Back in August we told you about the move by NBC Sports to snag a portion of the MLS television contract. While MLS certainly hasn't been a ratings gold mine for ESPN and FOX Soccer Channel, the domestic league hasn't truly been a focal point for either network in the past. But, with nearly 50 MLS games slated for the artist formerly known as Versus, the hope amongst American soccer fans was that NBC Sports could work wonders in raising the profile of MLS on TV, much like the network has helped to revive the NHL after its exile from ESPN.
But, key to how true soccer fans react to NBC's MLS and U.S. National Team broadcasts will be the presentation from the network. Will they follow the ESPN route and treat soccer with the respect and on-air personalities as they would other high profile TV properties, or would NBC go the FOX route and treat soccer as a second-ring circus act? Well, the first official move by the network, if initial reports are true, should be highly encouraging.
Reports out of Seattle have NBC Sports hiring Seattle Sounders play-by-play man Arlo White for their lead announcer spot. White, a name originally floated by SI's Grant Wahl between his reports on David Beckham's every move, is a young British announcer who should provide NBC the best of both worlds in terms of soccer announcing. The Brit has that classic English soccer prose combined with American enthusiasm that even the great Gus Johnson would be proud to hear. Just listen to this YouTube compliation of some of Arlo White's goal calls for the Seattle Sounders this season.
Trust me, White may not be a well-known name amongst AA Nation (I feel dirty typing that... since when did everything become a nation anyway?), but the prediction is that he will soon climb the ranks to join the likes of Ian Darke in terms of popularity amongst American viewers. If NBC can continue to round out their soccer crew with the likes of the polished Kyle Martino (currently of FOX Soccer) and a few more shrewd hires (meaning the opposite of loudmouth bleeding hearts like Alexi Lalas or Erik Wynalda), they could be well on their way to competing with ESPN for the hearts and minds of American soccer fans. Oh, and they definitely need to give Ray Hudson a call.