When NBC Sports announced its new $50 Premier League Pass yesterday, it was easy for soccer fans in the US to get excited about the ability to watch without a cable subscription. However, upon close inspection, the new broadcast structure for England's top league may be worse than limiting a full slate of games to those who have a plan with Comcast, Time Warner or other providers. Allow me to explain.
If you want the comprehensive slate of matches that has been available through the NBC Sports apps in the past, you'll have to pay for both the new subscription and a cable plan. The NBC Sports Gold Premier League Pass will give subscribers access to 130 games during the season for $50. The Premier League schedule has a lot more games than that, so where are the others? NBC says "up to 250 games" will be available to cable customers that air on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC -- the three networks that typically show the top matchups each weekend in the US. In other words, NBC Sports is dividing its coverage between people who are willing to pay for cable and those who aren't.
NBC Sports confirmed to Engadget that the only time Pass subscribers will be able to stream games broadcast on NBC networks will be after the fact as archived replays of "most matches."
Now, $50 for an entire season isn't that big of an investment. But you're getting a limited number of games and matchups that may not be super compelling unless you're a die-hard fan of a mediocre top-tier English club. Even then, when the likes of Swansea City face top-of-the-table sides like Chelsea, a cable subscription may be your only way to watch. And the same applies for fans of good clubs taking on terrible teams -- Manchester City fans may need this new subscription when they're playing a team at the bottom of the table. NBC will most likely continue to air the week's best matches on its broadcast networks.
Basically NBC is screwing both cord cutters and cable subscribers.
Sure, the Premier League continues to gain popularity in the US and NBC is likely wrestling with a way to cash in on those Extra Time games. But this is a terrible solution for both casual and die-hard soccer fans. Just charge us $100 (or slightly more) per season and give us access to every game without demanding that we have a cable plan to see the best matchups. Or heck, give us the option to watch our favorite team for $75 per year -- similar to what MLB.tv offers. Hey, it seems to be working OK for MLB, NBA, NHL and the NFL.