So, the MLS season starts tonight. As I write this, Montreal and Vancouver has gone final, With Vancouver ending up with three points over the expansion Impact de Montreal (I love typing that). And normally, I’ll watch with a curious eye, but not that much interest. There are a multitude of things to do on First Kick weekend, and generally, other things I’d rather watch. The NBA season is usually reaching its apex. My Missouri Tigers are in the throes of the Big XII tournament, and god knows there are probably multiple episodes of "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" on my DVR that need watching. But tomorrow, something both scary and special will be taking place on our television screens tomorrow afternoon (And no, I’m not talking about Tiger Woods trying to golf competitively again.) When FC Dallas play host to the New York Red Bulls tomorrow, it will be the first english MLS broadcast that is not associated with Mickey Mouse, Right Wing Republicans, or Mark Cuban.
The oldest broadcasting network in the United States joins the small section of national major media outlets that give a damn about this league that we all love so much. When the deal was announced there was jubilation coursing through the league and its fan base. "Finally we are free from Christian Miles!" We all said. (At least I did. His voice is seriously annoying) But then like all good people of the Jewish faith, I started worrying. As far as I’m aware, They’ve never produced a soccer broadcast in house before. The soccer games that have aired on NBC/Universal networks in the past have been produced by The FMF, or the official Olympic production company.
Soccer broadcasting is harder than it looks, especially replay placement. Without the easy spots of commercial opens and closes that come with stoppages in play, replay position is the most difficult thing to place during a broadcast. All too often is a quick free kick missed and once or twice, I recall a goal being missed. Suffice it to say, it’s real easy to mess up. But that’s not really what concerns me for the broadcast. NBC it seams has lined up a top notch crew of camera operators.
I really started questioning the decision making skills of the sports department of the National Broadcasting Network when they decided to steal Arlo White form the Seattle Sounders "Football Club"(I thought the football team in the area were the Seahawks. Shows what I know) Now, I’m not going to argue his credentials… Actually, I will. Before becoming the Play by Play man for Seattle, he was a presenter for BBC ‘s Sport Live on Five. And then became a commentator for cricket, never calling a soccer match until he came to the US.
My biggest contention with his hiring is not his lack of credentials, nor his being British. In fact, two of my favorite soccer broadcasters are Adrian Healey and Ian Darke, the latter for his dreadful but charming alliterativeness and for the equally bad puns, and Darke for his genuine excitement for the game. Arlo White has none of these things. In fact, Arlo White sounds like exactly what he is. A public radio voice who is absolutely perfect for the Seattle yuppies, but probably won’t connect with the larger audience.
My third concern is what they’re doing with the color commentary. If you haven’t heard already, Kyle Martino is going to be their analyst. This in and of itself is wonderful news. He was great with FSC. A nice balance of inoffensiveness that MLS seams to covet in national analysts and knowledge of the sport. He’s able to articulate his knowledge well. The concern however, is what they plan on doing with him.
If you watch any of the NHL on NBC coverage, you know the basic formula for a commentator broadcast. Mike Emrick, second only to Marv Albert in my own personal "Best in the World" rating, calls one of the best games (and I really want him to be the Voice of MLS, but that’s another column) Next to him is Eddie Olczyk Hockey’s Mike Fertello. And in beteween the benches up in the glass is usually Pierre McGuire. Well, for MLS broadcasts, take Edzo out of the equation. Kyle is expected to be pitch side for the entire game, between the benches. Arlo will be alone in the booth, Kyle between the benches.
Sure, some things can be gained from this, the tactics changes and coach comments can be interesting, but what’s lost has the potential to be devastating. He loses the perspective of being able to see the game flow in front of him like he would higher up. And Unless he has a monitor, my fear is that his analysis will be lessened by this. What makes Pierre McGuire work is that he doesn't have to analyze anything. He just adds some perspective. My worry is that the quality of both will falter if Martino has to do both.
This is an exciting time for MLS, In the history of the League they’ve had only 3 national TV partners, and two of them were specialty premium tear cable networks (Fox Soccer and HDNet). Not only will they be on a Network that can cater to their programing needs, but they will finally be back on Network Television for the first time in forever; the Fire being in one of those broadcast games against NYRB. But we’ll have to see if their production can hack it. Twenty Four to Forty Eight hours after every broadcast, I will be chronicling our leagues journey into NBC and NBC sports with progress reports and grades for everything from the direction form the truck, to the quality of the commentary. The virgin year of the MLS on NBC is here. And it’s going to be a hell of a ride.
Ruben Tisch is currently studying English at the University of Missouri after being a life long Chicagoan. You can find him at https://twitter.com/rtisch312