NEW YORK (AP) — As Rebecca Lowe's focus turns to England and the start of the Premier League season on Saturday, she also keeps attention on California.
Starting her third season as studio host of NBC's EPL coverage, Lowe is married to former English soccer player Paul Buckle, who was hired last month as coach of the Sacramento Republic of the third-tier United Soccer League.
They left their house in Westport, Connecticut, for an apartment in Sacramento when he was hired, and Lowe headed east as NBC's preparations for the new season intensified.
"Paul's been so busy with the new job that we haven't really decided yet how we're going to make it work," Lowe said. "His season finishes in October, anyway."
The 34-year-old Lowe comes from a journalism family. Her father, Chris, spent 37 years as a broadcaster with BBC until his retirement in 2009 and her brother, Alex, is a sports reporter for The Times of London.
Rebecca grew up a Crystal Palace fan and broadcast for BBC, Setanta Sports and ESPN before joining NBC two years ago, when it took over U.S. rights from Fox under a $250 million, three-year contract that runs through 2015-16. The EPL is accepting three- and six-season bids this month for U.S. rights starting in 2016-17.
Buckle, a 44-year-old former midfielder, played for a succession of clubs from 1989-2007, far from the glamour of England's elite, spending time with Brentford, Wycombe Wanderers, Torquay United, Exeter City, Northampton Town, Colchester United and Aldershot Town.
After retiring as a player, he managed Torquay, Bristol Rovers, Luton Town and Cheltenham Town before moving to the U.S. In January 2013, his Luton team won 1-0 at Norwich, becoming the first nonleague club in 24 years to beat a top-tier opponent in the FA Cup.
"We met in England. Obviously, we've got an awful lot in common in terms of what we like," he said. "She's very sporty. She loves to keep fit. I'm doing everything I can. She beat me in half-marathon last year, which I still can't get over. We agreed that we would run it together. We trained together. We agreed that we must finish together, and with two miles to go, she opened up on me. So that's what I'm dealing with. We're very competitive."
Buckle laughed when thinking back to the race in Fairfield, Connecticut. The course is about 15 miles from NBC's studios in Stamford, where Lowe anchors EPL studio coverage with Kyle Martino, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe.
NBC and NBCSN averaged 479,000 viewers for Premier League telecasts last season, up 9 percent from 438,000 in NBC's first season and more than double the average in 2012-13, when Fox held rights and sublicensed some games to ESPN and ESPN2.
Manchester United averaged 572,000 viewers for its matches on NBCSN, where the majority of matches were shown, followed by Arsenal (512,000), Manchester City (490,000). Chelsea (470,000) and Liverpool (460,000).
On nearly every weekend from August until May, excepting breaks for national teams and the FA Cup, the Premier League is ever-present around the globe. NBC's networks show every match live, either on NBCSN, the main network, USA or its other networks plus overflow channels. Spanish-language coverage is provided on NBC Universo and Telemundo,
"Over the last two years, we have gathered some people who were probably interested but had yet to really find a team and find a place for soccer in their lives," Lowe said. "I think we've gone from having a real hardcore group of fans a few years ago, to having a much bigger group of supporters who maybe weren't going to come on board with soccer."
Lowe remembered how different the U.S. attention level was in 1999 when she attended Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania during a gap year after high school.
"Only myself and my German teacher, who lived in our dormitory, we were the only two people who were interested in watching the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United," she said. "Two Europeans interested in this massive game of football, which of course, turned into a legendary game of football. Now, it really is everywhere."
Buckle sees the growth from the bottom end of the U.S. professional tier. Sacramento beat Seattle Sounders 2 by a 2-0 score last weekend in his first league match after replacing Preki Radosavljevic. There still is a huge gap between the level of England and the U.S., where a significant percentage of players attend college and don't become full-time professionals until age 22.
"There's a lot more pressure on the English game, whether you're a player, a coach or a manager. You would know that by how many managers and coaches are dismissed every season," he said. "They're crazy. They're absolutely crazy."