LeicesterCity will culminate what many believe is one of the most remarkable runs in thehistory of sports when they raise the Premier League trophy at King PowerStadium on May 7.
A5,000-to-1 longshot entering the 2015-16 campaign, the squad, which onlyrejoined the U.K.'s best soccer league two seasons ago, earned its first top-flightEnglish championship in 132 years.
Theaudience could serve as a good barometer for the future of the soccer circuitfor NBC Sports Group, which is concluding a three-year run that has lifted thePremier League's stateside profile and the programmer's ratings in the process.Comcast Corp.'ssports arm paid $250 million on the expiring deal and upped the ante with asix-year, $1 billion rights commitment. At the , NBC Sports Group ChairmanMark Lazarus said there is "still plenty of headroom" for theproperty to grow on TV and digital.
Withtwo weekends left, NBC Sports Group has posted a 7% rise with the PremierLeague to an average of 518,000 viewers per match window in the 2015-16 season,up from 483,000 in the prior campaign. NBCSN (US), NBC (US), Telemundo (US), NBC UNIVERSO (US), USA and CNBC (US) have aired Premier League matches thisseason.
WithLeicester City joining Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenalas the only clubs to top the Premier League table over the past 21 years, somewonder how big of a television drawing card the Foxes can become in the U.S.Indeed, a look at leading Premier League telecasts — all but the Jan. 22, 2012,Arsenal-ManU match on FOX(US) have aired on NBC and NBCSN — shows that nine of the top 10telecasts have involved at least one of the prior champions, save forCardiff-Swansea on Feb. 8, 2014, which scored with 1.24 million watchers on NBCto rank seventh to date.
Threeof the top matches occurred this season: ManU-Liverpool, ManCity-ManU andEverton-Arsenal tallied 1.25 million, 1.17 million and 1.15 million viewers onthe broadcast network to rank sixth, eighth and ninth, respectively.
Inaddition to the so-called Big Four, Tottenham Hotspur, which placed secondin the circuit this year, and traditional power Liverpool are the other mainclubs with trans-Atlantic currency.
Willexpats and Yanks jump on the Foxes' bandwagon next season?
Thenumbers from this year suggest Leicester City is on its way. Through 23 matchesthis season, the club has averaged 473,000 viewers, an 18% jump from 401,000over 11 games in the 2014-15 campaign, when the Foxes only avoided relegationwith a late-season hot streak.
Theteam's April 1-1 draw on May 1 against ManU, which put it one point from thetitle, drew 908,000 watchers, NBCSN's most-watched Premier League match since979,000 saw Arsenal-Chelsea on April 26, 2015. Leicester City-ManU also ranksas NBC Sports Live Extra's second-most streamed match ever, garnering 143,000unique users and 7.2 million live minutes.
The Monday,May 2 afternoon match — Chelsea tied Tottenham 2-2 to confer the crown to theFoxes — was not a favorite among U.S. employers, as it netted 8.5 million livestreaming minutes, making it the most-streamed Premier League match ever in theU.S.
Withtwo rounds to go, the current campaign on NBC Sports Live Extra has alreadytotaled 575 million live streaming minutes, up 78% compared to last season.
Thepomp, circumstance and elation of the trophy ceremony before Leicester City'shome crowd on Saturday aside, NBC Sports Group will give the season a bigsend-off by again televising all 10 Premier League matches on the campaign'sfinal day. The May 15 games kick off at 10 a.m. as part of its "ChampionshipSunday" coverage, where races continue for the two remaining ChampionsLeague positions — top-four finishers — and to avoid the two other relegationspots. Aston Villa will be droppedto the Championship circuit.
Asthose bits of unfinished business are sorted, fans will begin to assess howLeicester City will handle the financialwindfall that accompanies their Premier League title and ascension to theChampions League and whether they will be able to overcome player transfers,potential championship hangover and complacency, and all the other teamslooking to snare the Foxes next season.
Underdogsno more, does Leicester City lift off again in the 2016-17 season for theirfans — old and new — and further bolster the emerging weekend, daypart for NBCSports Group?