Welcome home, Kyle.
Last weekend, NBC Sports Group kicked off its three-year $250 million deal to bring the Premier League to the United States. The most important decision for its soccer executives was finding the right talent as the face of their broadcasts.
"We went out aggressively recruiting the right talent," said Jon Miller, NBC Sports' president of programming. "We want the best possible announcers, and the best presenters and communicators to bring the game to our audience. We want our coverage of the Premier League to be our signature property. It is every bit as important to us as our Olympic, NHL, and Sunday Night Football coverage."
Enter, the lone American on a pundit panel full of British-born broadcasting heavyweights -- Kyle Martino.
Martino, who played professionally in MLS in the 2000s for both the Columbus Crew and LA Galaxy, was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 1998 at Staples High School. He found equal success in the pro game, earning MLS Rookie of the Year honors in 1998 and eight caps for the US National Team before injuries derailed his career and forced him into early retirement.
Retirement brought with it new challenges, as Martino grappled once playing soccer was no longer an option. While reassessing his love of the game, Martino took a job on Wall Street and distanced himself from the sport.
He couldn't stay away however, and in 2010 channeled his knowledge and experience into broadcasting. Today, he is without question, one of the top American color commentators on television.
"For me, a kid who grew up in Westport, my career has given me two monumental memories," Martino said. "The first is playing with David Beckham at Giants Stadium, and the other is covering the Premier League for NBC Sports 10 miles from where I grew up, covering the league that made me fall in love with the game as a kid."
The rest of NBC Sports' new studio show "Premier League Live," boasts of a pair of ex-Premier League stars in Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle, and one of the best studio hosts in the business, Rebecca Lowe.
For Lowe, whose career broadcasting the Premier League has included stops at the BBC, ESPN UK, and Setanta Sports, swimming with the big boys is business as usual. And she loves every minute of it.
"Have I got the best job in the world or what?" said Lowe, before happily sharing her thoughts on Manchester United's opening day performance, Liverpool's uphill battle to return to the upper echelons of the league, and the implications of Arsenal's current transfer struggles.
Lowe, who moved to Westport with her husband (former Luton manager Paul Buckle) this summer, is the perfect person to lead NBC's rapid-fire schedule -- which includes Stamford-based NBC broadcasts of three games every Saturday, two every Sunday, and one on Mondays, with studio shows in between. All other Premier League games this season will be shown live on Extra Time, NBC Sports Group's suite of auxiliary channels free for those that already have NBCSN.
"It's a big, big deal," Lowe said. "I think what I've done before has helped me prepare for this because I've been so exposed to Premier League football for so long. Not only do I use all that knowledge, I need all that knowledge ¦ It's all a bit slower in England. Here its like wham bam, its so America, I love it."
Each of the pundits brings something special to the table. Earle and Mustoe bring top-flight English and International experience -- perspectives few Americans can offer. Earle, a goal-scoring midfielder for Wimbledon in his day, scored Jamaica's first ever World Cup goal in 1998 (his parents were Jamaican and he represented Jamaica internationally). As Mustoe, who spent 12 years playing for Middleborough from 1990-2002, says, it's all about bringing perspective of personal experience.
"To describe what it feels like to win at Old Trafford (home of Manchester United), what it feels like to get a bad injury in a big game, that's what I hope to be able to bring to viewers in this country," Mustoe said. "If we can provide some insight to not just make it entertaining, but to try to get the public to see some of the nuances we get excited about -- and it's not necessarily a goal -- that's what we get excited about."
Mike Levitt is a freelance writer