It’s 7 o’clock on a Saturday. A crowd clad in red jerseys shuffles in. The old man standing next to me is eating a bagel and drinking a beer.
Throughout the day more and more people – some wearing blue jerseys, others in red and white stripes, an outlier in yellow – continue to dominate Pier 17 at South Street Seaport in New York City.
NBC Sports and the English Premier League hosted a Premier League Mornings Live Fan Fest from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 8 to not only continue to promote the domestic soccer league in the United States, but also to reward fans who already vigilantly follow from across the pond.
There were massive screens streaming all the matches – including the marquee Manchester City-Chelsea showdown – photo opportunities with the Premier League trophy, a FIFA 19 gaming zone, an airbrush tattoo station, player and celebrity appearances and, of course, a live broadcast of NBC’s Premier League Mornings show.
“For guys to get up at stupid o’clock and watch some of the kickoff times you have to do over here shows what love they have for it,” says Alan Shearer, the Premier League’s all-time leading scorer. “It’s electric in there. They love it and it’s great to see.
“It’s not just the red shirts of Liverpool, (Manchester) United or Arsenal or the blue ones of Chelsea; it’s everyone whether it’s Brighton or whether it’s Leicester, Newcastle or whoever it may be. There’s support for everyone which is brilliant.”
More than 2,500 soccer supporters visited the event at South Street Seaport, and NBC and the Premier League welcomed approximately 2,000 to their inaugural Premier League Mornings Live event on Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C.
NBCUniversal, via NBC Sports Group, outbid FOX and ESPN to acquire the exclusive English-speaking and Spanish-speaking media rights to the Premier League in the United States via a multi-year agreement that began with the 2013-14 season, airing all 380 matches across all platforms and devices in the country.
Their coverage, which was solidified via a six-year extension announced in 2015, had a record reach of 39.3 million viewers for the 2017-18 Premier League season, a 14% increase from the prior season (34.5 million) according to Nielsen. The top 10 most-watched live Premier League matches in the U.S. have been broadcast to viewers by NBC Sports Group.
Most recently, Chelsea’s 2-0 win against defending champion Manchester City on Dec. 8 averaged 1.1 million viewers on NBC, ranking as the most-watched Premier League match of the 2018-19 season.
“I see the reaction wherever I go in the world whether it’s here in America or it’s in India, all anyone wants to talk about is the Premier League,” Shearer says. “It’s huge. People love it.”
Soccer as a whole has continued to grow in the United States. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 7% of Americans said soccer was their favorite sport. Football remains the most-popular sport at 37%, followed by basketball (11%), and baseball (9%). The record 73,019 who attended the 2018 MLS Cup between Atlanta United and Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta also speaks to the sport’s increased interest.
The accessibility to soccer, particularly from around the world, has gotten easier in recent years because of increased viewing options as well as tournaments like the International Champions Cup being played on American soil. The Bundesliga (FOX), Champions League (Bleacher Report), LaLiga (beIN Sports) and Serie A (ESPN) are now all aired nationally.
“It is growing at a rapid pace,” Shearer says. “Soccer has got to compete with a lot of other sports which may be ahead of it at the moment, but it’s getting bigger, it’s getting better and the interest, without a doubt, is massive.
“If the Premier League keeps growing and they continue to keep doing events like they have done here and in D.C., then that is great. It sends a message out there that soccer is here, it’s here to stay, and it’s getting bigger and better.”
NOTE: First appeared on Forbes