MLS on TV: A Business Look at Breakaway

nbcLast Saturday marked the debut of MLS Breakaway on NBCSN. The “Red Zone” style show featured Russ Thaler, Kyle Martino and Arlo White in a Stamford, CT studio providing analysis and commentary of all live MLS games. The show also provided live look-ins at the various games (sometimes with local commentary and sometimes with the studio crew providing play-by-play).

Breakaway followed an NBC doubleheader featuring two scoreless draws on NBC (Red Bulls/United) and NBCSN (Sporting/Fire).  Reports from SBD/SBJ indicated that the NBC game drew a .7 rating (a solid number for the league but a bit suspect because of viewers in NY watching the parade) and a reported 200k for NBCSN’s late night Cascadia match-up (a great number).

The production standards were outstanding.  The Windows sponsored set was sleek and attractive and the network provided timely graphics identifying the teams, colors and broadcasters as needed.  Perhaps the best moment for the program came during a five minute span when goals were scored in Rio Tinto and PPL.  Although both goals were missed live, production team did a great job cutting to the goals and providing full highlights.  The studio team was also solid, with Martino and White ably guided by the professional Thaler.

On the downside, I still question whether the sport of soccer lends itself to this format.  Unlike football, scoring plays are rare and there are few times when a goal from the run of play can be identified in time to switch the games.  Also, I was surprised that the network didn’t rely upon split screens and other similar technology to provide multiple looks.  Finally, I think Breakaway would have been better served by a greater inventory of games during the show to provide more content.

Criticisms aside, Breakaway was a big moment for the league and its most aggressive television partner.  One Twitter comment (and I forget the source) noted that additional Breakaway type formats may induce local television partners to improve the quality of their broadcasts.  It will be interesting to see if the network finds a way to schedule another similar format later in the season.