Although Gus Johnson and Fox's soccer coverage are getting all the attention, Major League Soccer's season has gotten underway with coverage on ESPN and NBC Sports Network. While MLS has wandered through the Bristol wilderness (good luck hearing ESPN acknowledge the existence of MLS outside an MLS telecast or the rare Not Top 10 appearance), the league is one of the pillars of NBC Sports Network. This Saturday, NBC and NBCSN are dedicating a day of coverage to MLS like the league has never seen before, including taking a very successful page form the NFL's playbook.
This weekend, NBC will air 10 hours of MLS games. At 12:30 ET on the NBC mothership, you'll see DC United vs New York Red Bulls. At 3:00 ET, it'll be Sporting KC vs Chicago Fire on NBC Sports Network. At 5:30 ET on NBC Sports Network comes the headliner – a 2 and a half hour studio block where the network will bounce around to 4 MLS games (MTL/TOR, PHI/NE, CLB/SJ, RSL/COL) before televising Seattle vs Portland at 8 ET.
Arlo White and Kyle Martino will call the 12:30 game on NBC from New York and then travel to NBCSN's Connecticut studio to anchor the whiparound coverage, which White referred to as "MLS Breakaway" on his Twitter page. The NFL has totally revolutionized televised sports with Red Zone, giving fans the ability to take in the best moments from multiple games at once. It's been done in limited fashion in other sports, but this will be the first time it has been tried with MLS.
It's a forward thinking step for both NBC and MLS. For NBC, an entire Saturday's worth of coverage including a Red Zone style block is a unique way to promote the league and dedicate an entire day of coverage to one of their core properties. There's no better advertisement for MLS than the Seattle-Portland rivalry, which will be a perfect way to end the marathon coverage.
For MLS, perhaps a Red Zone style show is the innovation the league needs to break through on television where it has lagged behind international soccer and the English Premier League. Much like showing all the touchdowns in NFL games, NBC can air all the goals in real time or close to it for those 5:30 games. Whether it draws huge ratings or not, MLS Breakaway is an encouraging and creative step. If you're looking to reach new fans as a soccer league and grow the MLS brand, the best thing to do is show as many goals as possible. Casual soccer fans like goals. It's not a complicated formula, and it seems NBC and MLS are finally doing something to reach out to a broader audience. Short of bringing in Gus Johnson, that is…