Jay Bell Is Fired Up for MLS on NBC

(Courtesy MLS Soccer.com)

Jay Bell–who once castigated Fox Soccer–applauds NBC’s effort

The dynamics of MLS broadcasting shifted this offseason when NBC won broadcasting rights for MLS and US Soccer matches over Fox.  Through the bidding process and the early glimpses of NBC’s treatment of MLS, it seems as if the league’s new partner is embracing MLS more than Fox ever did.

I wrote on TSG about 18 months ago about Fox’s detrimental coverage of soccer, mainly on the Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer Plus.  Things improved incrementally in 2011 with HD becoming more widely distributed and FSC’s improved coverage of MLS.  Soccer Night in America (not exactly a new idea) was an improvement in picture quality, commentary and discussion.

It’s hard for fans to be too displeased when you have the commentary of J.P. Dellacamera and Kyle Martino coupled with the sideline reporting of The Original Winger down on the Bumpy Pitch (see what I did there?)

Still, Fox never really embraced the league and has instead hitched the proverbial wagon to the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.  The network’s attachment to non-MLS soccer continued with an upset victory in claiming the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

2014 will be a very interesting year for the future of MLS broadcasting when both deals with ESPN and NBC expire.  How will ESPN act on soccer going forward without rights to the World Cup?  Will NBC have seen enough evidence in the first three years to continue the partnership?  Will Fox jump back in?

For now, MLS fans can enjoy coverage on the NBC Sports Network and the occasional game on NBC (again, a step up from Fox).  MLS is now receiving cross-channel and cross-platform marketing that it did not receive from Fox.

NHL thrived on Versus.  The league gets better broadcast and informational coverage now, something that MLS fans are hoping to receive.  The channel has been re-branded as the NBC Sports Network and the early numbers have been less than desired.  If the MLS season arrives just in time to see ratings rise, then the relationship between MLS and NBC could grow even stronger.

That will be up to MLS fans.  They should be encouraged to watch the games, get their friends to watch the games, watch the talk shows and provide feedback.  It is up to MLS fans to prove to NBC that the investment in MLS was a fruitful one.

MLS

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29 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dth on 2012/03/08 at 10:40 AM

    Thinking the experiment with putting Kyle Martino on the field to do color commentary should be highly interesting.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jay Bell on 2012/03/08 at 12:05 PM

      Definitely. I forgot to mention NBC’s additions of Arlo White and Kyle Martino. I liked Dunseth on the sidelines in MLS and Siragusa on the field for the NFL. Those were the #3 guys though. The NBC broadcasts could be very enjoyable if Martino is even better down on the field.

      Reply

      • Posted by Bode on 2012/03/08 at 1:04 PM

        I personally find sideline reporters to be a pointless waste of time, regardless of the sport (unless they have a REALLY good storyline or angle). Soccer is probably one of the worst sports for sideline reporters as well, given that there aren’t stoppages like in basketball or football. Usually, any helpful information they give the viewer could be delivered by the regular announcers.

        Sideline reporters are a part of a larger set of “bells and whistles” that drives me absolutely crazy. Every single time I watch a soccer game, no matter who produces it, I miss important parts of the action because the producers want to show 15 replays or zoom in on a player’s face in slow motion. It makes me yell at the television “THERE IS A GAME GOING ON!” Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love replays– but I think they should be saved for controversial or key moments and never played while the ball is active.

        This post wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, but all the bells & whistles coverage of soccer drives me crazy and I wanted to get this off my chest.

        Reply

        • Posted by Jay Bell on 2012/03/08 at 3:17 PM

          I agree with you, but that is why I singled out Dunseth and Siragusa. They were used as more than just sideline reporters. Siragusa is used basically as a third commentator. Other sideline reporters are often women whose sole purposes seem to be to ask the coaches questions when they don’t want to be bothered (you can tell SEC football coaches hate it) and provide whatever limited injury information teams will disseminate.

          Martino’s new role combines that of a commentator in the booth with the field-level observations of guys like Dunseth and Siragusa. If it is successful, it will be just one more positive from NBC.

          Reply

          • Posted by dikranovich on 2012/03/08 at 5:42 PM

            are you talking about the same brian dunceth who usually fumbles his way through a broadcast? weak, i sure hope, martino has a better grasp of the language than this dunceth. its gonna be fun. i sure thought eddie johnson looked like a player who is going to be dangerous in MLS in 2012. who scores more goals, deuce at fulham, or ej at the sounders?

            Reply

            • Posted by dth on 2012/03/08 at 5:49 PM

              Deuce at Fulham, easily.

              Eddie Johnson looked like Eddie Johnson to me–athletic for one moment, backpassing for most of the rest of them. It’s hard to make a firm judgment based on a small sample size, but Johnson’s recent history is hardly encouraging. Still a silly and unnecessary move for Sounders.

  2. Absolutely looking forward to the coverage from NBC, the quotes out recently from them show me that they are interested in showing this not just as a side-project or oddity.

    Reply

  3. Posted by CJ on 2012/03/08 at 12:25 PM

    Free advertising here for NBC, huh? I like being able to see more MLS on tv covered by HD equipment and quality commentating. I don’t really care who delivers it so long as they do the game justice.

    As for the statement about it being my job to watch the games and “spread the word”, well no, I totally disagree. That’s MLS’ job. I already pay my cable provider for the channel and the sports network is doing their job providing the coverage, now it’s up to the players, coaches, and the league to deliver a quality product that I actually want to watch and tall about because it’s fun.

    Reply

    • I hardly take this column as “free advertising”

      There was a brand new TV deal for MLS this year and Jay was excited for the aforementioned new deal. It matters greatly which TV deal MLS has because Fox Soccer is in about 40 million homes, where NBC sports is in 76 million homes. Also, fox didn’t give a damn about trying to broadcast MLS on the main station where NBC is going to broadcast MLS games in primetime on their over-the-air station. These items are hallmarks of an expanding presence in the United States.

      Reply

      • Posted by Jay Bell on 2012/03/08 at 3:22 PM

        I wrote previously about Fox so I think it is known that I am interested in MLS broadcasting.

        It is not MLS fans’ job to do the advertising, but it is up to them to watch the games and actually be the fans. MLS Corporate can only provide professional feedback in its relationship with NBC.

        It is up to MLS fans to let NBC know the pulse of the fan, old and new.

        Reply

        • Posted by CJ on 2012/03/08 at 3:33 PM

          I like your point about feedback from MLS Corporate to NBC and MLS fans to NBC. I guess rephrasing it made it more palatable to me.

          The analysis to Hockey is fairly apt as well for although the NHL has been longer established, after Gretzky and before Crosby/Ovechkin mania the league had tapered off extremely and there were lots of concerns. Watching it blow up again the way it has makes me wonder how much of an impact Versus had on that because I really enjoyed watching games on that channel.

          Reply

          • Posted by Jay Bell on 2012/03/08 at 3:53 PM

            I don’t know how much Versus had to do with it. Having Ovechkin and Crosby with the resurgence of the Red Wings and Blackhawks was great for the league.

            I think what Versus provided was intelligent coverage for true NHL fans. They didn’t just broadcast the games with brief glimpses of the standings. Versus provided in-depth broadcasts, discussion on talk shows, informational interviews instead of superficial commentary, etc.

            That is what MLS should be receiving on the NBC Sports Network. If fans have really been wanting to get that kind of coverage, then they need to reward the broadcaster that provides it.

            Reply

      • Posted by CJ on 2012/03/08 at 3:27 PM

        So if NBC is in 76 million homes, and the games are going to be played in 76 million homes occasionally when it’s on NBC’s main channel, then we hardly need to be advertising for NBC considering NBC is already in 76 million homes. Duh? NBC is getting tons of free advertising for this. I just used their name 5 times in one paragraph of one response. It was a kind of joke, I guess you didn’t get it.

        I am as excited as anyone else is about Soccer being more accessible to me. I’m thrilled actually because unless you paid more for FSC and FS+, you don’t get those channels in my area. My fire department doesn’t have access to them (where I work), my home, and most of my friends houses as well. And like was stated in the article above, Soccer Night in America is only once a week and often a West Coast broadcast where being on the East Coast it didn’t start until 1130pm.

        Reply

  4. Wow, what a relative bombshell.

    MLS is stating that they are going to be the one planning and financing the stadium for NY2.

    Reply

    • Posted by dth on 2012/03/08 at 3:05 PM

      Man, they really want a Cosmos team. Not so sure why….I’d rather go with a team that’s built enthusiasm and a fanbase, e.g. Orlando City.

      Reply

      • Posted by Jay Bell on 2012/03/08 at 3:19 PM

        The $100 million expansion fee and stadium situation are going to be tough for Orlando City.

        Reply

        • To be fair to Garber, he has indicated that there are multiple ownership teams in the potential running for NY2. So the cosmos are not a guaranteed viability at this point.

          Having said that, I tend to think that a downtown NYC stadium would work, but at the same time would generate a re-branding of NYRB. Some people already aren’t accepting of a team called NY that isn’t in NY, if you have a MLS team actually located within NYC it seemingly devalues the Metro-Stars brand.

          Of course I could be wrong about that.

          Also, I agree with DTH. I support the idea of having an established team with fans behind it who show up for meetings (much like the O-city fans did) as a measure of the team’s success going into MLS than inventing something else on the spot. Which actually goes back to the Cosmos brand being involved in MLS, and honestly as a neutral I would think the Cosmos brand would work in MLS… as a fan of the league I would consider them a massive, massive Villain.

          Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2012/03/08 at 6:42 PM

          True, but I’m thinking more as a fan than anything else. Who do you know who’s like, “Man, I can’t wait to be a Cosmos fan?” Those people, who are vanishingly small, are probably all hipsters/poseurs/jerks.

          On the other hand, there appear to be a large number of people who are Orlando City fans in the second division of US Soccer, which considering the significance and quality of such, is highly impressive. Those guys are fans…and the kind of people we want in MLS.

          Reply

          • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/03/10 at 5:00 AM

            Why the name calling and hate for NY Cosmos? I’m pretty sure that’s how most American sports fans [of the ‘traditional’ US sports] view MLS fans. No need to ratchet up the snobbery.

            As a football fan but not a supporter of any particular MLS team, it means I can watch more live, local football.

            But on a serious note, you know NYC has the population density to support another team, plus the City itself has the kudos to bring in 3 DPs which is probably required in the early years to get “bums on seats”. And from a league perspective, [due to their brand equity] Cosmos coming to your town will also [probably] attract more casual fans. Might not be want people want to hear in other parts of the country [with no MLS team], but the last thing MLS needs right now is a white elephant.

            Reply

  5. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/03/08 at 6:07 PM

    I understand the FOX comments, but you’re looking through a fan’s lens and not a FOX executive’s lens. Remember, it is not their responsibility to grow the MLS. They’re obviously looking at their balance sheet, MLS growth projections and other metrics. I am guessing they have thought about this long and hard and perhaps will re-new their interest when there is more solid support (read: make money).

    Reply

  6. […] A writer at the Shin Guardian is fired up about how NBC Sports says it will broadcast games. […]

    Reply

  7. Posted by Crow on 2012/03/09 at 1:12 PM

    I have high hopes for the NBC Sports Network as well- too bad I don’t have it anymore- I got sick of paying the ridiculous satellite bill after 2 years. OLN/Versus/NBC Sports Network has always done an excellent job of coverage whether it was the Tour de France or the NHL. NBC sent me a thing and I signed up to be a “NBC Sports Game Changer” answering surveys and such. Of course, I’m pushing for more soccer (specifically MLS) coverage in my answers.

    As for expansion- Orlando City certainly deserves to be a MLS team. There are alot of passionate fans down there that I know. They might not have the top attendance in the league if they would be in MLS, but there will be a solid, passionate crowd at every game. It would be nothing like the prior disasters in Miami and Tampa. I like cities that show solid fan support already being awarded spots in MLS (Seattle, Portland, etc.)

    Why does New York need another team? The Red Bulls are already the Cosmos- signing lots of international players. They have mediocre attendance as it is, does the name Cosmos really mean that much anymore. I mean how many people even remember the Cosmos that are interested in MLS?? I’d rather Rochester, NY be awarded a MLS team. They would probably have better attendance.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2012/03/09 at 1:34 PM

      It’s tough to compare what the attendance would be for the Cosmos if they actually played in New York city. It’s a pain to get to Red Bull Arena if you live in NYC. If you’re lucky and happen to live right on top of a PATH station at the World Trade Center it would take you 33 minutes to get to Red Bull Arena, 47 if you lived near the Empire State Building. Google Maps claims it’s 20 minutes to Red Bull Arena from lower Manhattan but that’s only happening if you’re incredibly lucky. Most of the people that are the target audience for soccer do not live in either of those place in NYC.

      Reply

      • Posted by Crow on 2012/03/09 at 2:30 PM

        If the Jets couldn’t get a stadium in Manhattan how would a MLS team ever do so? Just look at the situation in Brooklyn with the Nets as well; I don’t see a MLS stadium ever being built anywhere in the city or possibly technically in the city limits but no closer to the “core fan demographic” than Red Bull Arena.

        Reply

        • Posted by Jared on 2012/03/09 at 4:00 PM

          I’m not saying they’ll get one in Manhattan but I think they can get one in NYC. There’s a huge difference in size and parking for a SSS.

          You’re also forgetting that for people in NYC, New Jersey for a lot of them might as well be Mars. They’ll travel anywhere within NYC even if it’s further than a place in NJ. Put it near an MTA line and it will work out better than Red Bull arena.

          Reply

        • Posted by Jared on 2012/03/09 at 4:04 PM

          If the Queens location near Shea is used there are way more people within a half hour public transit trip than Red Bull Arena has.

          Reply

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