Adrian Healey is the voice of Major League Soccer around the world. The ESPN game he covers as commentator is also viewed on ESPN International, where he also broadcasts on UEFA Champions League, Italian, Spanish, English and Dutch football.
As part of our series to discover where MLS stands in the world and how it could grow, we asked Adrian for his insight. Surprisingly, there’s a very simple step that can be done, just waiting for someone to do it.
PROST AMERIKA: That’s quite a workload you have there. How do you keep track?
ADRIAN HEALEY: I love to be involved with the game on a global basis, and I think it’s vital in terms of bringing perspective. It is very easy to become immersed in just one league, and lose track of what’s happening elsewhere.
La Liga and Serie A are my weekly bread and butter for ESPN International with Champions League, EPL, Dutch and Internationals sprinkled in. I’m also involved in hosting Press Pass, a 30 min daily look at the global game.
When the MLS season kicks in, that becomes my main assignment, but I carry on with my other assignments as well, particularly Press Pass which is year round.
PROST AMERIKA: Where does MLS rank MLS among those leagues?
ADRIAN HEALEY: I feel it is now a top 10 league in the world. I would say it’s right in the mix now with something like the Dutch Eredivisie in terms of the talent, the standard of play and the infrastructure. The only thing it doesn’t have yet is a history and a body of work, but that is coming. It has made amazing strides in just over a decade and a half.
PROST AMERIKA: Are the viewing numbers for MLS good overseas?
ADRIAN HEALEY: I don’t have any hard numbers to answer that scientifically, but anecdotally I can tell you that there are increasing numbers people around the world watching with growing interest. ESPN UK show all our ESPN2 games live, but the time difference often hurts us, particularly for West Coast games which kickoff at about 3am UK time!
When the timing works, and the matchup works, we can get very decent viewing figures, as was the case in the playoffs for the Red Bulls/Galaxy Playoff 1st Leg which kicked off at 8pm Sun night UK time. It was the only football on at that time, plus you had the interest in Beckham and Henry
PROST AMERIKA: Do you get much feedback from the UK about MLS?
ADRIAN HEALEY: The mass market in the UK is still for the most part fairly parochial in their football viewing habits. They won’t watch ANY games that don’t involve UK teams. However, I feel that MLS is becoming a “cult” watch, in the same way that the German Bundesliga or the Brazilian Championship has their own following. Those that watch tend to do so religiously. However, its undeniable that Beckham, Henry and now Keane have ramped up the general interest.
PROST AMERIKA: Are attitudes changing?
ADRIAN HEALEY: I feel that the league is already taken much seriously overseas. The perception that it was just a retirement home for fading stars, which perhaps reached its nadir in the late 90’s with the likes of Lothar Matteus, has largely disappeared. Just look at the number of European managers who are now looking to mine America for talent. As there is more trade in both directions involving players, so the overall image of MLS will continue to improve.
PROST AMERIKA: Do you see your role as PR, with a duty to promote the league internationally, or a neutral commentator as you would with an English match?
ADRIAN HEALEY: I don’t feel it’s my “duty” per se. My duty is to be the best commentator I possibly can for any game I am assigned to, and that would certainly include informing, and hopefully entertaining, an audience who might not be as familiar with MLS. In many ways, the fact that our MLS coverage is seen in many places around the world mirrors my other ESPN work. Games are often going to wildly different places at the same time, say Australia, Jamaica, and Israel.
It’s difficult to “tailor” a commentary for one market when you are going to many. With MLS, obviously we are broadcasting primarily to a US audience, but are always aware that we have other viewers around the world. I would hope that my involvement in other leagues would to bring some credibility and authenticity to MLS broadcasts internationally.
PROST AMERIKA: If you do not see match commentary as a vehicle to promote the league, what other avenues are open to MLS?
ADRIAN HEALEY: I feel one big thing the league is still missing the boat on is a slickly produced 30 or 60 mins highlights package. Premier League Review has played a major part in expanding the EPL’s global reach, and the equivalent shows from Italy and Spain have become big successes. It’s mind boggling to me that the league hasn’t done this yet. They are relatively easy and inexpensive to produce..you don’t even need a studio set. Just a few good editors, and a writer/voice. If you are looking to grow your brand, its simply a must.
PROST AMERIKA: Why hasn’t it happened yet?
ADRIAN HEALEY: I think there may be a little bit of standoff here in terms of responsibility. The League might feel it’s not their responsibility to do this, and TV companies may feel the same. It probably needs an independent production company to step up and fill this gap in the market.
MLS – as seen from other places: