The NFL pre-season officially kicked off on NBC last night with the Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins—but who has time to care about NFL football, when English Premier League soccer also begins its season on NBC Sports Network and NBC proper later this month?
If your answer was "pretty much every sports fan in America," well, you’re actually in the target market that NBC is trying to reach with its new campaign promoting the soccer season it’s bringing to U.S. television. The campaign, which has been airing both on the network and all over the Internet, stars Jason Sudeikis as Coach Ted Lasso, the (fictional) first American coach of Tottenham Hotspur.
In the campaign’s nearly five-minute short on YouTube, Lasso, like many American sports fans, seems a bit info-poor when it comes to the differences between football and, er, football. Yep: A "tackle" refers to a style of sliding kick, not clobbering one’s opponent; there are no playoffs to determine the final winner; and the game isn’t divided into quarters, but is rather a vast expanse of time that may well end in a tie, leading fans to ponder the futility of existence and the true meaning of human achievement (or, possibly, to better understand the concept of sport as a metaphor for the human desire to strive and compete in the unending game that is life, during which no true victor is ever declared—kinda depends on you, really).
There have been plenty of attempts to get American sports fans into soccer, but you have to credit the creators of this campaign for meeting us where we live. Guy Barnett, co-founder of The Brooklyn Brothers, which created the campaign, says the team had already done considerable outreach to existing fans who already have a club and a long history with the sport. The bigger opportunity, he says, and why NBC invested $250 million in securing the rights for the next three years, is to engage the American sports fan. "These guys know of the premier league, and the more traveled among them are beginning to appreciate the game," says Barnett. "What they don’t really have is an allegiance to a particular team."
Barnett says they picked Sudeikis for this push because he’s "the perfect example of the American sports fan — deep into sports and likes the Premier League, but didn’t have a deep connection to it." Since Americans have proven much more interested in appreciating soccer in theory than in practice, confronting that head-on is a good idea.
In addition to the film, directed by Martin Granger, the campaign also includes an online team-picker—just connect via your social media accounts and the app magically determines which team is best for you (and which team you’ll be tethered to for life). There’s also a NY-centric outdoor and transit campaign that will urge New Yorkers to pick a team already.
But mostly, the campaign is an appeal to the American fan on his and her own terms: When Coach Lasso says, "If you tried to end a game with a tie in the United States, heck, that might be listed in Revelation as the cause for the apocalypse," it’s almost a rallying call—this isn’t our game, but couldn’t we all do with a little bit of culture? And if that culture is brought to us by a mustache-wearing Jason Sudeikis pretending to be a redneck soccer coach, isn’t that somehow even more appropriate?