NBC Sports officially names John Strong its voice of Major League Soccer
A few months ago, I broke the news that NBC Sports was planning to hire Portland Timbers and Fox Soccer play-by-play announcer John Strong to succeed Arlo White as its lead voice for Major League Soccer broadcasts.
White is headed back to his native England in a few weeks to get ready for the upcoming Premier League season. He'll be NBC's lead play-by-play voice in the network's three-year, $250 million EPL broadcast deal that starts in August.
It took a while for NBC to get all of the pieces in place, but they've finally made Strong's arrival official.
I recently asked White for his thoughts on the man who will take over his microphone. They got to know each other when White worked as the play-by-play voice for the Seattle Sounders' local TV broadcasts in 2010 and 2011. Strong has called Timbers games since well before they joined MLS.
You may have seen that the two worked together Sunday night in Portland on NBC Sports Network's broadcast of the Timbers-Rapids game, with Strong serving as desk host and White as play-by-play voice.
The transition intentionally wasn't raised on air Sunday night, but you can be sure it came up behind the scenes.
Here's what White told me about NBC's decision to have Strong replace him:
I recognized John Strong's talents when I was in the Pacific Northwest watching his Portland Timbers broadcasts. He talks the language of the game. He's very knowledgeable. He's immersed in soccer.
As you can see in his recent work on a national level, both with Fox and with NBC, he is very capable. And I think it's great that we at NBC Sports are developing an American voice for the American game.
It speaks well of the soccer culture in that part of the world. You fly in over Portland, as I did the other day, or Seattle and you just see soccer pitch after soccer pitch. It's a wonderful hotbed for the game out there, and a great breeding ground in America.
In addition to announcing the hire of Strong, NBC has also set the timetable for his arrival in the booth.
White's final MLS game before returning to his native England for the upcoming Premier League season will be this coming Saturday at PPL Park when the Union host FC Dallas. Considering that PPL Park is the closest venue to Comcast's global headquarters in Center City, it's an appropriate coincidence.
It's also nice that as his tenure here concludes, White has been able to say goodbye to two other cities he knows well. In addition to visiting Strong's home town this past weekend, White was in Seattle the week prior. White still has a lot of friends in the Pacific Northwest, and I know he won't soon forget them.
I know many of you are fans of White. Rest assured he isn't going away entirely. After Saturday's game at PPL Park, he'll be in San Diego on July 5 for the U.S. national team's Gold Cup warmup friendly against Guatemala (11:00 p.m., NBC Sports Network). He'll also be back later this year for NBC's MLS playoff games.
Appropriately enough for a Pacific Northwest native, Strong's first game of his new deal will be a Cascadia Cup game: Seattle at Vancouver on July 6 He'll be at PPL Park on August 10 for the Union's game against D.C. United.
Strong will team up that night with Robbie Earle, his partner on Timbers local TV broadcasts since the team joined MLS in 2011. Earle, who played for Jamaica's national team and English club Wimbledon in the 1990's, has been hired by NBC to serve as a studio analyst on its Premier League broadcasts.
Sports Illustrated's ace media reporter Richard Deitsch broke the news Thursday night that NBC's other EPL studio hire, Robbie Mustoe, will also work as a MLS game analyst at times this season.
NBC's current MLS color analyst, Kyle Martino, isn't going anywhere though. In fact, his role with NBC will expand to include EPL studio work as well as MLS coverage. I reported that might happen back in April and Deitsch confirmed it Sunday night.
(I have to thank Deitsch for mentioning me in his latest column. He has driven a lot of traffic to this blog since it started and I very much appreciate that.)
Now, back to Strong. It's my understanding that his contract with NBC runs through next season, which is the remainder of the network's deal with MLS. Timbers owner Merritt Paulson announced via Twitter on Sunday that veteran American soccer voices Christian Miles and Jimmy Conrad will replace strong and Earle as the Timbers' local broadcast crew.
After that? Well, funny you should ask. I've heard that MLS' negotiations for its next round of TV deals, starting with the 2015 season, are already underway. And I've heard from multiple sources at this point that NBC isn't too inclined to keep its relationship with MLS going.
I've also heard that ESPN is likely to re-up with the league as its primary broadcast partner. That leaves the door open for Fox Sports to make a move for NBC's second-tier package if it wants to - though I'm sure that network's executives haven't forgotten how MLS dropped Fox for NBC in 2011.
Things have changed since then, though. The soon-to-launch Fox Sports 1 will offer true national distribution for games, whereas Fox Soccer has always been a premium channel.
You'll know what's happening as soon as I do. For now, things are happening behind the scenes. I'll be interested to see what role veteran sports TV executive Gary Stevenson - recently hired to run MLS' new Business Ventures arm - plays in the negotiations. Given his experience with the Pac-12 Network and the NBA, I have a hunch he'll be a major player in this summer's negotiations.