With Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, Arlo White and Pierre Moossa
June 11, 2020
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, welcome to today’s call. As you all know the Premier League returns next Wednesday, June 17 beginning at noon Eastern with Premier League Live on NBCSN, followed by a pair of matches on NBCSN. Beginning Wednesday we’ll have live matches on 35 of 40 days.
Joining us on today’s call are Rebecca Lowe, former Premier League player and NBC Sports analyst Robbie Earle, and our lead Premier League play‑by‑play voice Arlo White, along with coordinating producer Pierre Moossa.
PIERRE MOOSSA: Hi, everybody. I hope all of you are well during these challenging times, and I really appreciate you guys taking the time to join us on this call.
Talking about the Premier League is to stress that our production philosophy is simple: It’s to provide our viewers at home with the same coverage they have expected of us in the past. We are still going to have talent and on‑site commentary teams and intelligent analysis, in‑depth highlights. We’re going to cover all aspects of the Premier League as we have done in the past.
Behind the scenes it will be a little bit different. We are going to be producing the shows the safest ways possible following all of NBCUniversal’s health and safety guidelines and protocols. For the viewer at home, they won’t really notice much difference, and hopefully they can enjoy the broadcast. Our mentality and approach is to treat it like an Olympic or World Cup tournament. It’s 35 shows in 40 days. We will cover the matches, the storylines, the reviews and previews and we’re going to approach it very differently from that standpoint.
It’s going to be under the theme and banner of Premier League Summer, something very unique: to have this experience where you have this many fixtures and matches during summer, so we are going to embrace that aspect of it.
In regards to Project Restart, the matches will be played with some obvious differences. I think one of the biggest things to discuss is the crowds, the lack of it, the lack of supporters behind closed doors. That’s a question that almost anybody who works in sports television has been trying to figure out and how to approach that covering sports without fans.
In soccer or football, our belief is the crowds, the supporters, are very much the soundtrack of the match. It’s very much the lifeblood of the supporters and we very much truly believe in authenticity. Stadium sound audio is obviously very different behind closed doors and I definitely went into an approach with us being authentic and true, and I’ve personally done a complete 180 on that approach. Watching it without crowds to me felt very different.
And so we’ve decided for our broadcast to add what the Premier League is referring to as atmospheric enhanced audio. The Premier League, SKY, all the host broadcasters in the U.K. all feel the same way. It’s being produced and done via EA SPORTS…[which has] sampled 92 different ways of cheering. All the audio they are providing, the crowd effects, visitor effects, the jeers, have all been samples from specific matches.
So if you are watching a Liverpool match at Anfield, it’s crowds and samples from Anfield from a Liverpool match. So ultimately it’s the most authentic way of enhancing the audio.
We truly believe this is probably the best viewer experience during these conditions without fans behind closed doors but ultimately there are a lot of peers who feel strongly that they would prefer to hear it with the stadium sound. So for the majority of the matches we will be providing an alternate for them via our streaming platform. If you want to just hear the stadium sound via our streaming services, you can watch that broadcast and be able to watch those matches, and on our linear channels and broadcast, we will be providing enhanced audio.
I also think it’s worth pointing out that we have a very strong connection with the supporters in the U.S. and how we can incorporate them into our broadcast, which is the second part of that behind‑closed‑doors; so we will continue to have virtual watch parties. There will be some in England that the host broadcasters will be providing, and in addition, we’ll have some in the U.S. as well with U.S. supporters and those will be incorporated into our broadcast.
It’s worth noting all the host broadcasters in the U.K., so SKY, BT, Amazon, will be providing alternates for the viewers, so ultimately the viewer gets a choice between enhanced audio or natural sound stadium audio. So, we are providing our audience similar to what’s being done in the U.K.
Also, worth noting some of the feedback is that the majority of people chose to watch it with enhanced audio versus the natural sound, so those are some of the thoughts that go into that decision‑making.
One of the other exciting things coming up is the Premier League will be the first live sporting event on Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, so that match will be Saturday, June 20, Bournemouth v. Crystal Palace at 2:45. Peacock will end up broadcasting seven matches in the first three match windows. So those people that have Peacock in Comcast markets can watch it on Peacock and everybody else will be able to watch it via the Premier League on NBC Sports Gold.
To sum it up, it’s worth noting we are very, very excited about the return to Premier League, although we realize it’s very trying times, and we just want to stress that we really believe it’s a privilege and responsibility to cover the Premier League and we take great pride in doing that.
REBECCA LOWE: I just want to echo, really, Pierre’s words. I’m excited and I think it goes without saying, and we can’t get away from the fact that if you’re a Premier League fan, if you’re any sports fan right now, you are excited for your sport to return.
It’s a difficult time to use that word, of course, with the backdrop of what’s going on around the globe, but I think you can feel two things at once. Most of our fans, if not all of them watching our show will be feeling both concern and reflective on everything that’s happened over the past three months, but at the same time, also really excited that something they absolutely love is on its way back. That will be my overriding emotion going into this.
I don’t want to ever forget as we begin that we are storytellers and our story stopped rather abruptly like so many did three months ago and we are here to tell, not just Liverpool story, which of course is a headline story, the 30‑year‑wait, plus a few months. But all the stories of relegation and the stories of all the other teams within the Premier League, whether it be a Sheffield United story and how fantastic they have done this season only to be stopped and how will they end.
There are so many stories and that is part of the reason why we love the Premier League so much because it is story‑ridden. And we will be committed as we always have done before to picking up where we left off with those stories and those narratives and ensuring that we tell each and every one of them as best we possibly can over the course of 40 days.
Something that’s struck me over the last three months over the interruption, I’ve stepped up possibly rather reluctantly my social media presence, but in order to make connections with the fans of the Premier League and fans of Premier League Live, and the feedback from people has been really quite humbling, actually. I think that as much as the world has not been normal, just to have connections with the people that you normally do have, albeit on television through social media has shown me the strength of the connection we all have when it comes to the Premier League, and I can gauge their excitement. Not Twitter, I’m talking about Instagram, which I feel is a slightly more balanced arena, and gauging the excitement has spurred me on even more to know how many people are going to be glued to their television, as Pierre talked about, a World Cup‑style month of football.
And of course, finally, we must forget that is an historical moment and this has never happened before. The Premier League Summer and how we are going to market some of this.
You know, I might come out in a rash. I’ve never worked in the summer. This is going to be a new thing for me having to work during the summer months. But it’s never happened before, and let’s hope it never happens again for obvious reasons.
But it will be a moment in time and every relegation, every day, will have a side story, and that is something that we intend to broadcast with authenticity and to remain true to the football person foremost, but in the context of a rather different world that we all find ourselves in right now.
ROBBIE EARLE: To Rebecca’s point, the Premier League rather abruptly stopped in March. It’s Herculean task…the safety issues of play and teams at risk and the leagues have stopped.
And probably since the time it’s stopped, there was a period we weren’t sure if we were going to get a finish to the League. We weren’t sure how that finish would be, whether there would be repercussions for teams and players and fans and where we were. And at one point there was a talk if the league didn’t finish on the pitch, it would be sorted out with points‑per‑game or some math, sort of calculus worked out where teams would finish out.
My overriding sort of thought is that ‑‑ in as safe conditions as possible, the league is going to restart, we are hopefully going to see it to an end and on the football pitch, we’re going to see the team that wins the title that for all intents and purposes, Liverpool should do very quickly. We’re going to see teams that go down ‑‑ we’ve all got challenges and there’s no bigger game than Aston Villa-Sheffield United on the broadcast on June 17 where Aston Villa, if they win, the game in hand that they have, can jump up places and give themselves a great chance of staying in the League.
So all these things come together. I think as Rebecca’s talked about, the fans have missed the live sport, the drama, the stories that are the Premier League, and while we at NBC have tried to be creative, we’ve had practice matches, teams winning titles, goals of the season and we’ve had lots of great content but there’s nothing quite like match day. There’s nothing quite like teams facing off, and that’s what we are going to go back to.
I think we are all aware of where sports fits in the picture and it’s a very different world we are going back to. The COVID pandemic has obviously devastated around the world ‑‑ we have had the emergence of Black Lives Matter over recent weeks and probably sports nestled somewhere under there in terms of its importance.
I think we are fortunate in the Premier League to have a mini seven week, Pierre called it a World Cup tournament, and the eyes of the world will be watching the league, and we’ve got the great stories still to come. How Liverpool will finish this title off for the first time in the Premier League for 30 years. Kevin De Bruyne…Jamie Vardy…19 goals so far this season, what will happen to the bottom three teams, will Bournemouth get dragged down into things.
Lots of great storylines we are loving to bring to you, and also respect the very different world we are in now and the place where sport and football and the things that are happening in the world.
ARLO WHITE: I’m very excited to get back to work personally. I need the routine, and I’m looking forward to it. Excited to be back in the gantry. Excited to work with everybody again face‑to‑face, albeit from a social distance, of course.
I’m aware, as Robbie was just mentioning there, that the world we now live in is very different to the one that we left in March when the Premier League was suspended and our coverage will reflect that because of course the Premier League is going to reflect that. Sports is not the be‑all and end‑all of everything when there’s an ongoing global pandemic and of course the emergence and the importance of Black Lives Matter movement, which of course is respected and followed with great interest and enthusiasm in the U.K.
It will be very odd with no crowd. That is one of the great attractions of the Premier League but with a bit of help from our friends at EA SPORTS, hopefully that won’t be too much of a problem for everybody. That will come in time with crowds coming back when it’s safe to do so, but the quality of the football on show will be hopefully as good as it always is, and all the storylines that the guys mentioned are going to be fascinating.
For me, it’s an opportunity. This is the first real team sport to make a comeback on American television. Golf I believe came back today, the PGA, NASCAR has come back and Indy Car has been back and lots of talk about MLS and NBA and maybe Major League Baseball comes back at some point.
Maybe there’s an opportunity to showcase the Premier League, albeit in circumstances that are not ideal, but to new soccer fans and maybe fans, friends and family of people that would usually be watching in a bar, but now watching at home can now maybe drag a few people down to the sofa and explain it to them. We will be there to hold their hand. And try our very best to keep our level of coverage to what it has been over the past few years.
Q. Arlo, how do you feel about going to the stadiums and the safety protocols that will be in place there? And Robbie, I saw a report in the Times of London today, that I believe the players are going to be wearing the Black Lives Matter message on the back of their jerseys instead of player names, and what that means to you and how big of a message it is.
ROBBIE EARLE: I think the important thing to say here is that from some good sources in the U.K., and the Times, obviously a very respected newspaper, but we are led to believe that things are still in discussion with the Premier League. They are working with the clubs and the captains who have taken the lead on this, but nothing has actually been guaranteed or approved at this point.
But we are hearing that there’s a possibility of a Black Lives Matter logo on front of the shirt and instead of the names on the back of the shirt it would be a Black Lives Matter message, as well. Those are huge steps for English football. They are huge steps for the FA, who have also taken it upon themselves, I believe …overriding that rule at the moment [about] displaying support for any ‑‑ group or event, so that players are able to express themselves in support of Black Lives Matter movement.
Not sure if you’re aware, some of the conversations we’ve had as a channel and NBC Sports ‑‑ we have talked at length and depth about this situation, and I was saying to Robbie Mustoe over the course of the last few weeks that some of these movements have been great, the hashtags, the blackout days on social media, but we need actions from people in positions of power. And for the Premier League and FA, some of the things we have done, and if Black Lives Matter is on the logo and at some point during the game, players are taking a knee, then that can only amplify the message and hopefully start some of those conversations that are necessary.
So, I’d be delighted, and as somebody who has tried to help over the course of my career while I was playing and certainly since as a broadcaster, I’d be very ‑‑ I’d be delighted to see that as a step in the right direction.
ARLO WHITE: In terms of the games, I’m very happy to be going to the grounds. I would have commentated on any game from any venue that I was told to do. I know a lot of the BT guys in the U.K. have been commentating in their own front rooms. There’s been a couple of stories about commentators having supermarket deliveries and the guy knocking at the door during the first half of a game. Thankfully I don’t have that issue.
We can be in the stadium because we are a U.K.‑based team, which is fantastic. So, from that perspective, our jobs aren’t really affected.
Obviously, we’ll go through the protocols. We’ll take our temperatures before we leave the house and we’ll arrive at the grounds separately. We are allowed in about 90 minutes, I believe, before each game kicks off, and our temperatures will be taken on site before we enter into the stadiums. We will be wearing our masks up until the point that we broadcast, and there will be no three‑man booths for obvious reasons for a while, and whether it’s myself and Graeme or myself and Lee, we will obviously be practicing social distancing during the game, so I have ever every confidence in the in the protocols NBC have set out and also the Premier League. I don’t foresee any problems and looking forward to it.
Q. I wanted to get a clarification on the social distancing, because not a lot of room in those gantrys. How is that going to work?
PIERRE MOOSSA: The Premier League just put out their protocols for the stadium, and so they are basically limiting the amount of international broadcasters that are allowed to be in the gantry.
So ultimately for us, we would end up taking room that would be normally for two or three booths will now take up one. So, they do have a limit how many people can be on site.
They are basically breaking up the stadium into different zones, so depending on your pass and the number of people per zone, is limited. Arlo and Graeme can only enter one location and go to the gantry and leave again. No communal food. No going to the tunnel areas or the places they used to before. They are limiting people in and out of the stadium period, which also invites social distancing and it reduces amount of broadcasters on site. International broadcasters can still go, but they have to follow U.K. government guidelines. They will be in quarantine for 14 days. But fortunately Arlo, Lee and Graeme are based in the U.K. so they are allowed to basically go into the grounds immediately.
But we are following all the government protocols and the Premier League has full guidelines on how many people can be in there and how they are spread out accordingly, and they have done that for every single stadium to determine the amount of people that can be in there.
Q. Just wondering since you guys are going cross‑country from your homes in California to Connecticut, what do you think that experience will be like for the first couple weeks?
REBECCA LOWE: Well, slightly different schedule. I’ll be traveling Tuesday and then staying through 10 days. I’m going to base myself on the East Coast before I get back to see for family for a few days.
I expect it’s not going to be quite the rush of the airports that we are used to and the airplanes, things slightly different. I have confidence, like Arlo does, with the protocols. There is no company that is taking this lightly.
So, I have already been assured on a number of occasions by the airline what they are doing and I’m sure Robbie has the same, and we’ll be sensible. I think Robbie has a similar accommodation. If you look at the schedule, I’m basically [doing a broadcast or] in bed. I’m by myself. It’s going to be a strange existence, but it does remind me very much of a World Cup. I was lucky enough to do one in 2006, and you just work and sleep the whole time.
It’s going to be a strange travel, I’m sure, and I’ll know a lot more about it after Tuesday, but I have confidence in really every part of the journey from my front door to the front door of where I’m staying. I just think that the world is taking this so seriously, and every company is doing everything they can to support suppliers, customers, employees and the like.
I’m very confident and happy to do it. I told Pierre I would drive there if I had to; I would be there.
ROBBIE EARLE: Rebecca and I sent Pierre a text and said if need be, we’re going on a road trip across the country to get to the studio to make sure we’re there for the first day.
Now, if you know Rebecca’s driving, she was never going to be the designated driver. I’m a bit of a slow driver, take my time, no rush.
So the actual line was that Robbie Mustoe was going to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast, he was going to drive us.
I’m going to fly over next Tuesday and then I’m going to stay over for the duration in a serviced apartment and it will be a bit like having worked on a couple of World Cups, where you did your day’s game, you go home, you catch up on stuff and the next day’s game and you’re pretty much in it.
Based on where we’ve come from and the time, we have not been able to have live football; that suits me absolutely fine. So, I’ll be staying near Stamford close to the studio and doing things from there.
Q. Has it surprised you with watching the EA SPORTS noise and crowd feeds how much it adds to a game, and was there any discussion with the Premier League about maybe putting in the virtual fans in the stands, or do you think that might be too much for a viewer?
PIERRE MOOSSA: Absolutely. It was funny because we obviously had had so many conversations and so many dialogues amongst ourselves, the broadcast team, production team and also directly with the Premier League and directly with our colleagues at SKY.
When you ask the question, it kind of brought me back to the week before ‑‑ the return, and the conversation we had there, where we have to be authentic, we feel disingenuous by adding crowd effects and you shouldn’t do that and all of the sudden you watch the first match and it was a very different experience.
Then you have the conversation about that, and then you watch the match with the enhanced audio, and you realize, well, you almost don’t appreciate what you had until it was gone and how important it was.
Yes, I’ve done a full 180. I know the Premier League has done the exact same thing. They have had a very similar conversation and SKY has had very similar conversations and we all landed on what we believe is the best viewing experience, but we do believe that also a lot of purists will want to just hear the natural sound.
When you watch a game behind closed doors, it’s just like the guys playing in the park where maybe the guy walking the dog stops to watch him because that’s just a normal sound they are used to. But for a lot of us that didn’t play professional soccer or football at that level, the crowd is such a big part of it. I think the term sound track, it’s so ingrained.
It surprised me how much it made a difference and also made me nostalgic and sad because I did miss the crowd. One of the biggest challenges I always tell with Premier League, I tell people, you wish every person whether they love the game or not could experience the match in person. Because once you experience that match…for me, Anfield, the first time you hear “Never Walk Alone,” you get chills. It’s amazing what it is, and sometimes you’re watching the crowd more than the match itself.
It did surprise me how much something that is not natural to the game itself, meaning that it’s being enhanced, would make such a difference to the viewing experience.
The Premier League had many different discussions to the different ways of what you do in the stands and how you approach covering a match behind closed doors. They settled on tarps that will cover the entire first tier you will see on TV and those tarps will be customized based on the home team and home club.
In addition, they are going to include virtual watch parties that will be fed into the JumboTron so there will be virtual fans there, and ultimately the clubs themselves may use some very specific customization of the stadium experience. But that’s what they ended up deciding upon, but believe me, they entertained and discussed all aspects of every single option you can imagine.
I also think from my conversations with many different producers, Fred Gaudelli being one of them, executive producer of Sunday Night Football, all the different sports are trying to find ways to cover the game behind‑closed‑doors, but as you get down to it, certain sports are more tied or associated with certain experiences than others.
Ultimately, we felt strongly that the Premier League experience needed to have and was a better experience with the enhanced atmospheric audience.
Q. Just in terms of broadcasting in a stadium with no fans, how does that impact your energy and how you go about your business?
ARLO WHITE: I was just thinking about that as Pierre was talking about it.
It will be odd. It will be very different. Unlike Robbie Earle, every single match I ever played in my life was effectively behind‑closed‑doors so that won’t be particularly strange for me.
In terms of doing my day job, of course you are used to raising your voice or lowering it to the rhythms and the sounds of the crowd. Oftentimes, be it Everton, be it at Liverpool, Arsenal, if you hear a massive chant going around the grounds we do what we call ‘laying out.’ There’s nothing particularly exciting happening in a final third layout and just let the crowd at home ‑‑ I just say, turn the volume up because this is spine‑tingling stuff and gets the hair standing up on your forearms.
Obviously, that won’t be the case in terms of live crowd scenario but we do have the augmented sound coming through…and we’ll have it in our ears as well. Without being the real thing, I think we’ll ‑‑ and certainly won’t replace it ‑‑ but I don’t think it will be the distraction. I think it works twofold. You don’t notice the echoes and you don’t notice that this…sounds like a practice match. It will sound to Graeme, Lee and I in our ears like an actual game, albeit we can look around and see the crowd isn’t there, and to everybody at home, it sounds like an actual game. It will just lend that atmosphere…that an empty stadium, just can’t do.
Hopefully won’t for very long. Hopefully we can start getting crowds in sooner rather than later, but the laying out may not happen quite as much. We’ll have to wait and see how that goes. But for me, when we are on the gantry and we are commentating on a game, it’s amazing how into that game you are, so in terms of doing the job, the play‑by‑play job, it really won’t affect it at all because we are so focused on what’s going on.
It’s just that moment when you hear something going around and it’s loud and it’s gaining momentum and you lay out for a second, maybe those moments won’t occur.
Q. Obviously hopefully we don’t have this circumstance, but the booth people will take their temperatures before they leave home, but if they were to have a high temperature, what’s the backup plan for the broadcast?
PIERRE MOOSSA: We are very fortunate with the Premier League that they provide us with what we call world feed announcers. So, they have announcers on site for the broadcast. That would be the initial backup, taking the world feed announcers they provide. They do that for every match. But for the key matches, we love to have Arlo and Lee and Graeme to be able to connect with our audience.
One note to Arlo’s point, a couple things you don’t think about is the fact that in stadium like that with all the broadcasters, the players and coaches can almost hear them depending on where they are located because it’s only just a bunch of people yelling and screaming.
So, it’s something you have to keep in mind the fact that you are going to have a lot of people hearing what you are saying that there isn’t that much noise. It’s something we have talked to Arlo a little bit about.
The other thing that you mentioned is if we didn’t do the enhanced audio that Arlo is going to hear, I think you’d have to change your entire approach to broadcasting. We almost did practice games at certain points because it almost lends itself to, without the crowd to swell and to draw your attention, there are times you miss a goal because if you didn’t hear the crowd go bananas and don’t hear the excitement, you can find the varying levels of commentating as well as kind of doing a cross between broadcast play‑by‑play and radio play‑by‑play and describing tension and key moments and shifts, etc., so it’s a totally different way of approaching broadcasting, so it’s something else to keep in mind that we discussed quite a bit.
Q. What effect do you think the lack of fans will have on the players?
ROBBIE EARLE: When all the talk was about Project Restart and obviously not being able to have fans in the grounds, we said that there’s no doubt ‑‑ although you don’t necessarily hear individual voices and what people shout, there’s a background sort of noise that is part of the match day experience, part of the playing experience. The little nuances that you don’t ‑‑ sometimes people might not understand.
If you’re at home, and you make a good tackle or you win a ball, the crowd generally cheer and get you going and that gives you a little boost and you can’t wait to do your next thing. You’re not going to get those little triggers that would normally happen when the fans are there.
Robbie Mustoe talked about it; that there are certain players who I think are more attached to fans in terms of the way they play. Often more the forward‑thinking players, but an example would be Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang, a wonderful, gifted balanced footballer, scores goals and runs to the crowd and does his flip celebration.
You have the Jamie Vardys of the world…his sort of speed and athleticism and his will to win and his sort of reaction and getting the claps as he chases down defenders and wins the ball, there’s all those relationships with fans that you lose.
Then the other probably biggest thing is sort of some of the intensity. That would be the biggest, that the crowd bring and the noise that goes along with the flow of the match is going to be missing and [for] the players…it’s an extra self‑motivation for them to get themselves up and get themselves right.
There was a thought that some players may play a bit more relaxed, that without the fans there they might try one or two things they might not try in a normal situation. We might see a few skills and tricks that you wouldn’t see if there was 50,000 people there and you’re a little bit more on edge.
There’s no doubt it is going to affect the games. I think after a couple of games, the players will get more used to it. I think the importance of the league and gaining the points, whether you’re at the top of the league, whether you’re going up a few places or trying to stay in a relegation position, that’s going to add its own impetus to the matches. I think over the course of time, we’ll see it have less effect.
And I’m afraid that I’ve gone to the dark side and originally started as the authentic, didn’t want any sound in, but the more I’ve seen the piped in sound, I’ve gone to the dark side now and much prefer that as part of my viewing entertainment.
Q. Arlo, I’m curious how your thought process was regarding the idea of calling games from inside the stadium. I know this is what you do and I imagine you miss working greatly, but this unprecedented situation where health is really a factor and having talked to other broadcasters, how they would pursue this has to do with if they have young children at home, where they are in their career and I wonder if you can provide a little bit of personal insight into just how you measure or navigated this choice to be put into what is at least at a minimum a possible health risk.
ARLO WHITE: It’s something I did think about, but as I said before, I do have a lot of confidence in the protocols, and if you look at training grounds at the moment ‑‑ and I know we are not necessarily going to be part of that but we are going to be part of the Premier League bubble once we get on site. There have been so few positive tests amongst thousands of tests on Premier League players, coaches and staff, that amongst safest places I think in the country at the moment outside of the hospitals themselves are Premier League training grounds. They have taken this issue very seriously indeed. They haven’t taken any of the tests away from the NHS, which is absolutely vital. They sourced their own testing capabilities. Now I feel safe.
Of course you do have to think about it from your own personal perspective, but the journalistic side of me kind of takes over. I’ve been to Pakistan covering cricket in the post‑9/11 world, and I have to seriously think about that. It was just before my children, my twin daughters were born. We’re sort of going back to 2004 and 2005.
And you do have long discussions about what you’re prepared to do, given that the risks that are there, and there were one or two hairy moments. Crowds were dispersed…because we thought a bomb had gone off. It was actually an exploding gas cannister, would you believe, and players came off the field and one or two were picking up bullets and we as a radio commentary team, had to go from commentating on a sporting event to reporting on a news event. That’s a still that I suppose has been honed down the years with the BBC and is kind of ingrained into me.
The journalistic side of it, I wouldn’t say it attracts me, but I don’t fear it, and I like to be where the story is. I think this is going to be a pretty unique time in sports history that we can report about at the time and look back on and say that we were there for good or for bad. Let’s hope, touch wood, everything goes absolutely swimmingly. There were no positive tests and the Premier League season continues to its conclusion and nobody is taken sick.
I hesitate to say, but I think I did mention on social media a couple months ago, it seems like a lifetime ago, but I strongly suspect I had the virus myself at the very outset of the lockdown in early March in the U.K.
Now, because I haven’t had an antibody test, there’s no way I can prove that and I’m certainly not being cavalier in terms of social distancing and not breaking any guidelines in terms of quarantining and lockdown in the U.K. But I would say it affected my mindset slightly going into it with the confidence that perhaps I had contracted the virus and kind of come through it.
But it’s really that sense of journalistic, how would I put it ‑‑ I’m intrigued. I want to be at the story. I want to see what’s going on. I had no hesitation going to Rio, either, with the Zika thing. I strongly believe that when we are given the protocols, when we are given instructions on how to protect ourselves from the best in the business, NBC or the Olympic Committee or in this instance the Premier League and the government, that that will keep us safe. You can never guarantee it 100 percent obviously, but I’m pretty confident in going back to work.
Q. A question about the programming. Is there any possibility that some of these games that are currently on NBCSN could be moved to NBC? One in particular I’m thinking about is the [Wednesday] June 24th match, Liverpool v. Crystal Palace match, if that becomes the match where it’s possible that Liverpool will win the title, could that one be moved from NBCSN to NBC over the air?
PIERRE MOOSSA: No. The program is set and obviously NBCSN and NBC has obligations to things they should be broadcasting. We are fortunate we have two NBC matches on the weekend, the West Ham match at 12:30 [on Saturday, June 20] and the Merseyside Derby two o’clock on Sunday [June 21], and then you’ll see mostly NBC Premier League matches on the weekends, while NBCSN will provide most of the broadcasting platforms during the weekdays.
Q. Were there times you thought the league wouldn’t restart with all the safety concerns, and were you one of the people asking for the league to try to find a way of restarting, and then on the scheduling, are there upsides and downsides to having this newlook summer schedule?
PIERRE MOOSSA: Let me start with the did we have any feelings on the return of the Premier League.
I think our feeling was simply when we always believed in the Premier League and we always believed in the process of the U.K. government, that when it was appropriate, when it was safe and when it was the right time, the Premier League would return, and so we truly believed in that.
I think with all of us, we’d be lying if we didn’t have worries about a lot of things that are going on in the world, and I think football, and sport, for that matter, weren’t the top of any of those worries at that time. I do believe that the timing feels right, and we have to trust the government, the Premier League.
But we certainly as a company and as individuals, we are not having any sort of pressuring or pushing or say in what the Premier League did. They did what they felt was best for the league and the U.K. and all the government guidelines. From that standpoint, we are pleased it’s back, but we wanted to make sure it was back at the right and appropriate time.
With regards to this crazy stretch that’s coming up, it does lend itself to an opportunity, and I don’t say that lightly because I don’t want to take away from what everyone is going through right now.
But with the 35 shows over 40 days and with the fact that Arlo had alluded to that it’s one of the first team sports coming back. It’s an opportunity to introduce the Premier League and what makes the league so special to a much broader audience. People are very much excited about the return of sport, and I think you’ll find a lot of people sampling the Premier League for the first time that may never have sampled it before, and it’s our responsibility to introduce it to them and welcome them to it and make sure they appreciate what makes it so special.
We have a team that could not be better ambassadors for the league in the two Robbies, Kyle, Rebecca, Graeme, Lee and Arlo, so we really believe this is an opportunity for us to help grow the league, grow the sport, and this mad period of nonstop matches is going to be a great opportunity and a great showcase for the Premier League.
I would make a second point to it, I think it all of us who are working from home so much, normally the focus on sports is typically on weekends, and weekdays people are at work and don’t have TVs in front of them, and so streaming is more popular during the weekdays and it doesn’t really reach a bigger audience.
I can’t remember what day it is right now; I don’t think weekends and weekdays are different any more, and a lot of people will be continuing to work from home during this stretch. So a 1:00 to 6:00 or noon to 6:00 on a weekday and you have Premier League every single day it can become that new routine for people to turn on and hopefully appreciate what makes Premier League so special. It’s an opportunity to introduce it to a much broader audience.
Q. How much have you watched all of the Bundesliga broadcasts, and how, for you, were the games with no piped in support or audio different where you could hear all the players shouting and instruction the from the bench? And Arlo, how would no noise change the broadcast for you, and in some ways be like an MLS game in New England be preparation for that?
ARLO WHITE: That’s a harsh, harsh point you made.
When I first watched the Bundesliga on the opening weekend, I remember Tweeting out, because this was such a huge event in world sport because it was the first live football to come back, and it felt like the whole of Twitter was watching the Bundesliga. So, the audience was glued to it.
I remember saying that this was fantastic, the very start of the lockdown, people were saying, you cannot play football behind closed doors and people started to sort of draw back on that a little bit about a month in, because by that time, people would happily watch a televised race between two flies crawling up a wall during lockdown. So, football coming back was absolutely fabulous to watch it.
But obviously, even as a guy who is a commentator but sitting on his sofa a thousand miles or so away from the action, you are aware that there’s echoes; that the foot of the boot on the ball ‑‑ you can hear the ripple of the neck which is quite cool. But I remember Tweeting at the time that I wouldn’t mind some sort of murmur, some sort of crowd noise, just to augment and take away that practice game feel. That’s ultimately what they have done, and I’m absolutely for it.
I was watching some National Rugby League from Australia this morning, I quite like my NRL, and they have done it very well, and what also is very good, it’s not just a constant noise. The sophistication of the sound engineers that do this can respond to the rhythms in the game, a near miss, a goal. I saw a yellow card booed in an empty stadium. That’s really, really good. It emphasizes the point that it take away the practice game feel and then you can concentrate on the soccer and the soccer will be absolutely top notch.
REBECCA LOWE: I haven’t watched a huge amount. Obviously it’s hard when you have a little one at home to be kind of trying to cover everything.
What I saw the early days with no sound, I remember speaking to Pierre about it, and I said, you know what, I’m okay. Now that I have a choice, I would rather have the sound. But before they piped in the sound, yes, the first 15, 20 minutes, it jarred quite a lot. But I feel like we are very god at adapting as humans generally, and within sort of 20 minutes, 25 minutes, I felt like I kind of adapted to it and it was quite interesting hearing ‑‑ I spent quite a lot of time on the sideline, I’ve heard quite a lot of things down the years anyway but I found it interesting to hear the voices and shouting.
Out of the two, no sound just kept reminding me more and more of what is happening. Whilst football is not an escape for me, when they put the sound in, I could suspend my disbelief a little easier. I could pretend in my mind all the fans were behind Row G; and therefore, that’s where they were and what we were hearing. I could do that a bit easier with the sound.
Had the sound situation never come about, I don’t think it’s a deal‑breaker. I just think it enhances, and that’s what it is for me. I’m definitely in the sound side of the argument.
But for me, it’s all about the game anyway, and as Pierre talked about earlier on, I grew up going to parks and watching friends of mine play soccer and there was no one there. So I’m in the sound area for sure.
Q. Question for basically everybody. I think it was Rebecca mentioning earlier about how you’ll be covering the Premier League but not without the context of the rest of the world. How does not just covering a pandemic ‑‑ or doing this during a pandemic, but during a global movement talking about racial injustice, how does that impact the way you’ll be covering it considering both ‑‑ regarding coronavirus, some were talking about how they weren’t as eager to do the work of boosting the morale of the country, but maybe they are not so much thinking that anymore. And also, how players have been very out spoken about racial injustice following George Floyd’s death.
PIERRE MOOSSA: I’ll start with a big picture concept and let everybody else speak to this.
We had our first editorial meeting today a few hours ago at noon Eastern and we spent a lot of time discussing this. I think the biggest approach that we have is that this is very much the Premier League’s returning under a backdrop of some very, very important and some very, very difficult subjects to discuss.
I think the most important thing that we will do is we will have that conversation, and we will have that in a thoughtful and intelligent manner. I stressed this to the group we had on the call today: We could not be more fortunate to have seven people who are incredibly thoughtful and can give the proper perspective and give the proper thoughts when it comes to these discussions, and to have intelligent conversations that are a must and necessary to have.
We will address everything that’s going on in the world as well as how it affects the sport that we cover, but the most important thing is that we have those conversations and in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. I wanted to give that backdrop and I’ll let the three more articulate folks give their thoughts, as well.
REBECCA LOWE: We did a podcast this morning which is coming out in which we already started these conversations. We had a very big conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement this morning with all seven of us on the call and as Pierre said, it’s about having the conversation. We have always, always fronted up to racism in football. It’s been more racism in football as opposed to the wider world because that’s what we have been faced with.
Now with the global movement, it’s very much taken a broader step, so we are here and ready for that, too. We did it on the podcast today and planning on doing it on Friday and at the weekend and planning on making sure that conversation is continuing throughout our coverage as and when it is needed and as and when it comes up, and I think it’s because, obviously, we all need to be having that conversation right now but with the Premier League, there’s going to be a lot of visible reminders of the movement, and therefore, we need to reflect that. That is our job. We reflect the stories that we are given by the footballers.
So, we are ready and we are educated and we are willing to be more educated, and to educate or…provide insight, should I say, to the viewers watching. So, we are very, very committed to having all of the conversations that need to be had, and we have already started for sure.
ROBBIE EARLE: As an in‑front‑of‑the‑camera black person, part of the team, obviously Rebecca and I have had over the course of the seven years in the Premier League, had a few difficult conversations but important conversations about race, and the one thing I would say, both Rebecca and Arlo, they both come from a journalistic background. They get the best out of the talent, the pundits… you can be sure we won’t avoid issues.
We’ll be honest. We’ll be frank and transparent with it, and as was sort of explained to us this morning, in many ways the pictures and storylines of the pictures and celebrations and what we are hearing about logos on shirts, Black Lives Matter if that goes ahead, that will be telling the story and we’ll have to do justice to that and make sure we are responding to a right and correct way. We are coming to a very important time in terms of race and justice and equality, and the Premier League has a great opportunity to take a lead on that.
It seems to me there’s a number of players and teams involved, the Premier League themselves, the FA, they are all happy to stand behind this movement, and that will be part of the storylines, along with others. Obviously, the pandemic will still very much be part of it and we are still amongst something that we don’t know how it’s all going to play out, as well as the sporting storylines and the football storylines.
ARLO WHITE: So far I’ve been very impressed with the players, both in terms of COVID‑19 and Black Lives Matter. I think with the pandemic that’s happened, they coordinated, they organized. I think Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool captain was very prominent in getting all the captains together. They didn’t want necessarily to have their wage cut by the clubs. They wanted to take a voluntary wage cut, or effectively donate money voluntarily to the causes that they wanted to donate to.
So they have been very conscious socially of what’s going on. They are very organized these days and it’s impressive. With the Black Lives Matter, I was talking to Mikel Arteta this morning for an inside the mind of the Arsenal manager, and he said Hector Bellerin rang him yesterday and said, “Boss, this is what we want to do” in regards to Black Lives Matter. And they played a friendly yesterday at the Emirates Stadium and this were some very powerful images of them taking a knee before kickoff.
I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect there will be some sort of coordinated response in addition to what’s on the shirts amongst the players, and I think this is the era where they are often criticizing this country for being flashy youngsters. They go to nightclubs; they are always doing wrong things and the lifestyles could be better.
The truth is more these guys do look after themselves and they have a massive social conference. There are multicultural dressing rooms and there is a brotherhood. I think we are going to see them step up the Black Lives Matter movement, as well, and show a real solidarity with that movement, with their black teammates and black teammates appreciating their white teammates, and who knows what happens next Wednesday and the following weekend. I think what they will do will be important, it will be significant, and I think a lot of people are going to be proud of them.
Q. The FA and Premier League throwing their support behind these players, a lot of the support is within months of some very highly public instances of in‑stadium racism. What do you think the clubs need to do when fans are allowed back in to maintain this momentum and create a more inclusive game and a more inclusive environment?
ROBBIE EARLE: What the Black Lives Matter movement has done so far is amplified the position of people of color. It’s brought it to attention. There seems to be a will for people to sit around and discuss things, but then we have to see actions. We have to see actions that are accountable, that can be checked, that can be ‑‑ you can look back and find out if things are working and adapt them if they are not.
In some respect, it feels like this is the first step for the Premier League and the FA in what is a huge step forward. We have seen campaigns that have lasted maybe a weekend where we have had a little concentration on it, but things have tended to go away. I kind of feel, and this is where maybe hopefully things are different, I feel as though this has got a different energy, a bigger determination to get things done.
And so part of that is going to be some difficult conversations between players, clubs, club owners, people who are running the games, whether it’s the Premier League or the FA in terms of making sure that steps are put in place and they are adhered to.
So nobody wants to see the scenes…a few years [ago] where going to the edge of the pitch and insulting a man because of his color and trying to do his job, and Raheem Sterling has to smile and pick up the ball and not do anything about that. Those are individual instances where we really see how strong and how behind these Black Lives Matter movements we are when we get cases where the Premier League and the FA have a chance to act on things.
Q. Pierre, we talked a lot about the safety protocols for everybody that’s in the stadium, but I was curious what the protocols are for those at Stamford in the broadcast center. Is anyone working remotely? What’s the production layout for the Premier League?
PIERRE MOOSSA: To answer your question, there will be people working remotely. We are obviously following all the guidelines of NBCUniversal and their health and safety guidelines. Temperature checks at home before you come in, as you enter the building. It’s one‑way traffic in the building, so if you go too far, you have to walk around the building. Touchless, as many touchless devices as possible, whether it’s bathrooms, doors, water faucets.
No communal pantries, food, refrigerators, any of that stuff. Everybody wears masks at all times. Social distancing for control rooms is significant. There will be several people working remotely from home in different workflows.
We have actually split up our production teams into two groups, a team football and a team soccer as we are calling them. So, team football does two shows in a row and team soccer does two shows in a row. You are basically avoiding interaction with people, so that control room group is six people and they work together all the time. So that way you’re not intermingling with other groups. The studio set has been modified to allow Rebecca, the two Robbies, and Kyle to be separated. Shot sheets, when you print a shot sheet, each of the talent have their own printer for shot sheets.
I think the biggest thing I would say to you is that every aspect of how you deliver food or drink water, every aspect you are normally used to not even thinking about has to be thought through to make sure that you are protecting yourself and protecting everybody else in the same manner.
I know it sound like a lot of minute details, but it makes a huge difference in the work flows so we can focus on producing the broadcast. There’s a lot of virtual monitor walls, conference calls to dial in, every way to make sure everybody is safe and healthy is a top priority and the broadcast comes second, and we have put a lot of thought in how to do this so we can continue to deliver the same level of coverage that we have done in the past, albeit a very socially distanced manner.