Inside the Premier League meeting that promised America – and delivered

Inside the Premier League meeting that promised America – and delivered - Telegraph/Custom image
Inside the Premier League meeting that promised America – and delivered - Telegraph/Custom image

Richard Scudamore is recalling the precise moment the Premier League was promised America. "It was back in 2012, 30th floor of Rockefeller Centre in New York," the former executive chairman says of his summit with United States network NBC. "They blew us away, absolutely blew us away."

Scudamore and his team had flown in to meet Jon Miller, an executive stalwart of 45 years, and Mark Lazarus, another NBC powerbroker. "We were on a growth trajectory anyway," he says. "But when NBC came along, Jon and Mark put together the most impressive presentation I've ever seen in terms of, 'Trust us with your precious Premier League, this is what we will do'."

For Scudamore, that Manhattan meeting would prove as significant as any other in his 19-year tenure overseeing unprecedented growth for the Premier League. His success in luring BT Sport as a main rival to Sky had sent values rocketing at home. But in more recent years, it is red-hot interest in the US – from club investors as well as the television channels – that safeguards the league as the most lucrative domestic sporting enterprise in the world.

A decade ago, the Premier League had been coming to the end of its US deal with Fox Sports. The big sell from Miller's NBC team was: "If you are prepared to sell us your rights, we will use it as our exclusive soccer property."

"NBC had never done the FA Cup, Champions League, La Liga or any other European League," Scudamore says. "They dedicated their efforts to the Premier League, and promoted it across all our network, which has the largest audience in the US. So they were promoting it on the Today programme in the mornings; massive promotion."

How the US market was finally cracked

After so many previous false-dawns for football in the US - Bobby Moore and Pele in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s; Diana Ross missing open goals at USA 94; David Beckham at LA Galaxy – it would take a simplistic approach from NBC to finally crack the market.

Miller told the Premier League his main philosophy was to "not Americanise" coverage. Instead, English football culture was brought to the streets of New York, with metro trains and taxis painted in club liveries. "The taxis, trains in club colours, were not just the obvious big clubs," Scudamore says.

"They implored the US audience to pick a side, whatever that was. It could have been Watford, Stoke City at the time. You have to pick a team to make it more interesting, and it worked."

There would also be relatively minimal glamour in the studio under producer Pierre Moossa, who Scudamore described as "on point" with his vision. Rebecca Lowe, a Briton formerly of BBC, Setanta Sports and ESPN, was a relatively low-profile anchor, joined by far-from-household name pundits, including Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe.

"In the first few years, we really really focused on the English experience, the pub experience, the way the UK watched the Premier League," Moossa has previously said.

Inside the Premier League meeting that promised America – and delivered - Getty Images/D Dipasupil
Inside the Premier League meeting that promised America – and delivered - Getty Images/D Dipasupil

Scudamore, who worked his way through the ranks at Yellow Pages before spending a career in football administration, knew a good deal when he saw one. Competitive tension in the television rights market becomes a "marvellous virtuous circle", he explains, when a big broadcaster throws its entire weight behind securing big audiences. "It's the most significant thing that grew the Premier League in the US," he adds.

Since 2013, NBC's Saturday breakfast coverage regularly gets million-plus viewing figures and is said to have reached "40 million unique individuals", according to official numbers. Separate research from Nielsen Sports estimates there are now 30.6 million Premier League fans across the Atlantic.

Profits, inevitably, are surging. Having been worth around $1 billion in 2013, the league now receives $2.7 billion under its six-year term ending in 2028, and there is every reason to expect that figure will soar again when the deal goes out to tender in the coming years.

Club valuations have shot up, too, with Chelsea's £2.5 billion sale last year matching top prices achieved for NFL, NBA and MLB franchises. The same New York broker, Raine, is now handling a potential Manchester United sale on behalf of the Glazers, who want £6 billion. While a Qatari sheikh and a maverick British billionaire in Sir Jim Ratcliffe appear to be frontrunners, a clutch of American wealth funds are also being used by brokers to drive up the price.

So what next?

For NBC and the Premier League, meanwhile, the next stage in the American invasion is under way. To harness that support, a new pre-season tournament involving Aston Villa, Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Chelsea, Fulham and Newcastle United across five American cities will be held for the first time.

Richard Masters describes the growing US market as "incredible" and Scudamore, his predecessor, says the new tournament is a good substitute for the controversial "Game 39" proposals first raised in 2008. "I won't shy away from the fact that I thought regular-season games abroad would be a good thing," Scudamore says. "I know a lot of people didn't think so but this is the next best thing."

NBC, meanwhile, has hosted Premier League Mornings Live fan festivals in eight different cities: Washington DC, New York, Boston, Austin, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Orlando.

There has been tangible growth on social media in the past three years, too, with #MyPLMorning usually trending locally on Saturdays during the season. With football already gaining ground on NFL, NBA and MLB, organisers of the 2026 World Cup across the US, Mexico and Canada say the Premier League bubble is nowhere near bursting.

'It's truly part of the culture here in the US now'

Chris Canetti, president of Houston's successful 2026 World Cup bid to be a host city, says England's top tier is now "embedded in a way I've never known before".

As a college student in the early 1990s, he did not watch a single minute of live action during the last time his nation hosted the tournament. Now, he explains, most students would recognise Premier League players. "While MLS teams continue to grow and continue to build fan bases, it's just so obvious to see how the English league is becoming a big deal here as well," he says. "You run into Americans all the time now, who are either Arsenal, Manchester United or even West Ham. It's truly part of the culture here in the US now."

‘We were late to the party – but now we’re catching up’

The buzz around the domestic game is not just confined to the Premier League, of course. Steve Horowitz, the co-founder of New York-based Inner Circle Sports, was a key figure in the sale of Wrexham to Hollywood's Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds in 2021.

"What I say in a lot of my meetings is, 'The rest of the world isn't wrong'," the footballing dealmaker explains. "Football is the game of the world, as we are reminded each year when the World Cup is played, and the EPL is by far the most-followed league. The NFL may be the biggest game in America but relatively few people in Asia, Africa or South America know who the Dallas Cowboys are. They all know who Man Utd and Liverpool are.

'I don't see how it doesn't continue to flourish'

"I think America is just catching up. You hear talk of American sports trying to shorten their games to keep the attention of the younger fans. There is such elegance about knowing a match is going to start at three and you can set your watch and you will be on your way home by five. And the games themselves are so great. The culture of it, the singing, the passion, and the tribalism. We were just late to the party – but we're here now."

Elsewhere in club investment circles, there have been suggestions in recent weeks that interest in the US is not as fierce for United this spring as it was for Chelsea this time last year. But optimistic sentiments from Horowitz, Canetti and 63-year-old Scudamore, a regular visitor to the US since first flying out to visit family aged 10, will leave the Glazers confident ahead of a April 28 bid deadline. "I don't see how it really doesn't continue to flourish," Scudamore concludes. Those promises in the Manhattan boardroom a decade ago have been kept.