By Oliver Tse
Published on January 28, 2018. Updated on February 17, 2018.
February 17, 2018 update: as expected, NBC Sports chose the “safe” option by assigning former Arsenal FC defender Lee Dixon to replace Phil Neville as co-commentator/match analyst for the Tottenham Hotspur FC vs Arsenal FC “North London Derby” English Premier League match, which aired on CNBC (USA only) on February 10. At this point, one would NOT expect NBC Sports to consider hiring Kelly Smith as a co-commentator/match analyst until she has experience working as a co-commentator/analyst from the gantry, likely during English Women’s Super League (WSL) matches. Smith’s path to the gantry appears to be blocked by several women in the UK, notably former Leeds United FC Education and Welfare Officer Lucy Ward who is currently the co-commentator/match analyst for WSL matches on BT Sport, as well as former Arsenal Ladies FC team captain Faye White who has extensive experience as a co-commentator/match analyst for women’s soccer, both in the UK and in English-speaking countries overseas via her work as a co-commentator/match analyst for World Feeds produced by Input Media during UEFA Women’s Euro 2017.
LONDON, United Kingdom and STAMFORD, Connecticut, USA – With last week’s hiring by the English Football Association of former Manchester United FC and Everton FC player Phil Neville to become Manager (Head Coach) of the England Women’s National Team a.k.a. “The Lionesses”, Neville may no longer be available to fulfill his next scheduled television co-commentary (match analysis) assignment for NBC Sports Group in the U.S., the English Premier League “North London Derby” soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Arsenal FC from Wembley Stadium on Saturday, February 10, 2018 (kickoff time 1230 local, 7:30am New York, to air live on CNBC in the U.S. only.)
The early morning of February 10 will be busier than usual for U.S. sports television, as NBC Sports Group will need to use the free-to-air NBC broadcast network, plus pay-TV networks NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and USA Network, for live coverage of the Winter Olympic Games from the Republic of Korea (which is 14 hours ahead of New York), leaving only CNBC available for English Premier League matches.
Furthermore, both regular hosts of Premier League on NBC Sports, Rebecca Lowe (weekends and some mid-week matches) and Liam McHugh (Monday matches that kick off at 2000 London Time/3pm or 4pm New York Time), will be in the Republic of Korea to host Winter Olympic coverage. NBC Sports Group has reassigned its regular Premier League play-by-play announcer Arlo White from London to NBC Sports Group headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut to host studio coverage with pundits Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe while Lowe and McHugh are away.
So whom will NBC Sports Group hire on short notice if NBC Sports Group were to need to replace Neville to partner with play-by-play announcer Derek Rae to call Tottenham vs Arsenal?
Interest among the American public and U.S. media outlets on qualified women landing on-camera roles to broadcast men’s sports events, as either play-by-play announcers or match analysts/co-commentators, is at an all time high. As a result, every U.S. media company, including NBC Sports Group, has prepared lists of qualified women who can fill these roles for particular sports.
In the case of English Premier League, BT Sport (U.K.) Head of Content Simon Green (who was the founding General Manager of U.S. soccer-centric pay TV network FOX Sports World when that network launched in November 1997) has alternated 2 former “Lionesses”, striker Kelly Smith MBE and goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis, on the BT Sport Score program on Saturday afternoons as studio pundits and off-monitor match analysts.
Of the two, Smith is by far the bigger name. She is THE LIONESS (TM), not just any former “Lioness”. She has scored more goals as an England international, 46, than any other “Lioness” and she has won more titles in women’s English soccer than any other player.
In addition, Smith has EVERY quality an executive producer would look for in a television co-commentator/match analyst: knowledge, passion, and energy. She prepares for each television assignment meticulously. She is absolutely fearless and outspoken, as she will express her opinion of anything that has to do with English football.
Furthermore, U.S. TV viewers who watched FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 on FOX Sports are already familiar with Smith, who appeared throughout that tournament as a studio pundit.
Do the “top dogs” at NBC Sports Group, all of whom “worship at the church of what is working now” and should already have Smith on radar, go after Smith NOW if Neville were unable to fulfill his scheduled TV commentary assignment on February 10?
One would think that NBC Sports Group has to be tempted, especially because replacing Neville (who’s hiring by the English FA has resulted in controversy due to his lack of experience with the women’s game and his ill-advised tweets on Twitter several years ago) with Smith would give NBC Sports Group the best “bang for the buck” with the resulting media publicity.
But is Smith ready for such a big assignment, as she has never worked as a co-commentator/match analyst from the gantry of any English football stadium for any men’s or women’s match at any level, much less the English Premier League “North London Derby” from Wembley Stadium, a.k.a. “the cathedral of English Football”?
Will this be a case of “too much, too soon” for Smith?
NBC Sports Group has to be careful with Smith, who has a checkered past. Smith spent time in rehab (in 2004) after her father had to bring her home to the U.K. to receive treatment after she abused alcohol to cope with injuries and loneliness during her first stint as a professional player in the U.S.
If things were to go badly for Smith as a match analyst/co-commentator of an English Premier League match from the stadium, is Smith vulnerable to a relapse?
However, if NBC Sports Group and Smith herself are both convinced that Smith will be able to perform to high expectations as a match analyst/co-commentator from the stadium, then NBC Sports Group will want to pull the trigger and #HireTheLioness sometime within the next 36 months, perhaps after BT Sport has given Smith opportunities to call some women’s matches from the stadiums first so that NBC Sports Group can evaluate the video, or perhaps as soon as February 10 if Neville were indeed no longer available.
We’ll know soon enough what NBC Sports Group decides to do for February 10 and beyond, as NBC Sports Group will use its social media accounts and its nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com website to communicate with viewers and the media.
About the author: Oliver Tse operated Oliver Tse Management Group in 2006-2009 to secure product endorsement opportunities for poker players and broadcast talent appearing on televised poker events such as the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the World Poker Tour (WPT), and the NBC Sports National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Among his clients were 3 out of 9 players at the 2007 WSOP Main Event Final Table airing on ESPN (including the champion), the first woman to win a mix-gender WPT event (at the 2008 WPT Celebrity Invitational), and the first female sportscaster on U.S. Spanish-language television who made a successful career switch to poker announcing and hosting and became the original “Voice of Poker in Latin America.” Tse’s clients were deployed as brand ambassadors to emerging international markets for poker including Germany, Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. From 1995 through 2007, Tse founded and operated soccerTV.com, an Internet-based marketing business of televised soccer products for clients including ESPN, FOX Sports, and GOLTV. He holds a master’s degree in Financial Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.