It seems that soccer (fútbol for you non-American types) is finally catching on in the U.S. Stadium attendance is up for Major League Soccer — the U.S. professional league — but television ratings, on the other hand, have not yet followed suit.
NBC hopes to change that tune, as the network gets set to broadcast its first game on Sunday as part of its multi-year media rights deal it struck with the league back in August.
“Over the years, the average American fanbase has grown exponentially,” said Pierre Moossa, coordinating producer, MLS on NBC Sports & NBC Sports Network.
Moossa stated that one of the goals of NBC was to find a balance between people familiar with the network’s broadcasting style and those with the best knowledge of soccer. “We’re determined to create a destination for soccer fans,” Moossa said.
“We treat the games on NBC Sports Network the same as we treat them on NBC Sports,” said Sam Flood, executive producer, NBC Sports & NBC Sports Network. “First class production, first class storytelling and first class people in front of the camera and behind the scenes.”
Arlo White will handle the play-by-play duties from the booth, while Kyle Martino will provide analysis from between the two benches. “We’re super fortunate to have Kyle and Arlo, who are two of the premiere announcers, to call the games,” said Moossa. NBC will also have pre-game, halftime and post-game coverage on-site. Moossa said that pre-game interviews will be a big emphasis.
The practice of splitting up the broadcasters by having one of them down on the field is not new to NBC; the network puts their hockey analysts behind the glass in between the two benches. “When we launched this in hockey, the Canadians made fun of us and said, ‘What a dumb idea,’” said Flood. “It’s the template everyone now uses.”
Social media will be another big emphasis for NBC, especially on Facebook and Twitter. “Arlo is a prolific tweeter,” said Moossa. However, for the inaugural game on Sunday, Moossa said they will stick to the basics. “The first game is all about big picture and setting the tone.”
To help gear up for the start of MLS on NBC, the network launched ProSoccerTalk on Wednesday, which is part of the NBC Sports Group’s family of Websites. Respected soccer journalist Steve Davis will run the site.
“This is a watershed for Major League Soccer and soccer in general in the United States,” said White. “Fans should rest assured that Major League Soccer coverage is in very safe hands with NBC.”