million live minutes, second-most all-time.

“We can’t think of it just as a broadcast; we also have to consider digital and social media coverage to make it the best experience for the audience,” Moossa said.

NBC Sports executives and sports-media experts see the Premier League’s relatively young viewership as a promising trend. Its 2016 median audience ran at 43 years old, compared with 57 for Major League Baseball, 50 for the NFL, 49 for the NHL and 42 for the NBA, according to a study commissioned by SportsBusiness Journal.

“Younger audiences are not following sports on traditional network TV anywhere near as much as they're following them on their cell phones,” said Daniel Durbin, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Sports, Media and Society. “Online, they follow global sports because they’re easily accessible, often free and easy to view on, say, a phone or tablet. … So, the young audience for the Premier League is growing exponentially, and there is no real screeching halt to this in sight.”

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; Twitter: @paulschott

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