Rebecca Lowe freely admits that this English Premier League season has been the most challenging of her career. But it’s not for the reason you might expect.
While most of the sports media has faced having less work during the coronavirus pandemic, the lead host of NBC’s Premier League studio coverage has had a lot more.
Because almost all of the season has been played behind closed doors, the Premier League set up its schedule to put most games in their own broadcast windows instead of the usual clusters of games on weekends.
In the 2018-19 season, the last with a traditional schedule, there were Premier League games on 109 days of the calendar. This season, there have been games on 135 — including 10 in a row from May 7-16. The total number of hours of coverage is 914 this season, compared to 614 in 2018-19
Lowe has been on NBC’s studio set for the vast majority of that time, including the last nine of the aforementioned 10 straight days.
And as the cherry on top, Lowe has been flying to and from northern California, where her husband and 5-year-old son live, all the way through the season.
“I’ve been in this business nearly 20 years, and it’s been the hardest year of my career without a doubt,” Lowe told The Inquirer this week in an interview ahead of Sunday’s final day of the Premier League season.
She wouldn’t trade any of this for the world, of course, and she appreciates the many notes of praise she’s received from fans.
“People saying ‘Thank you for just giving me some normality. Thank you for taking me away from what I’m dealing with on a daily basis,’ ” she said.
But the context of those long days makes you think about the human who’s sitting in the studio chair, not just the highlights and analysis on the TV show.
“Getting your brain to concentrate for an 11½-hour show on four different games when you normally only have to concentrate on two [games] or, you know, five over the course of a weekend, and now we’re doing 10, it’s just been a lot,” she said.
Sunday will be one of the highlight days of the season, when all 10 games are played at once. Three teams will jockey for two UEFA Champions League berths, and a further four will vie for places in the Europa League and new Europa Conference League.
» READ MORE: How to watch this weekend's big Premier League games
For pure drama, though, nothing might top the events of May 2. When Manchester United fans, protesting their owners and the Super League project, broke into Old Trafford and invaded the field, NBCSN broke into its broadcast of Newcastle United vs. Arsenal and split-screened the two live events.
Lowe became a news anchor, teaming up with Arlo White, who was in the stadium preparing to call United vs. Liverpool, to narrate the scene.
After about 10 minutes, the fans dispersed, and the Newcastle-Arsenal broadcast resumed. But about 40 minutes later, a second set of fans broke into Old Trafford. Lowe interrupted the game again and this time stayed on air for around 20 minutes.
At one point, White and the rest of the broadcast crew were evacuated from their position in the stands. The scheduled game was eventually postponed.
“Every shot that I was shown, you were seeing at the same time I was seeing it,” Lowe said. “I was proud of everything that we put out there in what was a very, very volatile and polarizing day. It was hard, but that’s what live TV is all about.”
Lowe will get a break after Sunday but not for long. She’ll soon start preparing to be NBC’s daytime Olympic studio host in Tokyo. It’s another plum gig, but it’s won’t be easy. “Daytime” refers to U.S. time zones, and that’s the middle of the night in Japan.
“I am thinking that when I land, I’m just going to stay on American time, because I don’t want to shift back for a few days only to have to shift back again,” Lowe said. “I did that in Pyeonchang [South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics], and that was really difficult. So I think, yeah, I’m just going to try my best to stay on American time the whole way through.”
Lowe knows, like everyone else, that the pandemic situation in Japan is a big problem. This week, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, a group representing about 6,000 primary care doctors in the city, called for the Games to be canceled amid a spike in cases, and the Japanese government’s failure thus far to launch a mass vaccination program.
But as long as the Olympics happen, Lowe expects the protocols to be strict and strictly-followed by all the NBC staff on site.
“There will be the rules put in place by everybody in Japan, and we’re ready to follow them, and there won’t be any swerving off that route. It’ll be absolutely 100% commitment,” she said. “I hope that at least allays some fears, because a huge amount of work has been put into this to ensure that everybody is as happy as they can be and as safe as they can be.”