NBC Sports and Premier League look to expand live fan fests in US

Approximately 10,000 American soccer fans applied to participate in the Premier League Mornings Live fan fest – a joint commercial venture between NBC Sports and the Premier League – in Manhattan on Saturday.

The demand was well over capacity, with 2,500 supporters from various US Premier League fan clubs attending the event at Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport district, up from the 2,000 who went to a similar fan fest in Washington DC in September.

All eight of the day’s games were aired live at the event in front of NBC Sports’ Premier League presenters and a host of other activities.

The event was aimed to reward American fans for their support of the league and its US host broadcaster and to engage with them. It was completely free – including entry, food and beverage, and one item of official merchandise.

Supporters could also have their photo taken with the Premier League trophy, while former Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer and British band Mumford and Sons added some stardust to the occasion.

NBC Sports and the Premier League combined to pay for the event, while Official Partners Nike and EA Sports helped contribute financially by putting on activations to promote their brands to fans.

A third fan fest later this season is already being discussed and Chicago, Nashville and Atlanta have asked the broadcaster if they can participate.

“We’ve had such a great relationship with the Premier League and one of the first things we noticed when we brought the property on was the incredibly rabid fanbase in the United States,” Jenny Storms, NBC Sports chief marketing officer, told SportBusiness.

“But when you think about it compared to other US sports they don’t get to touch the sport, where here you get to attend [an American] football game or a hockey game. But these people are waking up really early in the morning and expressing their fandom.

“This came to light last year at a little bit of a test. We [put on a fan fest] in New York City on Thanksgiving weekend and the whole idea was, ‘how do we not only celebrate but also give appreciation for the Premier League fan in the United States? Let them have an opportunity to touch the product, let them touch our talent…have them be able to experience the types of things that when you’re in the UK you get to experience all the time’.

“We had no expectations [last year] and we had a much smaller venue and we had to shut it down as we were getting to fire code. We didn’t really advertise it, we just sent some messages to supporters’ clubs and the response was incredible.

“So coming into the second year, the Premier League noticed the strong support from last year and said, ‘let’s do this together and let’s expand on it’. They are very interested in expanding and appreciating that fanbase in the United States. They have also provided a large investment, along with our large investment…but we’re not looking to recoup anything.”

The fan fest was specifically designed with social-media engagement in mind, so supporters would share their experience digitally in order to help promote the event and the league.

“Fan engagement and fan growth is the biggest initiative and one of the biggest ways that has manifested itself is in the first few hours we’ve been trending on Twitter in the US,” Storms adds. “We are letting fans express their fandom and what we’ve seen is they are sharing it on social media. The positions we’ve created, everything is really built for engagement on social media. Being able to extend the message is huge.

“Something like this we’re going to use as a platform, we’re going to see where we had success and where can we grow the engagement. We get reach-outs from markets that have heard about this and asked, ‘can you bring it here?’ Chicago has asked…even places down South like Nashville and Atlanta have asked to be involved.”

Earle relishes chance to interact with fans
Robbie Earle, the NBC Sports Premier League presenter, believes the success of the New York fan fest indicates just how popular the league has become in the US.

“I think there would have been a time not so long ago where you would have hosted this event and you would have struggled to get people here,” Earle tells us. “If you can’t go to a match and travel to get over, this is probably the next best thing. You are with a group of fans who have the same love and support of your team.

“For us it’s great to interact with the fans. Being in the studio is technically better for us, and in some respect it’s an easier show, but the interaction is huge. You’re talking to people to understand how they are tuning in at 4am on the West Coast and 7am here to be part of this very open club.

“I look around today as the arrange of clubs that are here – I’ve seen Brighton fans, Bournemouth fans, Cardiff fans…it’s not just about Manchester United fans, Chelsea fans, Arsenal and all the big clubs who are winning, it looks like a real drive and appeal to every club.

“If we can put it out there that this is what football is about, singing and banter and people tell other people about fan fests and bring a friend next time, then this will continue to grow.”