Tuesday, August 12th, 2014


Dan Masonson:  Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to our Premier League conference call.  As many of you know, our season kicks off this Saturday, August 16th, at 7 a.m. eastern on NBCSN with two games, followed by a game at 12:30 p.m. eastern on NBC.

We’re glad to be joined today by Arlo White, our lead play by play announcer for the Premier League, our studio host Rebecca Lowe, and the two newest members of our team, the Men in Blazers Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, as well as our coordinating producer Pierre Moossa.

Pierre Moossa:  Welcome, everyone.  The focus for this year is to build upon last season’s successful debut season and continue to broaden the American audience with the most complete and thorough coverage of the Barclays Premier League.  The addition of Men in Blazers Roger Bennett and Michael Davies to the NBC family will provide a unique, intelligent and humorous perspective for our audience.

I also want to stress that our entire BPL team feels a tremendous privilege and honor to represent the Barclays Premier League, and we know it is our responsibility to capture the passion and excitement of the league within our broadcast.  Thanks for your time today.

Rebecca Lowe:  Hi, everybody.  I’m echoing Pierre’s statement there, first of all welcoming Michael Davies and Roger Bennett to our team.  Really looking forward to having a whole new dimension.  I’m not sure humorous is the right word I’d use, but it’s certainly going to be unique with them around for sure.

Really looking forward to two things mainly, one, the type of race this season because I think there are five teams up there which it’s impossible to start predicting who’s going to win the league, so that’s going to be something that’s going to keep everyone’s attention right through until May 24th again. I also think when you look back at last season, every week you think, ‘oh, there can’t be another piece of drama this week,’ and ‘there can’t be another twist of tale,’ and then you get [Newcastle United Manager] Alan Pardew head-butting the umpire on the side of the pitch.  You go into this season, and you think nothing like that will happen this season; this season will be calm and there will no big moments like that, but you know deep down there always will be. Just looking forward to those soap opera kind of story lines that sort of consume us all for about 10 months every year, so that’ll be great.

Arlo White:  Hi, everybody.  Yes, echoing both Pierre and Rebecca, really, it’s our second year.  If I look back 12 months we’ve come an awfully long way.  We’ve got a solid first year under our belts, and we go again, in the words of [Liverpool Midfielder] Steven Gerrard, I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting back to work.  For me the first weekend involves Arsenal against Crystal Palace on Saturday and Liverpool against Southampton on Sunday, and the rhythm of the season starts again.

The soap opera that is the Premier League will unfold in front of us over nine and a half months.  We have no idea what will happen, but I can’t wait to find out, so I know it’s going to be compelling, entertaining and fun, as well, so very much looking forward to getting started.

Michael Davies:  Delighted to be coming with Roger to NBC Sports.  We grew up, Roger and I, watching Alf, The A Team, Miami Vice in Britain, dreaming one way of working for NBC.  We’ve been big fans, big friends of Rebecca and Arlo for a long time.  We love the coverage that NBC brought to our beloved English Premier League, and we think this season is going to be better than Downton Abbey, any season.

Roger Bennett:  I’d just say that since we moved to the United States and first laid eyes on the wonder that was George Michael and his Sports Machine, I’ve wanted to work at NBC Sports, so this is a big day for Michael and myself.  I grew up in Liverpool in the 1980’s, I have to say, watching Different Strokes made me realize there was a life to be lived in technicolor in a way that there wasn’t in Liverpool of the ’80s in black and white.

NBC soccer is one of the most talented teams in football, Rebecca Lowe, Arlo White, Tim Howard, Kyle Martino, the two Robbie’s.  Every team has got a weak point, and Michael and I are just honored to be NBC soccer’s weak point.

Congratulations, Michael and Roger, on the new job.  I’m curious if you could speak to this and if Pierre could speak to the difficulties and the challenges with taking a podcast and turning that to a TV show with the changes in medium but also certain expectations that fans of the show probably have.

Michael Davies:  Well, it’s a good question.  As you know, I think you know I spend most of my time making TV shows, not making podcasts, so the first thing I had to do was figure out how to make a podcast when I am used to making TV shows.  But you’re right, Men in Blazers has developed in a certain unique way out of Roger and I just speaking to each other once a week on the podcast, twice a week on the radio.  We’ve been doing it for a very long time, and we’ve been on video before really until we got to the World Cup, and at the World Cup in that little closet, in that small panic room, I think we kind of figured out the way we should do video in the most suboptimal way possible, and I think that our TV show will be very similar.

The amazing thing, the wonderful thing, is that NBC Sports really enjoyed what we did at the World Cup and wants us to do more of the same.  So we’ll be a small show in a very, very small panic room which we’re building brick by brick in the crap part of SoHo, and with guests and highlights which we’ve never had before which we’re very excited to have, and new features which we’ll be doing in communication with our GFOPs, with our fans.

We are very conscious of what our fans like about us, when our fans think we’ve strayed from the center of what we really do, and we’ll be doing everything in conjunction with them.

Roger Bennett:  To all of the GFOPs who are concerned about the transition, we promise there’s only one thing that we’ll vow.  Michael and I will vow that the show will be just as suboptimal as everything that we’ve done before.

Michael Davies:  And we’re going to continue to do the podcast as a huge part of what we’re doing with NBC Sports.

Pierre Moossa:  The only thing I want to add is from all our conversations with Roger and Michael from an NBC Sports point of view is we’re not trying to change anything that they’ve done.  We’re very much supportive of it and big fans of it.  The goal for us is to provide them the best opportunity to do their show but in the same way stay out of the way and not try and change what a quality show they put on.

My question is for Roger and Michael.  I just wanted to get your prediction on who the champion will be, and I wanted to get your thoughts on three clubs, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Michael Davies:  I think you’re asking who the champion will be and then talk about Tottenham, Liverpool and Man United.  I’ll start with, I’ve widely already gone out there and said that I think, and this pains me as a Chelsea fan to say this, but I think it’s going to be Arsenal who are going to win the Premier League this year.  They were superb against the mid and lower table last year.  They have so many attacking options with the addition of [Alexis] Sánchez and have added other solid players to that team this year.  I think they’re going to be superb against the mid and lower table.  They cannot possibly be as bad against the top of the table again this year, and I think they’re going to do it.  Why don’t you talk about Tottenham and Liverpool.

Roger Bennett:  I will just say I love the first day of the season.  I mean, this is a very exciting week for us to speak to you because each one of the teams is just fresh, everything is possible, every fan can only think of the greatest for the season ahead before all of us feel that searing pain and tragic disappointment that occurs for many of us after the first weekend.

So right now, here and now, after spending the summer with Roberto Martinez, I’d say Everton are going to win the league, but if you were to ask me on Monday, I believe that this is going to be Chelsea’s year.  It makes me just as sick to say that as it did for Michael to say Arsenal, but I believe pretty much what is expected of Arsène Wenger, last year he got a free pass, it wasn’t his team.  It was old too old or too young depending on what day you spoke to him, and the young guy, [Jose] Mourinho’s young guy this season, and he has so much to prove.  I believe with his spine and his purchases, everything is going to be on him.

Who are the other teams, Tottenham and Liverpool?

Michael Davies:  I think we’d just say, joining on what Rebecca was saying, the Premier League just is a combination of this amazing, amazing sports league featuring some of the biggest stars in world soccer, but it also works on the basis of a soap opera.  The narrative week in and week out is so amazing.  You just look at the narrative, between Tottenham with [Mauricio] Pochettino coming in, his first season after achieving so much in Southampton, Louis van Gaal and his amazingly extraordinarily surprised hair taking over at Manchester United.

Roger Bennett:  He’s the only man in the world who makes Wayne Rooney’s hair look normal.

Michael Davies:  And meanwhile, Liverpool playing some of the most exciting football in the world towards certainly the pre latter stages of last season and in this preseason, and how far can Brendan Rodgers take this team.

Roger Bennett:  I should say, the Premier League is sporting delight.  It’s like one of those centaurs, which half man, half horse.  It is high athletic pursuit, half kind of Brazilian soap opera, like a Telemundo afternoon special with kind of manic behavior, the headbutts, the managerial headbutts and the occasional ill-judged neck tapping, and I’ll tell you what we can promise you is that this season, the race for fourth and third and second and first, that top four places, last season it was a thrilling spectacle to watch, but all of the teams have rearmed, and last season many of the big four were teams in transition with new managers in place.  This season they’ve all rearmed in a most fascinating fashion.  Their glaring weaknesses have been tapered off to some degree, and Liverpool also take the greatest benefit out of last season.  They have adapted to [Luis] Suarez’s loss in a most fascinating fashion with a glut of new kind of incoming tactical decisions.

The one thing that thrilled me last season which was when NBC did this job in engaging a large American fan base in the Premier League, it was a year Manchester United decided to have an off season, and last season, if you just started watching the Premier League for the first time, many Americans only knew Manchester United as a middling kind of plodding mid table team, and I think that’s a fate which will continue.

Pierre, I was wondering if you could comment on just how much things might be expanding from a production standpoint?  I know obviously the games are coming in on the world feed, but is there an expansion in Premier League’s footprint in the Stamford facility, and do you feel a need to expand coverage here in year two or just do what you do here right in year one?

Pierre Moossa: Well, the focus has always been building on what we started last year, and from day one we focus on how we can make each and every show better, and that’s the No. 1 goal.  There are small tweaks we can make here and there and there will be some slight coverage tweaks, but generally speaking we want to make every single show we can do possibly better and execute at an even higher level.  But a couple things that the Premier League production is providing us that we’re pretty excited about, especially Robbie and Robbie and Kyle, is there will be a tactical camera at numerous games, which will be at all 22 for the football folks where they can really break down tactics. That’s one of the neat things that are being employed as well as additional feeds coming from the UK that will help dress up the show a little bit better.

From a Stamford execution point of view, there really isn’t much changing from a studio facility side except for the fact that they have the live streams, you’re going to have a couple more bells and whistles, we’re going to explore using different parts of the studio. The No. 1 focus from day one was trying to bridge that geographical divide between the fact that we’re over in the U.S. broadcasting a league that’s across the pond, so some of the things that we’re working on and continue to work on is being on site more and more, so more on site studios, more reporters, more access and communication with the commentators and co commentators over in the UK, a little bit more of that ‘newsy’ feel and that sense of place.

Those are the big picture changes that are coming, but again, the first thing first and foremost is executing at a high level, we set our level at the end of last season, and every show we demand and expect to be better than the last one, and that’s the focus for the season.

And this question is for, I guess, Roger first, and Arlo if he’s around.  What does Jozy Altidore have to do this season?  What’s he have to do to get into the good places and get to scoring in the Premier League at the level everybody has been waiting for him to?

Roger Bennett: I mean, yeah, it’s going to be a very fascinating early season narrative to watch. He got off to a dark start for Jozy [Altidore].  He’s a player that thrives off his manager sharing his own confidence.  At Sunderland he is in a place where that has never been the case, and there was a line that Jürgen Klinsmann will talk about that he just wasn’t getting the liberty that he needed to thrive and then Connor Wickham’s late flourish at the end of the season paid to that kind of a theory.

I spent time in Sunderland with Jozy [Altidore] towards the end of the season.  He is mentally strong.  He is a very robust gentleman.  He is well aware of the position that he’s in.  He’s well aware of exactly what he needs to do, and he has an ability to really focus on his own short term and to have a real short term thinking to block out the kind of past 12 months and to see this as a fresh start and to go for it again.

But I think he said himself that it’s all about confidence for him, and that will be the first step.  I think the first couple of weeks are going to be crucial.  If it doesn’t click in the first couple weeks for him at Sunderland, it’s going to be a very long season for Jozy [Altidore] indeed.

Arlo White: I think it is a very big season for him, obviously.  As part of preparation for each season going into our second season, we try and fix as many calls and meetings as we possibly can with the managers of all 20 clubs if we can, and we had a chat last week with Gus Poyet, and listening to him talk about football and to talk about life at Sunderland is to listen to a guy who is so enthusiastic and so holistic in his approach to things, and I think things are on the uptick for Sunderland football club.  If we go back 12 months in a similar situation just before the season with Jozy Altidore himself, I didn’t sense a great positivity in his voice.  The club had been taken over by Paolo Di Canio, there was a new director of football, something like 14, 15, maybe even 16 players had come in.  There were strict behind the scenes rules involving caffeine and ketchup, and Jozy Altidore didn’t strike me as a particularly happy footballer at that time.

Now, it’s not to say that once [Paolo] Di Canio left and [Gus] Poyet came in that all of a sudden he turned into a goal scoring machine.  As we know, that didn’t occur last year, but Sunderland themselves as a team dug in and got some terrific results, when they won at Stamford Bridge, and they’ve got that long record of Jose Mourinho going 77 games unbeaten in the league at home, it was [Jozy] Altidore who won the penalty kick through sheer determination and strength and positivity that led to the winning goal.

I agree with Roger, I think he’s got to start the season pretty well.  He had a disappointment with injury at the World Cup, but the team has been set up to serve a player, who I think Gus Poyet rates quite highly.  You’ve got Jack Rodwell that’s gone in there, Patrick van Aanholt to get by on the left hand side to provide a service, as well, so maybe Gus Poyet and Sunderland are designing things to suit a player like Jozy Altidore, where before he was more of a square peg in a round hole.

Thank you all for doing this.  My question is for Rebecca and Arlo.  I’m really looking forward to the Premier League coverage coming up, especially after the Coach Lasso film.  Could you tell me a little bit about your experience working with Jason Sudeikis?

Rebecca Lowe: Yeah, absolutely.  Well, it was an honor, really.  I mean, to sit there for a couple of hours next to somebody with such raw talent as he, I’ve never been lucky enough to be anywhere near someone who’s kind of, you know, a comic genius and somebody who’s come through Saturday Night Live and all that, and just to witness the way he improvises off the top of his head, the way he takes you in it because none of it was scripted at all.  So Arlo and I turned up thinking, has anyone got a script? Are we going to have to learn something? Because I’m not really good at learning lines.  I’m going to have to get a script, has anyone got one? They looked at me like, no script, no, we’re just going to go and do it.  I thought, oh, my God, I’m never going to be able to improvise.

But the way he does it, he sort of carries you along.  He’s also an incredibly humble guy and very easy to work with for somebody like me who’s never done anything like that.  It was an honor.  It was impossible not to laugh.  How they edited out the laughter, I don’t know.  I was at the end of my bit literally pinching my own skin to stop myself from smiling, but I failed on so many occasions.  I would say it was one of the highlights of my life actually I would say.

Arlo White: Well, we talked about it lots afterwards and how much fun that we had.  I made a critical tactical error very early on in the day because Rebecca’s slot in the studio with Ted and Jason went first, and I was looking for a place to sit and just watch it all unfold, and I sat on one of the steps in the corner of this sort of vast studio, and I soon realized that once things started I was just to the right of the one shot camera for Rebecca, so every time that Ted, sort of Jason opened his mouth, the whole of the studio, everybody in there turned around and just started giggling, I realized that I was potentially in Rebecca’s eye line, and I thought, this is awful because the last thing she needs right now is to see me giggling away and for her to, as well.  I just thought she did brilliant for the most part, and you couldn’t do it for the entire show, Rebecca, because you are indeed human and the guy is one of the funniest men on the planet.

It was just brilliant to watch a guy like that risk basically he would get a thought in his mind and follow it and if he didn’t nail the line or the punch line initially, he would restart, reset and he would get there.  And to watch all this comic stuff just dropping out of his mouth –  it’s amazing they got it down to six minutes because we were there for two and a half hours. So, I’m sure there will be some outtakes going out soon, drifting through throughout the season, because there was so much great stuff left out there.  It was one of the most entertaining days of my entire life, and just what Rebecca has said, humble guy, lovely guy, lovely to talk to, no airs and graces, no big shot Hollywood star.  He was great.  Yes, one of the great experiences of my career.

I had a question in regards to the Men in Blazers show on the Monday night coming up, the weekly show.  I wanted to find out what viewers can expect.  Will the show be recorded live?  Is it going to have a call in, phone in feature?  And also, how will that differentiate from the regular Friday podcast, video podcast that will be coming out?

Michael Davies: Well, we’re very early in the development at the television program, and at the same time, we’ll be launching it in two or three weeks.  We’re literally building the studio down the hall from where I’m speaking to you right now.  We know that it’s going to, similar to the podcast, include celebrity guests.  We know we’re going to have highlights which I mentioned before which we’ve never had before, and we know we’re going to be recording it very much as a wrap up to the weekend’s events that have taken place across the NBC networks, across NBC Sports, NBC Live Extra, with the games of that weekend’s Premier League action.

As to whether it’s going to be live, as to whether or not it’s got a call in aspect, we’re still thinking about all that stuff.  We’ve done a lot of live stuff before, we’ve done a lot of call in.  We’re just trying to figure out the best way to make this work, to make it frankly as entertaining as possible for our fans, old and new.

Sort of unlike most people that do this, we’re actually in communication with our GFOPs about what they’re looking for out of this program, and we’re taking that feedback really seriously.

But the podcast is sacrosanct.  That’s what we built our whole brand on.  We love doing it.  That’s a very long conversation, often lasts an hour and 10 minutes, an hour and 15 minutes.  This TV show is going to be half an hour.  It’s going to have commercial breaks.  It’s going to much move much faster, but we’re going to continue to do both.  The podcast is available Tuesday afternoon, Wednesdays, and the TV show on Monday night.

And by the way, a lot of other digital content.  We’re going to be making lots and lots of content out of our panic room, and also Roger is going to be writing, as well.

Arlo, I have a question for you in regards to electricity in regards to what you think will be the stories coming out of the King Power Stadium this season.  In terms of what stories can we expect to see or hear from the King Power Stadium this season in terms of basically how will Leicester do this season.

Arlo White: How interesting that you pick such a random Premier League club for me.  I’ll attempt to answer.  Yeah, it’ll be an interesting season.  It’s the first season that Leicester have been the Premier League for 10 years, so naturally there is a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding it.  It’s actually been a good time for the city.

I’m sure you followed the story of Richard III and his remains being found under a parking lot in a Tesco supermarket, and he’s due for a state burial, I believe, in the local cathedral. With the city going through an exciting time, the world snooker champion comes from there, the current X Factor winner is from Leicester, so they’re riding this wave of euphoria at the moment.

In terms of on the field, they’ve got their work cut out.  There’s absolutely no doubt about it.  I think in central defense there could be issues because Wes Morgan isn’t getting any younger, this new talk which has just been followed with a mixture of joy and disbelief that [Esteban] Cambiasso has been linked with Leicester City, but you can look out for a couple of young, exciting talents. Danny Drinkwater came through the system at Manchester United, grew in stature last year when this club got over 100 points in the championship, and they were the dominant team the second tier.  There’s a youngster I think who’s injured at the moment up top, it’s a great story, he came from Fleetwood Town in non league for a million pounds when Leicester were in the championship called Jamie Vardy.

Now, I don’t think we’re looking at a future England international here, but with the pace that he possesses, he could upset and maybe surprise a few defenses in the Premier League, but it’s going to be very tough for a club like Leicester to compete at that level, particularly when you see the amount of money and talent that’s come in with the top sides, and they’ve got a tremendously difficult start with Chelsea, Man United, Arsenal in the first three games, and Everton, as well.

So I think secretly they’ll be delighted with 17th place and just to survive the season.  But what do I know?  That’s just reading a few newspapers.

Dan Masonson: Thanks, everyone, for joining us today.