When Chelsea nabbed American soccer star Christian Pulisic for $73 million earlier this year, Jon Miller, NBC’s head of sports programming, felt like he’d struck gold.
“It’s one of those things that you hope will happen but never believe it will because you don’t want to be disappointed,” Miller said. “Everybody was pretty excited.
Eight months later, on the eve of the English Premier League season, NBC is feeling good about the three seasons left on its six-year, $1 billion deal for US broadcast rights.
Miller likened the 20-year-old Pulisic’s arrival to the boost of a generational talent like LeBron James.
“Any time you get a superstar of his calibre coming into the No. 1 league in the world, it can only be a bonus,” he said. “Chelsea already has a significant following in the US, but I think this brings a lot of casual soccer fans, who recognise what a star he is, to the table.”
NBC has data to back that up. At a fan festival in Boston earlier this year, NBC asked Premier League fans to name the one player — from a team they don’t support — that they’re most looking forward to watching. A fourth said Pulisic, more than double the next-closest player (Tottenham’s Harry Kane, at 12 per cent).
The boost was also evident for Fox Sports last year, when Pulisic played for the German club Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund’s games delivered a 28 per cent larger audience than the Bundesliga average in the US, according to Fox. If you factor out Bayern Munich, Germany’s most-popular and most-successful team, Dortmund games delivered a 56 per cent larger audience in the US.
NBC, which is owned by Comcast, sells its Premier League ads as an upfront, season-long package, meaning there’s no instant ad-revenue boost from the attention surrounding Pulisic. That said, the network should benefit if the coverage overdelivers.
Miller said Pulisic’s popularity might also help grow NBC Sports Gold, the subscription service for a lot of the company’s digital content. The network’s Premier League pass, which has exclusive rights to at least four games from every team, costs $64.99 for the full season.
Chelsea paid a reported $73 million to sign Pulisic, the most ever for a US player. He is expected to make his Premier League debut on Sunday at 11.30 am. New York time against Manchester United on NBCSN.