Since her debut as host of NBC's coverage of the English Premier League last year, London-born journalist Rebecca Lowe has earned a devout following among soccer fans in the U.S. And she'll be a constant presence during the holiday season, with NBC presenting 33 Premier League games between Sunday and New Year's Day.
For Lowe, who attended her first Premier League game with her father when she was 9, that is the best gift she could have received. “I don't know why it got me. But I just loved it,” Lowe, a fervent Crystal Palace supporter, says of soccer. “From that moment on it was a huge part of my life.”
In a telephone interview, Lowe also weighed in on U.S. fans and what it means to be a supporter of lowly Crystal Palace:
Have you changed your approach to reflect the difference in soccer knowledge between viewers in England and the U.S.?
It's actually one of the hardest things I've faced. Because you have a certain section of the viewers — and it's a large section — who are as knowledgeable as the viewers back home in England. I don't want to talk down to them. But then you've got the section who are new and have never really watched football. What I try to do is explain without talking down. It's not easy. It's something I think a lot about.
Is soccer catching on here?
I have been surprised at how quickly it's grown. And that's given me such positivity going forward. I always knew I was coming out of a country where [soccer] was a beat-all and end-all into a country where it was going to have to fight for its own little place. The most surprising thing is how quickly we've managed to establish a place.
Will the sport ever be as popular as the NFL or NBA in the U.S.?
Not in my lifetime. It's going to take generations and generations to get to that point. The people who will take football forward in America are the teenagers right now. [They] are the ones that stop me in the streets or are more excited to talk about football than their parents. So it's when those kids get to decision-making age that we'll start to see really great strides. Until then, we'll keep progressing.
NBC's approach to the Premier League has been irreverent, from the promos featuring comic actor Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, a U.S. football coach turned soccer coach turned TV analyst, to the cheeky “Men in Blazers” show.
The Ted Lasso thing was huge in England. People were retweeting it all over the place. We try to keep our match-day coverage serious, [but] we find ourselves laughing a lot on set. Football to a football fan is pretty serious business. It means the world to people. So we give it that authenticity. Within our entire coverage, there is room for the likes of Ted Lasso and “Men in Blazers.”
What is behind the differences in passion of fans in the U.S. vs. England?
England is so small. So when you've got the Manchester Derby and you've got the United fans and the City fans, they have to see each other at work on Monday. Over here if you've got a United fan in Texas he might go to work and there might be one or two other football fans, but it's fairly unlikely that they're City fans. So the intensity perhaps isn't quite there yet in the U.S. It's everywhere in the U.K. You cannot avoid it. It's the raw passion that is created because football in the U.K. is so deeply ingrained in our culture. It runs the country to a certain extent, the constant soap opera of the Premier League and the England national team. In this country, because soccer is not at that level, the fans can't be expected to hold that intensity.
What has been the most challenging aspect of living and working in the U.S.?
The hardest thing was the actual administrative, logistical sort of nightmare of changing countries. The paperwork, the visas, the tax situation, all those things. Moving our furniture, our cats, our lives. [But] your country is highly convenient for everything. It's just been a dream.
Are women more accepted as serious sports journalists in the U.S. as opposed to in England?
The opportunities are definitely greater. And I don't know whether that's because they're accepted more or because there's simply more sports and more channels. There are certainly more women in top sports roles in this country than there are in England. Both countries have made vast steps forward. Is it there yet? No. I don't think it's there yet in any country in all the world in terms of women's rights and women's inequality. I feel fully accepted here. And there have been times in the past where I didn't feel that in the U.K.
Why has the Premier League become the most popular European league in the U.S.? You would get arguments from some people that the soccer is actually better in Spain's La Liga or in the German Bundesliga.
It's the shear unpredictability. And that's quite attractive. As we see every week, Leicester [City] can beat Manchester United. Crystal Palace can draw with Liverpool. These results don't happen quite as often in Spain or in Germany. The pace of the English Premier League is like nothing else. You have no time on the ball. And that makes it great to watch.
Some critics might look at your lifelong support of Crystal Palace as a sign that you really don't know what good soccer is.
And they would be correct. I hope that people look at me and say she actually knows football because to be a Crystal Palace fan, you have to really want to be in football. It's not easy being a Crystal Palace fan. I could pick United or [Manchester] City or Chelsea or Arsenal and I probably would have had a much happier childhood. But it wouldn't have had the color, the peaks and the troughs that I've enjoyed as a Crystal Palace fan. It just gives you a better perspective on success and failure.