The events of the past week have confirmed it: I’m more excited about the start of the season in the English Premier League than the National Football League.
It’s like I don’t even know myself anymore. Neither does my wife. “When did you become such a soccer fan?” she said the other day, flashing a moderately annoyed glare.
Being amused by a soccer-based podcast – the sublime Men in Blazers – turned into casual viewing and now genuine interest. I’ve found myself watching meaningless friendlies and having Fox Soccer on for background noise instead of ESPN. Over the weekend, I watched not one but two EPL season preview shows – and double checked that my live-stream app was functioning – on NBC Sports, the network that starting this season owns American rights to the league.
Frankly, I like what I’ve seen so far. They’ve got some straight-laced dudes with foreign accents breaking down the Xs and Os and a couple of bespectacled Brits offering a comedic take. The Men in Blazers were brought on board for a previous spot (or more? Conspiracy theories of a controversial departure from Grantland are spinning in my head). And there’s a blonde British lady – not too young, not too old; not too funny, not too serious; not too vampy, not too prudish – on the pivot.
So far the cast has been armed with material that’s admirable and honest if not perfect. The campaign – and, yes that’s what much of it feels like – is based on two ideas: While Americans don’t know much about the EPL, they need to in order for this TV contract to pan out. You know the Ted Lasso bit starring Jason Sudeikis? Most of it is like that in varying forms.
For example, the NBC Sports web site has a team picker. You divulge a few personal preferences and they tell you what team to back. It told me to support Chelsea, one of the big-money clubs in the EPL. For the record, I’m keeping my options open. (#FreeAgentFan). Hokey, right? Not entirely. Because the network used a similar idea to shape a season preview show, including info about team histories, stadiums, uniforms and fan traditions. And I love that stuff.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why my interest has become more than a dalliance. (I’ve got tickets to a World Cup qualifier later this fall.) Soccer is a global game in a way that, say, basketball can’t match. Not only is there interest all over, but there’s a format in place to make it possible for teams from every different nation to face off be in in the World Cup or the Champions League.
There are new (to me) rules about players loans and transfers, like the recent move that sent successful American striker Clint Dempsey from the EPL to MLS in the prime of his career. I can’t tell you how many stories I read about that, trying to absorb how the system works and why the move was made. I’d much rather do that – seek our and learn something new – over watching another NFL training camp report.
The relegation system is fantastic – no tanking here because it’ll cost your club and community untold millions. The stars seem (again, seem – they’re certainly flawed as humans, too) more exotic or worldly than, say, Dwight Howard. I don’t even mind the low-scoring nature in light of all the other layers of intrigue. And there’s probably more – I’m still in my first full year of paying genuine attention, very much a neophyte.
Maybe my feelings will change over time, and the EPL will bore me – this excitement will have turned out to be cyclical, a temporary vacation from the games and leagues of my youth. Maybe it won’t.
It’s going to be easy to find out because every single game in the EPL season will air live – and free – on the NBC Live Extra app. Saturdays and Sundays – that’s when most matches are played, and generally in the morning in America. It’s another positive – no waiting for games; they’re on when you wake up. Love that. (Maybe take their soccer with beer.) Great and differing online jokes and reports, too, given the wide range of countries involved.
It’s good stuff, all the way around, without question enhancing and rejuvenating my interest in watching sports when not being paid to do so.