Arlo White didn't know what to expect when the Premier League season resumed with Project Restart. The only thing he knew was that it beat the alternatives.
“Watching exciting top level Premier League football without fans for a stretch is way better than no football at all,” he said. “I salute the league and the players for putting on such a great show, which the fans (and the commentator!) really needed right now.”
White and the rest of NBC's Premier League crew wrap up the season with Championship Sunday, when all 10 matches take place at the same time. It also wraps up a 40-day stretch in which White will have called 16 matches, a broadcasting task normally reserved for World Cups or the European championship.
Pierre Moossa, the coordinating producer for the network's Premier League coverage, describes the past five-plus weeks as an incredible whirlwind. With Sunday's conclusion, games will have aired on NBC and NBCSN all but five days since play resumed on June 17.
“With how crazy and different the world is now, it has been strange and challenging,” he said. "The way we are doing shows now is different whether it is wearing masks or social distancing. The entire team is proud of getting through this restart.
“The entire production and on-air teams have been remarkable. Everyone rose to the occasion and delivered quality broadcasts. They were tasked with difficult circumstances and different workflows but there was no drop off.”
White said calling matches from empty stadiums hasn't been as jarring as he originally thought. The first match he called didn't have the taped crowd noise coming through the headset, which White said made the emptiness feel odd and echoey. Once he was able to hear crowd noise through his headset, it felt normal.
White did note that the Southampton-Manchester City game did prove to be a strange experience.
“Southampton were feverishly defending a 1-0 lead. I had the fake crowd noise cranked up in my headphones and the game was so intense that for a while there I was completely lost in the experience,” White said. “Southampton defended with such commitment and tenacity that I simply forgot that there were no fans in the stadium. After the final whistle, (commentator) Lee Dixon and I took our headphones off and were stunned by the silence.”
While the addition of crowd noise has had split reactions, Moossa said it enhanced the experience and that those who didn't want it could watch a feed online without crowd noise.
The other thing that stands out during the restart for White is seeing Christian Pulisic elevated himself up to the higher echelons of Premier League players. The American standout has four goals and two assists since the restart.
“He’s gone from a player with ‘potential’ to Chelsea fans losing their minds if he doesn’t start, so watching his journey is going to be fascinating,” White said.
NBC was averaging 373,000 viewers since the season restarted, which is down 17% from before the shutdown. They were averaging 450,000 the first part of the season, which was their highest viewership in four seasons.
The ratings news though is not all bad. The afternoon matches on NBCSN have averaged 312,000 viewers, which is up 31% compared to those matches prior to the shutdown. Four of the six most-watched weekday matches have occurred over the past six weeks, including Wednesday’s Chelsea-Liverpool matchup (550,000) in which Liverpool raised the trophy for their first English top division title since 1990.
Even though Liverpool has had the title wrapped up for over a month, there are still going to be plenty of storylines on Sunday. Two of the four spots for Champions League play remain up for grabs, while three teams are trying to avoid the final two relegation places.
White will have the Leicester City-Manchester United match on NBC, which would propel the winner into the top four and the Champions League. NBCSN, USA Network, Golf Channel and CNBC will also have matches with the remaining five available on the Peacock streaming network.
Sunday will also be about looking ahead to next season, which will start in mid-September. Leeds United has won promotion to the Premier League and will be featured. Even though NBC won't have much downtime and won't be able to travel to England before the start of the season, the pandemic has made it easier to get team and coach interviews.
“We're not able to travel, but we have more direct contact with teams than ever before,” Moossa said. “The Zoom interviews have allowed us to bridge the gap and directly communicate with them.”
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