As the Best of 2011 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 11 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 21 until Dec. 31, when we unveil what our editors voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2011.
The countdown continues with No. 7, as MLSsoccer.com Editor in Chief Greg Lalas turns the channel to see if there's any soccer on NBC.
by Jimmy Conrad
The Retirement of Jimmy Conrad
The defining moment of 2011 has to be the retirement of Jimmy Conrad. The ripple effect of his decision to hang up his cleats will last for years, if not decades.
For example, no longer will opposing forwards be nervous about having their worst game as a professional when they play against him or be in awe of his good looks during the run of play. Nor will referees get continually corrected on their bad decisions by the smartest player on the field.
He is an irreplaceable icon who should be worshipped accordingly.
Find out the fans' vote for
Moment of the Year on Jan. 1
Spread the word. That’s the mantra of many, if not most, soccer fans in the United States. We are a uniquely evangelical bunch. Not in any religious way. In a soccer way. We want everyone to recognize the grace, the passion, the glory that is the beautiful game.
So when someone with the power to influence millions of possible new convert agrees to join the movement, there is cause for much rejoicing.
Case in point, the overwhelmingly positive reviews in the wake of MLS’ announcement of a three-year broadcasting deal with NBC to begin in 2012.
It wasn’t just that there was another TV deal — that is always good news in the still-growing soccer industry — it was that the deal was with NBC. Out was FOX Soccer and its relatively small footprint. In was a traditional broadcasting behemoth that would make MLS available in 42 million more homes.
What’s more, the old-guard NBC saw MLS and soccer as flagship programming for its latest sport-broadcasting initiative: the rebranding of Versus as the NBC Sports Network.
“MLS is a perfect fit for our new group, and we are uniquely positioned to help grow soccer in the United States with extensive coverage on NBC Sports Network, significant programming on the broadcast network and our growing digital platforms,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said at the time of the August 10 announcement.
In other words, NBC was all in. And they seemed thrilled to have a stake in the game.
Since then, NBC has done one thing after another to earn praise and approval from the soccer scenesters.
Within a few weeks of the NBC deal’s announcement, an MLS promotion appeared on an NFL broadcast on NBC — the kind of cross-promotion soccer fans have clamored for over the years.
Then in late November, NBC announced that they had hired the universally respected Arlo White, the voice of the Sounders in 2010 and 2011, as their man in the booth for the 2012 season.
Next up, the debut of the MLS-NBC deal: a First Kick match between FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, March 11.
One more time, with feeling: Hallelujah.