Tuesday, August 8, 2017
DAN MASONSON: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today’s Premier League call. Joining us today are Premier League host Rebecca Lowe, our lead Premier League play-by-play voice, Arlo White, as well as our coordinating producer for Premier League coverage, Pierre Moossa. All three, as well as the rest of our crew, will be in the UK this weekend, which is our first opening weekend with the full studio show on location at the grounds and pitch-side over those three days, Friday through Sunday.
Friday we’re at the Emirates for the first Friday night opener in Premier League history. Saturday is the first ever Premier League match for Brighton. And then on Sunday, it’s up north to Manchester United’s Old Trafford.
We’ll take some opening remarks from each of the three, and then we’ll open it up to your questions. We’ll have a transcript later this afternoon on NBCsportsgrouppressbox.com. With that, I’ll turn it over to Pierre Moossa for opening comments.
PIERRE MOOSSA: Thank you for taking a couple of moments to speak with us today.
This is our fifth year of covering the Premier League, and there is such an excitement and enthusiasm amongst our entire team about the start of this season. Since last May when the season ended, we have been focusing on how we can improve and get better and what we can do to take our coverage to the next level. Our genesis of our mission statement was to grow the game, and to forge a lasting connection with the American viewers through an unwavering commitment to provide expansive and authentic coverage, and growing the game and authentic coverage are such key principles for our coverage.
When we started thinking about what we wanted to do, the first thing came to how can we better launch the season? That’s what the genesis was for this upcoming UK trip. We wanted to make sure that we launched the season with momentum and create awareness about the Premier League and ultimately raise our coverage to even higher levels.
That enthusiasm and energy has translated, and we’re really excited about starting the season up this coming weekend.
REBECCA LOWE: Hi, everyone. I echo everything Pierre said about the excitement levels. I think, if you work in soccer, the season is very, very long, but the summer also can seem very, very long. From talking to the guys back in Stamford, Connecticut, and also Robbie (Earle), Robbie (Mustoe), and Kyle (Martino), everyone is so ready to go and so excited about the season.
I think going to the UK for the opening weekend is unique, and it’s going to be special. The reason is, in football there is always hope at the beginning of every season. No matter who you support, no matter what happened last year, you think, ‘okay, this year is going to be our year.’ Whilst going over to the UK in April for the last three years has been great, but as we capture moments of the running and who’s going to win the league and who’s getting relegated, it was a dramatic scene.
This year we’re going to capture the essence of hope. That’s what I’m so looking forward to, to remember how on that first weekend, on that first game of the season, just before kickoff, everyone’s happy. There is no moaning fans on the whole — unless they’re an Arsenal fan, in which they’re probably still moaning. But on the whole, everyone is happy, everyone is hopeful, and there’s a real magic to that.
And I’m so excited to bring that to all of you this season. I absolutely cannot wait.
ARLO WHITE: Hello, everybody. Just to echo what Pierre has said, thanks for joining us and taking time out of your day today.
It is remarkable, as Pierre said, it being year five, it seems like five minutes ago that Pierre, Mark Lazarus, John Miller, and Richard Scudamore from the Premier League were announcing our first season and the partnership with the Premier League in 30 Rock in a press conference that we had there. So much has happened since, and it’s been an exciting journey.
I’m just as excited as the rest of the team are for year five. This team is incredible to work with. The analysts, the hosts are the best in the business, great people as well, fantastic to work with.
And in terms of the season, it should be terrific. The games, as you know, are fast and furious in the Premier League. We have top players, top managers, huge clubs, and some newcomers like Brighton and Huddersfield. It’s going to be fascinating to see how they get on.
On a personal level, after three months off, I’m fully refreshed and raring to go. It’s a fantastic start to welcome the team, the studio team over from the states, and to be on site for what should be three very, very interesting games. It’s a terrific broadcast, and we can’t wait to get started.
Q. I’d like to ask Pierre specifically why was the decision this season made to go to England the first weekend of the season rather than doing it in April, as you’ve done the last few seasons? Is it increased interest in the Premier League? Is it the availability of talent, availability of venues? What dictated this decision?
PIERRE MOOSSA: When we reevaluated the season, one of the things we thought about with April is, because of the way the fixtures are picked, you only can really plan three weeks in advance. That always makes it challenging for April. Knowing that we could do the first week of the season allowed us a lot more time to plan. That was probably one of the logistical factors.
Going back to the enthusiasm and excitement, it just felt like a celebration of the start of the season. When we cover all the major sports in the U.S., you always are kind of on the road for the start of the season, whether it’s NFL kickoff opener. And as we were sitting around reviewing things, we thought why shouldn’t we launch the season? Why shouldn’t we be over there for the opening weekend?
That goes along with Rebecca’s theme of hope and the celebration of it. We wanted to make the opening weekend into an event. As we reviewed things we could do, this was something that kind of popped up. All of this said, we kind of thought to ourselves, why haven’t we done that? Why haven’t we done this? It was kind of like a duh moment. That was really the genesis of it. Let’s celebrate the opening weekend and continue to do it, considering the fact in the past we’ve had only three weeks to plan. Now we can plan a proper six weeks and make it into a huge event.
Q. Yeah, thanks. One for Pierre and one for Rebecca. Pierre, last year’s viewership window was down 18 percent from the previous year. It’s obviously still up from the years when Fox and ESPN had it, but that’s a pretty precipitous drop. I wonder what you thought of that, and do you see that as some kind of one-year trend, or does it speak to something larger than that?
PIERRE MOOSSA: Let’s start off with kind of the basics there. There are obviously a lot of sports that were down. We did a lot of research and data research ourselves. Going from a production standpoint, we can only control what we can control, and what we control is putting on the best possible product. We wanted to make sure we focus on our coverage, but obviously, ratings are how you’re judged in this industry.
A couple of factors played into it. I think one of the biggest factors is we don’t control the fixtures. So we don’t control when matches are played. If you go back to last season, a lot of the major matches end up playing during the week when people in the U.S. are at work, or were played in different time windows, and getting into the nitty gritty, Sky and BT flipped their priorities and Sky was focusing on Friday night football versus Sundays at 11:00 a.m., which is our biggest window. So the TV schedule and the matchups kind of affected it, which we can’t control.
Ultimately, in an Olympic year, when the Olympics started and also moving forward, there was kind of a little bit of loss — the start of the season got a little bit lost in the Olympic momentum. So it was trying to gain back that momentum.
To answer your question in short, do I see it as a trend? I can’t predict the future, but what I can tell you is there’s a huge interest in the Premier League, and ultimately this UK trip as well as what we’re doing is going to eventually get some eyeballs. There’s other factors that play into it as well, but those are probably the two biggest factors.
Q. I appreciate your answer on that.
PIERRE MOOSSA: One more note for you while I’m looking — I’m just looking over my notes. Post-December 1st, the ratings were only down by 5 percent. So it was only a 20,000 difference.
The start of the season, I would say, didn’t have the momentum you wanted to, and obviously the fall was quite a busy fall in the world. So the spring and moving forward, had a much less of a drop-off and renewed interest.
Candidly, we haven’t had a big Manchester United club. We haven’t had a championship race that’s lasted the final days of the season. As all these guys will talk about, and especially Rebecca and Arlo talk about, it’s a very, very competitive top six.
I think with everything, the competition on the pitch dictates a lot of stuff, but what we can control is doing the best possible broadcast.
Q. Rebecca, one for you. You’ve now been with NBC for a couple of years. Obviously, in addition to your Premier League work, you’ve done the Olympics. Is there anything, as you look towards the future, that you would like to do beyond soccer and beyond the Olympics that you have not yet done at this company?
REBECCA LOWE: I’d like to have my own baking show. No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. You remember when I spoke to you all those months ago talking about that. They ridicule me in the office, which is so mean, because of Pierre — unfortunately, not Arlo, but maybe I’ll bring something over this week. As Pierre can attest, I have incredible baking skills.
PIERRE MOOSSA: We ask her not to poison the staff whenever possible.
REBECCA LOWE: Oh, gosh, not really something I’ve thought about to be honest. I have a fantastic job, you know, to do the Premier League in the way that we do it and the full comprehensive coverage in what I see as the best television team in the industry and also the best network I’ve worked for.
I am so focused, it doesn’t leave a lot of time, I have to say. When you’re the host of Premier League on NBC, it doesn’t leave a lot of time. The Olympics is something that I also really love, and I cannot believe that PyeongChang is just six months away. So I’m focusing on that as well. Again, it doesn’t leave a lot of other time to think about anything else.
I think why I love the Olympics so much is because it’s so different to the Premier League. I can actually get close to the athletes, and they actually want to talk, whereas footballers down the years — and I think I mentioned it in your phone call — very difficult to get past the first few questions with a footballer. They’re very media trained, and they’re very guarded. But with athletes, they want to share their story, and I want to help them tell their story. So I love that.
The more Olympics content I do, the more I enjoy it. I’m certainly up for that. To be honest, I’m not closed to anything. I don’t seem to be very good at covering the NFL, if I’m right, because I know nothing about it, but I can learn things very quickly. Yeah, I’m open to anything, but right now my schedule is pretty insane. So I’m very happy with how things are right now.
Q. Hi, guys, this question is for Pierre. In terms of your coverage this season, how do you plan to utilize all the feeds coming in from Premier League Productions, and how do you really plan to supplement that with NBC Sports’ own flair, own spin?
PIERRE MOOSSA: The nice thing about — and this is pretty much a fact. There is no other league — take the World Cup and the Olympics out of it for a second –there is no other sports league in the world that provides the amount of resources to the international broadcasters as the Premier League. It’s not even remotely close. And what’s so special about that is it allows you to essentially customize your broadcast.
So with our relationship with Premier League Productions, we get 18 feeds from England, and that’s kind of getting into the nitty gritty of it. But what it allows you to do is each match you get your clean and dirty feeds. For example, they can give you a hide behind or tactical camera or low end zones or super slow-mos or clip feeds. Ultimately, we go back to what our show principles are, and we get the feeds we want for that.
So it’s high level analysis. We want to get certain cameras, whether it’s the spider camera or high end zone or tackle cameras, so that Robbie, Robbie, and Kyle do breakdowns. It can be something where Rebecca talks about the emotion of the game, so you get the super slow-mo for the tight faces.
So even though we’re not on site as you would be for a sporting game in the States, you still get all the camera feeds coming in. And as we watch the broadcast more and as we work closely with Sky and BT, we start to see what their coverage plans and how we can steal that stuff. One of the new things we’ll be doing is we’re getting the manager camera. They have an ISO camera on the manager all the game that switches between whoever has the ball so we can create even more emotion. Candidly, they’re sometimes as much as part of the entertainment of the match as what’s happening on the pitch as well.
So with all those feeds, it’s a balancing act. You have to prioritize on what match you want to cover and how you want to cover it and also what depth you want to go into it. Ultimately, the 18 pass gives us as much flexibility as if we’re on site.
And even better, the Premier League has access to all the EVS record trains on site, so when a goal happens, every single angle of the game gets fed down on a separate path to us. So it’s as if we’re at the stadium for the game. So our approach has been, instead of approaching as a studio show, we kind of put our remote hat on and cover it like we were covering a sporting event from the remote.
So ultimately, those 18 feeds give us the absolute ability to tell every angle of the story that we want to, from a controversial incident on the pitch to a spectacular play. We now have all the angles, and it’s a matter of choosing what is the most appropriate angle to make the point they want to make. It’s not about showing off everything we’ve got. It’s about making sure we cover the event properly.
Q. In terms of this weekend, for the production, will you have any production personnel, production resources on site? Or will you just be handling everything from Stamford, obviously with the exception of the on-air talent who will be over there?
PIERRE MOOSSA: No, we’ll have a mobile unit on site, and we’ll have a smaller production team. It’s not like we’re doing a Sunday Night Football show, but we’ll have a team on site. I’ll be there personally with a research staff as well as the whole technical personnel. We’ll have as many as three cameras on pitch, and then also three, four cameras in the studio to be able to tell everything.
So studio will be as if you have a full studio coverage. It gets cut and switched in the UK. That goes down one path. And then all the graphics get added in the States. And then the second path would be a pitchside desk, which would have a steady cam and a single for the talent, plus a hard camera up high to get warm-ups. And the nice thing about it is they’re right there talking about somebody, the camera can move over to them, or you can shoot them with a long lens camera.
So people ultimately get a sense of place of where everything is orientation-wise. So going back to, given that philosophy of bridging the geographical gap, we don’t just want to say we’re there. We want you to walk away with the experience that you know the grounds inside and out even though you’ve never been there. So that goes down the second path.
And then in the States, you have the full studio operation, so all the highlights and sound bites and all the other stuff are still coming down the 18 paths. We’re still doing our traditional studio show. We’re just basically a source on site into the Stamford studio. And Rebecca and the guys are so brilliant, they’re essentially calling highlights and graphics and everything else off a return feed. As quirky as it sounds and as complicated as it sounds, the system works really well.
What we’re doing, being on site, you don’t want to compromise your coverage in any way, but you want to enhance it. Being on site, we can enhance it by being able to show off different aspects of the stadium as well as coverage as well as analysis, and at the same time, in the States you’re still able to do your high level of coverage and analysis.
Candidly, for our commentators and for our studio pundits, you get more in person when you’re at a match. You get to see more. You get observation — you get to observe more. They take all that experience back to the States, and it gives their — not just this weekend, but throughout the weekend, they can reference some of their experiences from the grounds and also their experiences, observations from seeing people play in person.
I used to always think the managers were kind of being a little bit dramatic when they would say it’s better to watch the match up high in person than it is to watch it on TV, and I thought they were being a little bit silly. But once you’ve done that, once you’ve watched a match via tactical camera, it’s hard to go back.
Ultimately, the purpose of this is not necessarily to be a gimmick, but to really improve and enhance that experience, and fortunately, through Premier League Productions and through our research on site, we’re able to do both.
Q. I think Pierre may have touched on it a little, but this is for really Arlo and Rebecca. Kind of having the whole crew over there for the first weekend and Arlo getting to call the matches with each of the studio guys and Rebecca being on site for the weekend, what are you looking forward to the most? And how did that change how — perhaps how you do some things?
ARLO WHITE: Well, for me, it’s a nice opportunity to see everybody again because, unfortunately, in April my wife underwent emergency surgery the week before everybody came over. So we had this big buildup to it, and obviously duty called at home, and I wasn’t able to see everybody. It was an absolutely fantastic weekend and a raging success.
So it’s nice to have that opportunity very early in the season to do it all again. As I said at the top of the call, it’s a highly talented group of professionals who are also really fun to hang around away from the microphones and studio as well. To work out Rebecca’s point, it gets us off and running in a really, really exciting way. We get to experience the Emirates, Arsenal — always a big story. Arsene Wenger stayed. The place was in virtual rebellion towards the end of the season as Wenger didn’t know whether he was going. He has since said he regrets stringing everybody along as he did, but he stays. So what will it be like at the Emirates Friday night? I’m sure it will be supportive, unless they go a couple of goals down to a team and shocked the world a couple of years ago, Leicester City (indiscernible). That’s going to be a fascinating way to start the season on a Friday night.
And then you’ve got Brighton against the team I think will win the league this year, Manchester City. I think they’re overwhelming favorites. But Brighton Albion, what a fantastic story. They haven’t been in the top five since 1983. They’ve had a local benefactor, a local fan, gave a quarter of a billion pounds, wonderful training facilities. The excitement those fans are going to experience at display for everybody on Saturday is going to be awesome to be pitchside for that or dashing up to the booth to call the game.
And, of course, Manchester United against West Ham Sunday in Old Trafford. There’s always story lines, whether it’s in a club the size of United or Jose Mourinho. They really need to challenge this year for the title. It could be a Manchester 1 and 2 if things go to form. Maybe to an earlier answer in the call, we need in a way to have a strong Manchester United to awaken the sleeping giants of United hordes around the world, specifically for us here in the United States.
So really three interesting matchups and three interesting places to go to on the first weekend. As Rebecca said, it is hope for everybody. Nobody’s lost a game yet. So nobody’s hopes are dashed yet. And everybody is thinking they can win this year. It’s a very special time.
REBECCA LOWE: Just to follow up on Arlo, when he couldn’t make, for obvious reasons, the trip in April, there was a big hole in our coverage, I felt. This is very much like getting the band back together. Arlo is fantastic at what he does, and without him, we missed him. It’s going to be fantastic from that perspective to have the whole crew together again. Everyone from the start will be just brilliant.
What I like about the England trip is seeing the analysts interact with each other face to face. When you have Robbie Mustoe and Lee Dixon in studio together and they disagree about something, it’s very hard for them to disagree over the Atlantic Ocean when we’ve got little time on a Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. It’s great. In front of me, I can tee them off and let them go. Different sides of personalities. I don’t see different sides of Robbie, Robbie and Kyle every week because they’re used to each other. But when you put them with Graeme and Lee, it just changes the dynamic and brings sometimes a different feel to the show, which can be exciting.
In between all that, it’s a different — you asked whether or not I do anything differently. I suppose I have to prepare Lee and Graeme a little bit more, maybe during breaks or pregame or during the game leading into the next segment just because they’re not used to doing the highlights or team news, just the way Robbie, Robbie, and Kyle can do it off their head. These guys aren’t used to doing it. We have to pay attention that these guys know what they’re doing because we’re so used to doing it like a machine.
And as Arlo mentioned, the fun we have off camera. The banter is crazy and hilarious, and everyone hammers Robbie Mustoe basically the whole time, which is fun for everyone. That’s what I’m looking forward to, all those things.
PIERRE MOOSSA: If I can also add one second into this. The purpose of this, besides benefitting the viewers, is uniting the team. When you’re separated by the Atlantic Ocean and we talk once a week, and phone calls are great, but the bond that’s built when you road trip with mates, it’s invaluable, and it shows in the broadcast. You can see from the moment we did the first trip to now, the relationships are so much tighter, and the broadcasts benefit from them.
There is a relationship between the studio guys and the UK guys, and the information that’s passed back and forth, not only on the air but off the air, and that trust that’s been built from a road trip together is invaluable.
The second thing I’d say to you, and you mentioned — and I’ll let Arlo answer this. I’m going to kind of throw it to him because you’ve wanted to ask him this. What’s neat about our guys is they’re all so talented and so well rounded. Do we do anything different with a studio show when you have a Lee or Graeme doing the studio versus Kyle and those guys, Kyle and Robbie, Robbie in the gantry? Candidly, no, our show doesn’t change. As Rebecca says, we may need to give Lee and Graeme a little more heads up on how we do highlights or team news, but ultimately, we aren’t doing anything different because of them, and I don’t notice — Arlo correct me if I’m wrong — you guys doing anything different with those guys in the gantry. But they benefit from calling matches and that understanding of each other’s roles benefits.
Arlo, do you do anything different when you have those guys there?
ARLO WHITE: Not really. My role is multi-facetted during the three days, and it is a challenge to host a pitchside desk with two of the guys and then dash up to the gantry, and the gantries are not hermetically sealed booth as they are in most luxurious Major League Baseball stadiums. You have to fight your way through the crowd, and they’re usually restricted in space, but you get a fantastic view. By the time you get there, you do have to sit down for a couple of minutes to catch your breath a little bit, but it gives you preparation on that angle.
It is fantastic to work in a booth again with Kyle. We did Major League Soccer games a few years ago before we switched over to Premier League. It’s terrific to work on a game with Robbie. I covered for Rebecca a couple of seasons ago for a short stint while she was away in the studio, but working with them in a game is a very different discipline, and it’s nice to see them do something different as well. It’s one of those situations where you help each other out.
You can’t listen to the fact this is not what Robbie and Robbie do all the time. Robbie probably has a little more experience than Musty, and obviously Kyle has a lot of experience with Major League Soccer, but they’re so professional. They’re so knowledgeable. They’re like kids in a candy store. They can’t wait to get behind the microphones. For them it’s doing something different. That means doing something exciting, aside from a job that they love, but the one that they do each week.
So it’s really good to see that enthusiasm. I don’t feel I have to change my preparation in any way at all. Those guys just fit right in.
Q. My question is for Rebecca and Arlo. You both kind of touched on the hope of the new season. What do you think the biggest story lines are heading into the new season?
REBECCA LOWE: There’s a story line to every club. We always joke about we can always talk about something. If the lines all go down and we have no technical help and we have to speak for an hour, what are we going to talk about? We always joke that we need more than an hour. We could talk for hours about every single club.
If you’re looking at the big story lines, I think you’re looking at Lukaku at Manchester United and the impact that he might make and how Mourinho is going to deal with him within that team, and Marcus Rashford and how those two are going to play together, if they’re going to play together.
You talk about this season the two Manchester clubs and their managers, maybe this season we’ll see what we thought we were going to see last year with these two trophy-laden managers who don’t like each other much, two clubs that hate each other in a very small, compared to American cities, city. So that’s something to look for for sure.
Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal — where do you even begin? Same story line every year with Wenger and, as Arlo touched on, what happens if they lose their first game. They’ll go up in arms. That’s always a running story line.
Tottenham at Wembley is a story line. How will they cope with, again, coming to close to winning the league last year, not quite doing it, not winning and now they have to play at Wembley. I could go on and on.
One little story line that I’m interested in that caught my eye this summer, at West Ham United, I think they’ve done some quite good business, and they bought Chicharito for 16 million pounds — not dollars, pounds, which pound for pound for me is the signing of the summer because the striker is — he’s fairly prolific. He gets everywhere. He works hard, and I think he’s a great buy. So if he gets on the score sheet as often as he should, West Ham could be a bit of a dark horse considering last year they were also rans.
I’m sorry. I’ve probably taken up every single story line, Arlo. Sorry about that.
ARLO WHITE: It is going to be fascinating. I agree with Rebecca on Manchester United and Manchester City. Things have been fairly cordial between Jose and Pep. (Indiscernible) they’re both fairly recent additions to those two clubs. If Manchester City do start to stretch away — and it may well happen. Pep underwhelmed in his first season, but he’s made key additions now to the fallback position, which are going to make them a marauding, attacking force, and they’ll be very, very hard to stop. I think they’ll put sixes and sevens on a couple of teams, but at home they’re going to be that good.
They may be suspect defensively at times, but they could be early front-runners, and if they are early front-runners, Jose falls behind, are the mind games going to come out across Manchester? And it will be fascinating.
Chelsea, how do they back up what happened last season? They were so dominant in the league last year. I think there’s an air of doom and gloom around Stafford at the start of the season, which I don’t understand. I can’t understand some of the transfer business, particularly selling Nemanja Matic to a direct rival. That’s an odd one. Tecumseh, although he signed a new contract, hasn’t extended his contract. Is that a sign of sudden discontent behind the scenes? We’ll see that play out.
And Rebecca is absolutely right about Spurs at Wembley. That’s going to be fascinating. Wenger at Arsenal, we don’t need to go into that. I think Newcastle is going to be a great story. I love going to Newcastle. 52,000 people, football mad town. It’s a great place to visit. So it’s good to see them back.
And just off the field, this new initiative, I know MLS has instigated VAR over the weekend, which is a really interesting initiative taken by Major League Soccer. But the simulation panel that’s coming in in the Premier League is going to be fascinating because it’s an attempt to stamp out simulation and diving. If it’s actually spotted by the referee on the day, the yellow card is ministered, then it’s case closed. But if it’s not spotted and certain incidents are referred to the panel, they’re likely to get banned for two games, and that’s a big deal for the league. So a lot of controversy. There will be a former player, a former manager, as I understand it, a former referee on this panel that will dish out punishment and decide whether players are guilty of simulation or not.
I think some cases are going to be obvious, and others are going to be borderline. It’s going to be really interesting to see which way some of those come down because we could see some very high profile players handed two-match suspensions for this simulation situation that could be very controversial.
DAN MASONSON: Thanks a lot, Arlo. Thanks, Rebecca, Pierre. I think we’ve hit our time limit today. Thanks, everyone, for joining us. We will see everyone on Friday at 1:00 for our preview show followed by the pregame at 2:00 and the match at Arsenal at 2:45. Thanks, everyone. Have a good day.