Alvaro(left) and Raul Allegre call the Monday Night Football action for ESPN Deportes
Every now and then I get the opportunity to interview someone unique. Someone that has a different outlook on the National Football League. A fresh perspective. Alvaro Martin definitely fits the bill. Alvaro is one half of ESPN Deportes' Monday Night Football broadcast team who will be calling the game against the Titans. According to Martin's bio --
Founding partner of SMartSports, Inc., a New York City-based radio and television production company that has pioneered SAP and Spanish-language sports broadcasting, Martín has worked in almost all areas of TV, radio and film, from sales to broadcasting.
At age 38, he is one of the top Spanish-language play-by-play announcers for ESPN International, with five NBA Finals, two World Series and six Super Bowls to his credit. He began with ESPN in 1991, broadcasting events as diverse as the America's Cup and NASCAR races. In 1993, he became the first ESPN announcer to work in two languages when he performed play-by-play duties in English for the PPG IndyCar World Series. This year he is also broadcasting in both English and Spanish, working as a simultaneous on-field reporter for ESPN's Major League Baseball broadcasts in both languages.
Born in Puerto Rico, Martín is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Business School. Between degrees, Martín worked at Univisión as assistant to the executive vice president and as national sales officer in the Southwest. After HBS, he joined McKinsey's media group as an associate.
Martín and his wife and child live on Manhattan's East Side.
Alvaro was nice enough to answer some questions for us. Below are his answers, which give an insightful look at how the rest of the world looks at the National Football League...
MHR -- First, about the game, when you look at the two young quarterbacks(Jay Cutler and Vince Young), there is an obvious connection because of their respective placement in the draft. How do you each feel they have done so far, how do you see each progressing, and if you had to start a franchise right now, which QB would you take?
AM: Jay Cutler has a strong arm, surprising mobility and a very thick skin he developed while trying to beat much more talented teams while at Vanderbilt. Like Young, he has had difficulty going deep into his progressions quickly and seeing his third option on the field on time.
Vince Young is the prototype of the QB every team covets - perhaps the best athlete on the field when he is under center, with charisma and leadership traits to boot. However, I am not convinced he has yet developed the decision-making savvy the position requires. Does he read a defense quickly? Does he make adjustments? Can he get rid of the ball quickly, to the optimal option and in stride? Not yet, in his second year in the league. Will he? I think he has a better chance than Michael Vick ever did.
You are asking me a tough question. Perhaps technically Cutler is more polished than Young, but Young can do more on the field, and there is no question his teammates will kick it in gear for him, when they need to score in the clutch. Until Young can show me he can read the field pre- and post-snap, I would go with Cutler, in a close call.
MHR -- Jeff Fisher and Mike Shanahan have been the exception to the NFL coaching rule, guys that have stayed with one team for a long time. What do attribute their success to and why do you think they have been so successful?
AM: Most coaches tell you they do not believe in rebuilding, but Mike Shanahan is one of the few coaches who has shown that indeed, his teams every year have a chance to make the playoffs and in some cases, advance deeply into the postseason. His relationship with the owner is unusual in the NFL - it is as if they were business partners, and not just an owner and his top executive.
Jeff has done a wonderful job in a market with limited economic margin for error. He has survived a salary cap mess and some lean years in terms of on-the-field performance because of his coaching ability, his setting down roots in Tennessee, and his forthrightness.
MHR -- The Broncos defense has been struggling to say the least. When you guys look at the film what do you see? A lack of talent or a lack of execution?
AM: I thought Jim Bates was the Broncos' best off-season acquisition. He has struggled to install his "match concept" defense with personnel which is new to it, or just inexperienced. He does not have the linemen that classically fit this scheme, especially against the run. The Titans rank 19th in rushing average, but no other team in the NFL approaches their 319 rushing attempts so far. So the key is to ideally have the Titans face a deficit that removes their most effective weapon, out of the picture altogether. Let's see how many points the Broncos can score in their first two possessions. If they get 10 or 14 points, they will put the game in Vince Young's and his receivers' hands. That Bronco secondary will be salivating.
MHR -- There is an obvious effort in the League to globalize the sport. I, for one, feel that the League should tread carefully based on what I have seen as an alienation of American fans by the NBA and MLB. What is your take on globalization and what pitfalls should the NFL avoid that the other two Leagues seem to have fallen in to?
AM: It is a wonderful concept, provided there is grass-roots support for the sport in that geographic market. Mexico City made sense, because organized American football has been played there for over a century and it is currently widely played throughout Mexico. If the NFL were to schedule a regular season game annually, Estadio Azteca would have no less than 100,000 fans year after year. They understand the game, they currently play or played the game in the past.
In the U.K., or Germany or in China, holding regular season games will work insofar the NFL is willing to undertake a concentrated effort to get local kids to play touch football and for high schools, colleges and even soccer clubs like Arsenal or Bayern Munich to establish American football as part of the athletic activities. In the 15 years NFL Europe existed, the league failed to provide such grass roots support. Not developing a local taste for this sport risks making these regular-season games a fad - once the novelty wears off, it will be increasingly difficult for local promoters to offer the NFL monetary guarantees for these games.
The Super Bowl today is primarily a television event - as such it can be held anywhere. Holding it overseas requires a properly equipped stadium, a city with a nice climate, excellent security arrangements and an attractive time zone difference from the U.S.. Barcelona is a wonderful city, but where's the stadium? Is the city secure for an event which is such an American cultural touchstone? What time will the game kick off - at 11:30 PM, local time?
I once told a roomful of NFL executives that my number one recommendation to an American league that is considering overseas expansion would be to avoid scheduling most of its games on Sunday, when King Soccer dominates around the globe. I was half-serious and half-joking, of course, but they failed to appreciate the humor. To grow internationally, the NFL will have to hustle and scratch to build its sport, the same way it did in the United States in the 1940's and 1950's, when professional American football took a back seat to baseball, college basketball and college football in the sports landscape. Will owners invest in projects aimed at developing the game overseas with uncertain return of investment when they are used to having sponsors, distribution partners and other interested parties throw money at them in the domestic market?
MHR -- Americans obviously have a strong opinion on Soccer, which is easily the most popular sport in the world. What do Latinos think, specifically in Mexico, Central and South America, about American Football? Do you feel it is gaining in popularity?
AM: Let's break this down by region. Mexico is exceptional - only rivaled by Canada as a natural market for American football. However, even in Mexico, the NFL is perceived to be a sport followed by the elite. I can tell you anecdotally that immigrants from Puebla and Oaxaca which settle in New York City, where I live, come to the US with pre-existing NFL team allegiances. They arrive here as Rams, Niners, Raiders, Steelers, and yes, Broncos fans, in NYC. Imagine that!
In Central America, American football is less developed, but it is worth noting that there is a Central American full-contact American football league that pits teams from every one of the six nations in that region.
In South America, especially south of the Equator, the NFL's job is more missionary. Explaining the rules is critical to propagating the sport, and if you live in Argentina, getting equipment and proper coaching is truly Quixotic. Once again, the NFL has had many chances to help these burgeoning leagues, but the assistance has not been meaningful.
One final anecdote: I am also ESPN Deportes' lead NBA play-by-play announcer in Spanish and I met Sergio Hernández, head coach of Olympic basketball champion, Argentina. He told me he watches the NFL, and specifically Indianapolis Colts games, because his 12-year old son Lautaro is a rabid Peyton Manning fan.
Our thanks, again, to Alvaro for taking the time to answer the questions. Based on his insightful, intelligent answers I think I would prefer Alvaro to the three stooges that occupy the booth now.