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Oct 28, 2012

NBC to air six live EPL games a week

LONDON -- NBC's networks will televise the English Premier League under a $250 million, three-year deal that begins next season.

They will show every match from the world's most popular soccer league, taking coverage away from Fox and ESPN.

"The Barclays Premier League is the pre-eminent soccer league in the world, and is on the cusp of exponential popularity growth here in the U.S.," NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said Sunday.

The company picked up Major League Soccer last year and had success with its soccer broadcasts during the London Olympics.

Criticized for using tape delay with the Olympics because of time differences, NBC will not do so with Premier League games, Lazarus said. English-language broadcasts will primarily be on cable channel NBC Sports Network, with Telemundo and mun2 used for Spanish coverage.

NBC's English-language networks will televise six live games a week. One or two of the company's other cable channels will also be used, Lazarus said, but which has not been determined yet as schedules are evaluated. Other games will be streamed live online.

The company has been seeking to expand the audience of NBC Sports Network, which was renamed from Versus after its owner, Comcast, took over NBCUniversal.

"We think we're acquiring a set of assets that has unique affluent male appeal that's very attractive to advertisers and attractive to cable operators," Lazarus said.

And soccer is a potential area for growth with most sports broadcast rights currently under contract, though NBC recently signed a deal with the Formula One auto racing series.

NBC Sports Network's biggest property is the NHL, whose season runs concurrently with English soccer. The EPL will be a good complement to the network's hockey coverage, Lazarus said, adding live soccer games in the morning and afternoon to prime-time NHL broadcasts.

"It's a younger skewing sport than some others out there, like some that are in a championship series right now," Lazarus said, in apparent reference to Major League baseball and its older viewership.

The previous three-year EPL deal with Fox, that saw some matches sublicensed to ESPN, was worth about $80 million. NBC Sports Network is in about twice as many homes in the U.S. as Fox Soccer but about 20 percent fewer than ESPN.

The EPL has sold its TV rights in Britain to BSkyB and BT for 3.018 billion pounds ($4.86 billion) in a record three-year deal from the 2013-14 season.

The EPL said NBC will deliver the "biggest and broadest programming and promotion commitment ever in the United States" for the league.

"The NBC Sports Group has an excellent track record in sports broadcasting," EPL chief executive Richard Scudamore said.

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