It came about a week earlier than it usually does, but it’s finally here, as Friday marked the opening night of the 2022-23 Premier League season, a change in the calendar necessitated by this fall’s FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar.
As an American, just as Major League Soccer is exciting, the Premier League has high energy and high drama in its own right, and with the World Cup coming in midseason for the European football calendar, imagine being able to click on your television set or streaming device of choice on a Saturday morning or a weekday afternoon and watching world-class action week in and week out.
Watching the Premier League, or any other first-tier European football competition, such as the UEFA Champions League, allows you, the viewer to be able to do just that every week, but the decision is yours.
Premier League Fandom Differs Depending Upon Where You Are
There’s an old adage in the world of real estate when it comes to buying a new house: “Location, location, location.” This also applies to whether or not there’s a sizable contingency of fans of the Premier League in your area of residence. While this is not a problem in some American communities, in other areas of the country, it’s something that’s easier said than done.
The Premier League website posted a series of articles last season regarding supporters from the United States. One such article published just two days before this past year’s Super Bowl in February concerned a Cincinnati woman and her family’s bond forged by watching Everton FC and the NFL‘s Cincinnati Bengals, becoming a fan of the Premier League side due to former goalkeeper and current NBC Sports studio analyst Tim Howard.
“It’s definitely been a journey being a Bengals and Everton fan,” she said in the story. “I loved Tim Howard and I started watching the Toffees because of him. Still, as we say in our @EvertoninUSA community, you don’t choose the club, the club chooses you. It’s grown into an obsession ever since.”
Again, Location Matters
At the same time, however, even though the Premier League has a notable fan base in major US cities, with the league being the most popular among the top-flight European organizations, according to a 2019 survey from Morning Consult taken just prior to the start of that year’s Premier League campaign (52 percent of those polled responded that the Premier League was their European league of choice,) it’s all about where you live.
In some parts of the United States of America, the sport isn’t as popular as it is in other cities. As someone who lives (at most) five miles away from the Ohio/Pennsylvania state line, when the locals say the word “football,” they’re not using the term to reference corner kicks, goals, and The Beautiful Game.
Same Word, Different Meaning, Different Sport
Try to go to an area of the United States where the Premier League and European football aren’t as popular as American football and ask 10 people to name a club in the Premier League and/or a marquee player on a team.
Other than a canned response of Manchester United or Christian Eriksen, there may or may not be many variations in answers given in those areas, but if the same question is asked of 10 people in a major metropolitan city, the responses given could potentially vary among those polled.
Someone in Chicago might have a different response than someone in Pittsburgh, just as a person in Los Angeles may answer differently than a person in New York City.
One word to the wise before moving on: Try not to go to a bar on a Premier League Saturday in an area of the country where the league isn’t popular and ask the barkeep to turn on a match. Instead of eating the steak and eggs, you ordered for breakfast, you’d wear them.
Demographics Play A Role
Just as location plays a part in whether or not there’s a large swath of Premier League fans, demographics are also crucial to the popularity of the league in America. Statistics showed in 2019 that 72 percent of male adults who partook in the Morning Consult survey indicated that the Premier League was their top flight association of choice, compared to less than 60 percent for the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined as of 2019.
Only 28 percent of women polled identified as Premier League fans at that time, with north of 40 percent being fans of the NFL, NBA, and MLB. All told, over 6,000 adults who live in the United States were surveyed for the poll.
NBC’s Exclusive US Premier League Deal Important to Popularity
One aspect regarding the increase in popularity of the Premier League in the United States in recent years is the fact that every one of the 380 matches in this and every season is and will be accessible through the platforms of NBCUniversal.
Friday’s opening match also signalled the start of NBC Sports’ 10th anniversary season as the exclusive United States rightsholder of Premier League contests and associated shoulder programming. Initially, NBCUniversal’s Premier League deal ran between 2013 and 2015, before the parties agreed to six additional seasons.
Last season, with the United States broadcast rights up for bids, NBC and the Premier League came to terms on a new six-year deal, keeping the matches in NBC’s portfolio through the spring of 2028.
For the US-based fans, NBC is a match made in heaven, as they know that if it’s a Premier League Saturday morning (most of the time), they can wake up and turn on USA Network to see Rebecca Lowe in the Stamford, CT studio as she and her colleagues at the desk appear throughout the day to guide viewers through seven hours of action.
Familiarity is key, and the fact that NBC’s studio crew is consistently on-target helps the Premier League become more recognizable in American homes every weekend.
Final Thoughts on The Fans
At the core, the Premier League has some of the best fans of any sports league, country or continent notwithstanding. Ever since NBC acquired the rights to the league almost 10 years ago, the fans in America have embraced it like it’s one of their own.
Throughout the United States, regardless of team, groups of fans will congregate on a Saturday or a Sunday morning at a local watering hole to root on their club of choice from afar. Quite simply, the fans deserve a huge round of applause, as they’ve shown that they’re dedicated and devoted to the sport and to the club.
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