If you can’t get enough of Jozy Altidore or the #FreeJurgen hashtag on Twitter, you’re in luck. Even more soccer is on the way.
The English Premier League kicks off Saturday morning with seven games televised on the NBC family of networks, including the Manchester United-Swansea City game on NBC (Cable 3) at 9:30 a.m. NBC Universal will show all 380 EPL games on TV or digital streams.
The network paid $250 million over three years for U.S. broadcast rights to the 20-team league and couldn’t have timed its leap into the sport any better. The U.S. men’s national team coached by Jurgen Klinsmann is enjoying unprecedented success, and soccer’s popularity domestically continues to increase.
Several EPL fantasy leagues now appear online, a sure sign the sport has hit the mainstream, and bettors also have slowly begun to take notice.
“We’ve written a little more than we have in the past on futures,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said Thursday. “Once people realize they’re able to get all 10 games on TV, I think that will create more interest. That 7 to 9 a.m. Saturday time slot leads into college football. With the buildup we might have, people could recognize there’s more betting opportunities because of the coverage.”
Manchester United has won 13 titles since the EPL was created in 1992, but with legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson now retired, the Red Devils are listed by the LVH as co-favorites (plus-220) with Manchester City and Chelsea to win the championship.
“You used to see Man U at less than 2 to 1,” Sherman said.
Former Everton manager David Moyes took over for Ferguson and inherited a team lacking a playmaker in midfield but full of firepower. Robin van Persie topped the EPL with 26 goals last season, his first with the club. The elephant in the room, however, remains unsettled star Wayne Rooney, who has been rumored to be headed to Chelsea. If the forward stays, he must mesh with Moyes, who sold Rooney to Manchester United from Everton in 2004.
After winning the title in dramatic fashion in 2012, Manchester City finished second last season, 11 points behind its local rival, costing manager Roberto Mancini his job. The big-money club remade its strikeforce during the summer transfer window and shipped Carlos Tevez to Italy.
Chelsea welcomed back manager Jose Mourinho, who won two EPL titles in three-plus seasons with the Blues before leaving in 2007. “The Special One” should add short-term stability to a club in constant upheaval, but his primary task is to find an adequate striker — Fernando Torres and Demba Ba certainly won’t cut it — to keep pace for the 38-game season.
Arsenal sneaked into fourth place on the final day of the season in May and is at 10-1 odds to win the league. The Gunners were expected to flex their newfound financial muscle during the summer transfer window but have been rebuffed in their attempts to add high-priced Liverpool forward Luis Suarez.
“I don’t see them fighting with the top three teams myself, even though they finished strong,” said Sherman, an avid Arsenal fan.
Tottenham (25-1) could surprise, especially if it’s able to hang on to Real Madrid target Gareth Bale when the transfer window closes at the end of the month. Liverpool (25-1) appears to be another step behind.
Meanwhile, Altidore, the emerging goal-scoring star for the U.S. national team, is set for his first season with Sunderland.
“He’s the most high-profile American, so that’s a good story to watch,” Sherman said. “It’s another thing to catch people’s eye over here.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.