So what can fans expect when NBC airs its first ever MLS match – FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls – on Sunday afternoon (3 pm ET, NBC Sports Network)?
“The production plan is simple,” said NBC coordinating producer Pierre Moossa in a Wednesday conference call with reporters. “We’re going to work and focus on the game. … We have to cover the basics exceptionally well and flawlessly.”
NBC will be keeping it simple save for one major change. Color analyst Kyle Martino will be situated between the benches instead of up in the booth. The goal is to combine his tactical game analysis with new information he’s gathering on field level.
Martino will be armed with a podium, where he will be able to watch the match broadcast off a monitor for a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a challenge to change vantage points for a color analyst,” Martino said. “[NBC] being able to pull this off in hockey really convinced me that this is something that could change the way soccer is covered.”
Martino and play-by-play man Arlo White tested the new set-up in Orlando at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic.
“This is not a gimmick,” Martino said. “It gives me the same experience of calling games off monitor, but the advantage will be that now with my field-level vantage point, I can bring that tactical analysis and breaking the game down. … It’s not letting my bread and butter suffer, but enhancing my commentary to give bits of information I wasn’t able to give before.
“If there’s anything I’m not seeing or hitting, we have a play-by-play guy who knows the game as good as anyone does,” continued Martino. “It’s going to be a challenge, but in my soccer career any time I’ve succeeded and made it to the next level it’s by stepping out of my comfort zone.”
The NBC network uses an “Inside the Glass” reporter between the benches in their hockey broadcasts and NBC executive producer Sam Flood believes it will translate to soccer the way it did in hockey.
“It’s the template everyone uses in hockey,” Flood said. “What was first thought as a wacky idea from America is now the gold standard for covering hockey.”
NBC producers are not concerned about the issues that could arise from the fact that Martino and White are not sitting side-by-side.
“The bottom line is they have a good feel for each other and the back and forth between them is excellent,” Moossa said. “People are going to step on each other every now and then. It’s not the end of the world. What [Martino] saw and observed is second to none and people are going to enjoy that experience.”
The other experience fans are likely to enjoy are the pregame and postgame interviews, including when players come off the field after warm-ups. Moossa said that that fans will be hearing from Red Bulls star Thierry Henry on Sunday.
When FC Dallas host New York on Sunday, it will be the first of 46 live matches this year as well as four US national team broadcasts. As Sunday nears, the buzz is growing about the impact that NBC can have on soccer in America.
“Do your job. Do it right. Tell the story and make people care,” Flood said. “If we do those things, we hope that the audience follows. That’s our job and the task the talent and production team has been assigned.”