NBCSports just told me I gotta pay an extra $50 to watch Arsenal

NBC Sports announced that starting next season they are forcing football fans in the USA to pay an extra $50 if they want to watch all of their team’s matches.

What NBC is doing is exactly what anyone with any foresight expected them to do. Once they won the TV rights for the Premier League in the USA and built up some quality content, which wasn’t difficult since the previous presenters were Fox Sports and literally a fifteen minute shot of a shoe is more informative and interesting than anything Fox Sports has presented in the last 10 years, they are now going to cash in on that product by offering an NFL-like “Season Pass” via their NBC Sports Gold service.

The season pass is relatively cheap, just $50 and if it covered every game would be worth it. I’d probably pay $250 a year for every EPL match. But what they are doing instead is playing 250 matches on their cable and broadcast services, shutting off their free streaming service, and moving those 130 matches to this new pay service.

They have worded their package in such a way that it makes it sound like this is a benefit and for some of the clubs who probably wouldn’t make it on TV every weekend, I guess it is. Though, let’s be fair here, did any Sunderland fan actually want to watch every Sunderland match?

If you have cable and you buy this service, you will now be able to watch every one of the Premier League’s 380 matches. But for the average viewer of the Premier League, someone who follows one of the big clubs, NBC is forcing you to buy this service if you want to watch every game. They are putting at least three matches from every club exclusively on this new service. If you don’t pay the $50, you won’t be allowed to watch those matches. That’s how I read their announcement.

The overflow matches included in the NBC Sports Gold package were previously part of the linear Extra Time packages available through some video providers as well as on NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Included with these 130 games are replays, which is good, and a bunch of content that I don’t care about. Those guys dressed like prefects from Harry Potter, set in an Applebees phone booth, who make honking noises while joking about Arsene Wenger’s zipper are not really a draw. Neither are those goofy “behind the badge” reality shows where some ageing dugong holds up three empty envelopes and gives motivational speeches to 18 year old millionaires.

I probably shouldn’t complain too hard. Despite the fact that they sometimes have human carbuncle (and chief Sports Writer for the Sun, which is redundant) Neil Ashton on, NBC has done a fantastic job presenting Premier League matches and are a welcome relief from the astonishingly bad Fox Soccer. I sat through, what, 10 years of Fox Soccer? It feels like 10 years anyway.

The last time I tuned into a Fox Soccer half-time show for a Champions League match I swear I saw Eric Wynalda and Warren Barton. Which is like listening to two glasses of water have a conversation about physics. Most recently Fox Soccer has a show where Alexi Lalas is allowed to talk and they have him sitting next to Fernando Fiore (El Presidente) who is doing his very best to clown up the show. That program also has former Arsenal striker Ian Wright (every time they mention his name it’s “Arsenal legend Ian Wright” like he changed his name to “Arsenal Legend Ian Wright”) on it and incredibly, he’s the voice of reason. While Lalas is gagging on his tongue and El Presidente is putting on his clown shoes, Ian Wright is making sensible commentary on the match we just watched. Needless to say, any level of professionalism is a huge step up. NBC Sports did that.

I also shouldn’t complain because unlike in England, I get to watch nearly every single Arsenal match. I believe England still has blackouts on broadcasts of their 3pm kickoffs. No matches are legally allowed to be broadcast at 3pm in the UK. None. Some viewers manage to get around this blackout with dodgy streams and through grey market broadcasts from other countries but the point is that they don’t have 100% access to all matches the way that we do here in the USA.

Another thing I shouldn’t complain about is the fact that Arsenal finished fifth last season and will probably have a lot of their matches relegated to this new service this year. Top four teams, the big teams, will all get top billing at the start of the season and unless Arsenal do something incredible, like make a title run, the majority of the broadcast air time will go to Spurs, Chelsea, Man U, Liverpool, and Man City. So, I think of this new $50 service as a “fifth place tax” that  I will have to pay if I want to continue to watch every Arsenal match.

Some places are billing this change as a chance to “cut cords” with your cable company. Unless you’re a casual fan of the League, don’t follow a specific club, or don’t really care to watch every match, this is an additional $50 fee on top of my already ridiculous cable bill — a bill I only have because I want to watch football.

Hey, look, I’m old enough to remember when we had to get up off the couch and change channels by twisting a knob and then had to get the channel clear by twiddling some antennae on top of the TV. So, being able to watch a soccer match live from halfway across the globe on my phone is a miracle. I guess what I’m complaining about is the fact that I had it basically perfect, NBC Sports did a perfect job of presenting the English Premier League. And now I have to pay an extra $50.

This change really shouldn’t be a surprise. With the amount of money it costs NBC to buy these games and with the huge popularity of the sport in the USA, it was only a matter of time before they realized they could cash in. My only request is that we find a way to parlay this into a service that shows every single match so that I can finally get rid of my cable service. Though, I seriously doubt they care about offering me that.

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