When I visited NBC's International Broadcast Center in August for a look at the launch of their Barclays Premier League coverage, a side conversation lingered throughout the day about the effect it would have on the network's coverage of MLS. It seemed to be the consensus that NBC wanted to use the EPL as a springboard to a wider MLS audience, but they were getting some resistance from certain teams, as playing at those times (the Premier League is done for the day by 2:30 p.m. ET most Saturday) might affect their gate receipts.
Just six weeks after that day, NBC has already found itself a game to explicitly use in that situation. Initially, the Seattle Sounders' battle with FC Dallas was slated for and NBCSN broadcast at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 19. However, as a spokesman for NBC Sports confirmed to me earlier in the week, the game has now been moved to 2:30 p.m. ET and moved over to NBC.
Why, you ask? Well, NBC has one of its Saturday EPL matchups at 12:30 p.m. ET, between West Ham United and Manchester City. The network will use the game, featuring the extremely popular Man City side, to try and get viewers to stick around. It's probably the right game to do it around, given the Sounders are the league's most popular team, and Clint Dempsey probably its biggest star.
I know ESPN has tried to do European football leading in to MLS once and a while in the past, but giving the league a prime showcase following one of the higher profile clubs in the Premier League on broadcast television seems like a significant moment for the league.
I'd argue that this is the worst possible thing for MLS. By putting an MLS game immediately following a BPL match, the significant drop in the quality of play on the field is going to be staggeringly awful. Quite honestly, it'll be like a TV network showing an NFL game and following it up with a high school contest.
I'm as big of a soccer fan as you'll find, watching games at all levels - international all the way down to youth games - and the dropoff between MLS and BPL is going to scare networks and viewers away. Don't get me wrong, someone's going to overpay for MLS, simply because there's just not enough inventory to go around, but it's going to be a substantial loss.
I will say, NBC's much more open about putting association football on network television than the other three networks.
I just did a major extensive handicapping of the MLS rights. Don't mean to troll but if you want to see it, here's the link http://jmanmediazone.blogspot.com/2013/10/handicapping-mls-rights.html