NBC Sports Group Goes ‘Between the Benches’ For MLS Coverage

This Sunday represents a landmark occasion in the evolution of both Major League Soccer and the newly rebranded NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), when the network will televise its first MLS game under a new three-year media rights deal.

For MLS, the agreement means increased exposure on a cable (NBC Sports Network is in 76 million homes compared to previous rights-holder Fox Soccer Channel’s 40 million) and three regular season games on NBC, the most on a broadcast network since 2002. For NBC Sports Network, MLS represents one of its two primary pillars of live programming, along with the NHL, as it looks to grow the network’s profile.

With that in mind, NBC Sports Group Executive Producer Sam Flood has pulled out all the stops in his MLS production plan, tapping Sunday Night Football alum and 10-time Emmy winner Pierre Moossa as coordinating producer and director for all 46 regular season and playoff telecasts. In addition, NBC will take a leaf out of its NHL production book with the introduction of the “Between the Benches” format on all MLS telecasts.

“The most important philosophy we have (at NBC Sports) is storytelling, and making sure we treat a sport honestly, and put the sport first,” says Flood. “And to do that we treat the games on the NBC Sports Network the same as we treat them with NBC Sports: first class production and storytelling and first class people in front of the camera and behind the scenes.”

Between the Benches
Similar to the “Inside the Glass” model long used for NBC’s hockey coverage, MLS analyst Kyle Martino will be stationed “Between the Benches” during the telecast and provide pitch-side analysis throughout the game. Meanwhile, play-by-play man Arlo White will call the game from the broadcast booth and interact with Martino, who will also have a custom-built podium on the sideline equipped with a monitor to breakdown replays.

“In hockey, we do a majority of our games now with one person up in the booth and one person inside the glass, between the benches and it works flawlessly,” says Flood. “When we launched this in hockey, the Canadians made fun of us and said what a dumb idea. Guess what? It’s the template that everyone uses now in hockey. Hockey Night in Canada has a person inside the glass. TSN has a person inside the glass. So what was first thought of as a whacky idea from Americans turned out to be the gold standard for covering hockey.”

Keeping the Focus on The Pitch
While the on-field color commentator approach is new to soccer coverage, Moossa contends that it is in no way a gimmick and has preached the importance of covering the basics in NBC’s soccer coverage. In that vein, NBC will deploy a core 8-10 camera model without any “novelty cameras angles” in an effort to keep the focus on the action on the pitch.

“I’ve never been one for gimmicks,” he says. “We have to cover the basics flawlessly because in soccer those key moments and goals are very rare and special, so we must have all the basics to capture those. We are going to make sure that we have the cameras in the right position to cover the game. You are not going to see any wackiness when we cover the game.”

NBC will roll out Game Creek Video’s Patriot and Freedom mobile production trucks for all MLS games through the fall, when Freedom will move to ESPN’s college football coverage.

Moossa will be in the director’s chair for every production alongside producer Shaw Brown, who has produced games for ESPN, Fox Soccer, and NBC Olympics’ soccer coverage.

Studio Show Goes On-Site
All NBC and NBC Sports Network MLS telecasts will also feature an on-site studio show (produced out of the primary game truck) featuring NBC SportsTalk host Russ Thaler and Portland Timbers analyst Robbie Earle during pre-game, halftime and post-game segments, as well as contributions from White and Martino.

“You can expect [the remote studio show] to be a destination for soccer fans,” says Moossa. “The pre-game show will not only deal with the news for our game, but also hot topics around the league. We’re not going to be as much into highlights as we are getting opinions and observations from Kyle, Arlo, and Robbie.”

A Multi-Platform Affair
NBC will also emphasize its new online offering, ProSoccerTalk on NBCSports.com featuring soccer journalist Steve Davis, during the telecasts. In addition, social media will be a nearly constant presence with White spearheading the effort.

“Throughout the season we’re going to be heavily involved in Facebook, heavily involved in Twitter,” says Moossa. “The hashtag (#MLSonNBC) will be on the screen so people know where to go. Arlo is a prolific tweeter, so we’ll get involved in answering (Twitter) questions and Facebook polls.”

NBC Sports Network’s MLS slate kicks off on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET as FC Dallas hosts the New York Red Bulls.

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