How Adrian Healey became the voice of MLS on ESPN

Yesterday I posted the first part of my interview with Adrian Healey, the play-by-play voice for ESPN's Major League Soccer telecasts. Now here's the second.

If you've heard Healey call a game before - he did both U.S. men's national team games in Philadelphia last year - then you probably already noticed the first notable thing about him.

He has an English accent.

ESPN made a very public turn last year towards using announcers with English (and Scottish) accents on its soccer telecasts in the United States. This did not go down well with a large portion of the American soccer fan base.

But Healey is not some newcomer who just recently crossed the pond. He has been in the United States for nearly 20 years now, and has experience with MLS going back to when the league began.

Healey talked at length with me about his background in American soccer. After that, we discussed the broad scope of ESPN's soccer programming, which goes well beyond what we see in the United States.

I will not be at PPL Park tonight, as I am once again out of town for a family occasion. But I know the atmosphere will be electric, and hopefully the quality of soccer on the field will be just as great. I'll have my analysis of the game up here on the blog on Monday.

You did local broadcasts for the New England Revolution for a while before joining ESPN. Talk about your experience with that.

I was on air in Boston as an alternative-rock radio DJ in the early-to-mid-1990s. I was always looking to get back into football after I moved from England to the States in 1992. I was in Boston radio pretty much right up until 1998. When the league started in 1996, I was knocking on the door with the Revolution – I went to the first game in D.C., and continued to go and support them for the first couple years of their existence.

I also used every opportunity I could to get involved – I gave away tickets and interviewed players on my radio show. I was also talking to the general manager at the time, and said, ‘Hey, listen, if you ever decide to do English-language radio, I’m your guy. I’ve done it before and I could do the job.

In the third season, 1998, he came to me and said, ‘Yes, we have an English-language radio deal, would you like to do it?’ So I jumped on board and did three seasons of radio with the Revs. That involved doing every game, so it was traveling with them, going all over. Then I transitioned to TV right at the end of the 2000 season, and took over in 2001.

I stayed with the Revs through the end of the 2004 season, by which time I’d already started at ESPN. There was a year or two of doing both, then ESPN became such a commitment that they told me I was going to have to let the Revolution go.

Which I didn’t want to do, because I was swapping the experience of calling games live from the stadium to calling most of the games from a studio from Connecticut. But I was moving to a full-time commitment, so in 2004 I had to hand over the Revs to Brad Feldman, who’s still doing that, and came on board in full with ESPN.

I still did the odd game here and there, and always looked for the chance to do MLS whenever the opportunity arose. That happened occasionally in the intervening years. When the chance came to become the primary voice of MLS, I didn’t hesitate for a second. It’s kind of been a secret dream of mine in the intervening years that one day I could go back and get involved with the league again, and I was lucky enough that it happened.

I just think that in a way, the timing for me is extremely lucky. I think there’s an optimism and a direction and a real sense of intent about the league. Seven years on from when I was last in it, it’s made such huge strides in legitimacy. I think I’m very fortunate that my timing has brought me back into the league right now. I’m just looking to do my little part, whatever I can do to help it grow.

A question about your work at ESPN. When you travel outside the U.S., you can get the international version of ESPN on cruise ships and in hotels. There's a lot of soccer on there, but much of it doesn't air on the American network.

I think of shows like Press Pass, which you host. There are a lot of interesting perspectives among the panelists, which include former U.S. national team defender Janusz Michallikjournalist (and Penn alumnus) Gabriele Marcotti, and New England Revolution mananger Steve Nicol.

For people who don’t know what the scale of the soccer operation is in Bristol, how big an operation is it?

It’s funny, because all of us who work for ESPN International almost work in a bubble. We cover competitions all over the world, our signal goes out all over the world – except in the U.S. Yet here we are in Bristol, Connecticut. It’s almost a contradiction in terms.

ESPN International covers the Spanish Liga Primera, the Italian Serie A, some English Premier League games that aren’t covered by ESPN2. We still have the UEFA Champions League – even though ESPN lost the U.S. rights to the Champions League, we still have it internationally.

We’re the primary provider of Champions League football to the Pacific Rim region: Australia, New Zealand, and everywhere down there. We have different regions around the world that we serve in English. And ESPN International broadcasts in Spanish too – they broadcast across South America and Central America.

In English, we have what we call the ‘Atlantic Market,’ which is all of Africa and the Middle East, anywhere that’s even remotely English-speaking. We have the Caribbean, we have the cruise ships as you mentioned, we have the Pacific Rim region, and we have the United Kingdom now as well.

There is a whole separate U.K. channel. that comes under the umbrella of ESPN International. They have their own London-based operation. We do some stuff for them, and they do some stuff for us. So it’s only growing. It’s actually quite a small department, and we put out a lot of product for the number of people that we have.

That’s why myself, and Shaka Hislop, and Robbie Mustoe, and Janusz Michallik, all of us end up doing probably three to four games a week, and maybe two to three studio shows. As you say, Press Pass is our international flagship soccer studio talk show, and that goes out five days a week.

It’s an enormous body of work, and most of it goes undetected in the United States as you say. But that’s just the nature of the beast, really.

You can watch Press Pass online and subscribe to an audio version as a podcast here. The show doesn't discuss MLS much, but it does manage to fit a lot of soccer from around the world into a half-hour show.

Although Adrian isn't on Twitter, many of his Press Pass colleagues are. You can follow them by clicking on their names above. The show also has its own dedicated Twitter feed here.