Kansas City-Style Broadcast
When you watch a Kansas City Comets game on Twitch or TV, you might quickly get the idea that the announcers are having a conversation between two friends while giving fans the facts, analysis and color about the contest.
It's certainly not an easy task, but Nick Vasos and Erik Bergrud keep up with the action while making sure their audience is educated, entertained, and even involved in the Major Arena Soccer League match.
Take, for instance, what transpired during the Dec. 3 stream and telecast of the Comets' 7-2 home win over the St. Louis Ambush.
They read messages from Utica City FC forward Gordy Gurson and head coach Hewerton Moreira, held a poll on the best indoor soccer rivalry, updated the scores from other matches, held a quick halftime chat with KC head coach Stefan Stokic on the field and a post-match interview with Comets defender Ray Lee (who scored twice).
It was a fine line to walk, but they accomplished it quite well.
"It feels like 80 percent fun, 20 percent information," Vasos said. "We work really well together."
Indeed, they do, with passion and humor.
"We have fun on the broadcast," Bergrud said. "I think what we probably have enjoyed maybe more than other broadcast teams is the interactive element with Twitch. So, we spent a lot of quality time interacting with fans, not only during the broadcast but also before and after games."
The overall quality of their work shined so many times last season that the MASL named the Comets as the best broadcast production.
Both announcers realized that it was much more than just a two-man show, with plenty of people behind the scenes to make it run smoothly.
"I'm speechless even thinking about it," Bergrud said. "It meant a great deal. We put in a lot of hours, not just Nick and me but the whole broadcast team. We have a great production team in Kansas City. We put in the hours prepping for each game. This is not our first job. It's a labor of love. It meant a lot to be recognized for the work that we put in. We offer something that's very different and very different than what you might have seen in the 1980s."
Vasos also was humbled by the honor.
"I personally was really flattered, but I also know it wouldn't have happened without Erik," he said. "Being named the best broadcast is a team effort between Erik and I, and our technical producer, director and camera operators all working together to produce to produce something that is worthwhile to watch. They are the guys who helped us put the game on the air because they have to do a lot of work behind the scenes in order to make it look good, streaming and also for television.”
Bergrud and Vasos, who are 56, sound like they have been announcing together for decades, but it has only been four years, since the start of the 2019-20 season.
It should come as no surprise that both announcers have long histories in the great indoors.
A fanboy of the Lazers
Growing up in southern California, Bergrud was such a big fan of the Los Angeles Lazers (Major Indoor Soccer League) that as a teenager he would drive around the Los Angeles area trying to find the signal of their radio station when they played.
Bergrud wanted to compete at the D-I college soccer level and narrowed his list to MISL cities. He decided to attend Fordham University, caught a few games at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., watching the expansion team New York Express and goalkeeper Shep Messing in 1986. During his freshman year, however, Bergrud came down with Epstein-Barr, which he called "mono on steroids." He took time off from college, resurfaced in the Kansas City area, and earned a degree from the University of Kansas City, while becoming a Comets fan.
Bergrud's day job as chief strategic communications officer at Park University in Kansas City. His team manages the school's social media, digital production and video and "develop the voice for the university."
He also has been the announcer for the Park University men's and women's soccer games since 2014.
In 2019, Bergrud had a one-game tryout as the Comets' color announcer, with Vasos. There was a vacancy and the Comets asked Bergrud to try out.
"We immediately clicked,” he said. “I will admit fully that first game if you find that video, I stepped over Nick so many times where I didn't quite get the cadence when he was stopping and when I was supposed to jump in. I still do that from time to time. but it's all worked out.
"What's been interesting about announcing games is I think it's helped me become a better professional. I've learned so much from Nick in terms of how to appear on camera, how to prepare. That's helped me in my day job. I see both as synergistic. Each one has made me better in the other world."
Vasos returned the compliment.
"Erik has been the best partner I've ever had in all my years in doing this," he said. "Erik is knowledgeable. He is thoughtful. He is insightful, and he cares. He loves us to have fun, and I can't think of anybody better or anybody who would do a better job than Erik."
Because he has followed indoor soccer for more than four decades, Bergrud has brought a unique perspective to the broadcast. He can harken back to the early era of the New York Arrows and Steve Zungul and other indoor achievements through the years and explain Kansas City Attack and Comets history, as well,
"I don't ever claim to have been a professional player," Bergrud said. "There are great color commentators in this league who played the game professionally. I did not. I think I've played enough and watched enough that I can hold my own as an analyst, but I also think that I know end up with the game historically, as well as is contemporaneously where I'm different than any other color commentator in the league."
Going on the Attack
Vasos played soccer for two years in junior high school before getting an opportunity to become the voice of the Attack (National Professional Soccer League) in 1996. Attack general manager Zoran Savic, who was looking for a play-by-play announcer, heard Vasos on the radio.
"He actually tracked me down when I was at an appearance and asked me if I'd be interested in getting a tape together for him," Vasos said.
Vasos did his homework during the summer of 1996, listening to tapes of indoor soccer games because there weren’t many videos of indoor soccer.
He became a student of the game.
"I basically learned a lot through trial," Vasos said. "I listened to a lot of people. I talked to a lot of players and coaches. ‘Who do you like listening to? What's the terminology there?’ That probably is not the normal route that a lot of people would take but I give a lot of credit to Zoran and thank him a lot because he gave me the opportunity. So did the owners, Don Kincaid and Patty Kincaid. They gave me the opportunity to do something that I really wanted to do."
The Attack won the NPSL championship in Vasos' first season.
Indoor soccer being such a super-fast affair, anyone, including a veteran announcer, can miss an important piece of the action by looking away for an instant. Vasos learned that when he has checked his team charts during a game.
The lesson he learned was "don't look down."
"If you look down, you'll probably miss something," he said. "I can't tell you how many times I have looked down at my notes or my boards. Something else has happened and I'm like, ‘Ooh, why did I do that?’ "
Vasos, who awakes at 2:20 each weekday morning, is well known in the Kansas City community as the Fox 4 Kansas City anchor of its 9 a.m. and noon broadcasts.
A question of balance
Both announcers understand the balancing act they take when they announce Comets home games from the Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Mo.
All Comets broadcasts are on Twitch and many also televised on 38 the Spot/KMCI-TV at the same time. So, Vasos and Bergrud are announcing to several different audiences - ardent Comets fans, supporters of the visiting team and indoor soccer fans, in general.
"I wish all of our games were on 38 the Spot,” Vasos said. “We're so thankful for our partnership with 38TheSpot. It's a local station. That’s an over-the-air station, meaning anybody who has a television, if they have rabbit ears, can watch the Comets’ game and they don't have to pay anything. It's not cable. It's not a streaming service.
"That kind of accessibility to the game across Kansas City is so important. It's something that Erik and I keep in mind. It is a balance of a fine line but one that we're excited to tight rope and to try to make work."
MASL president of communications/media JP Dellacamera has stressed to all broadcasters that a core of the Twitch viewers every week are from visiting fans, Bergrud said.
"There are some home team fans who aren't at the arena who will watch," he added. "There are quite a few visiting fans who are watching, and neutral fans, and we try to do enough for each. In Kansas City, we have to walk a fine line between how you engage your traditional linear broadcast viewer and then how do you pull in the Twitch viewers who are watching all over the place.
"It's really interactive. We'll get an opposing player or neutral players who come in the chat. We'll get messages from league officials, players, coaches during the game. I don't know how much of a filter I have, but sometimes I'll just read something that somebody texted me and I'm not sure whether they wanted me to put it on air. But I figure it's fair game."
Always be prepared
Announcing matches might not be their day jobs, but both men take their indoor responsibilities seriously. Preparation is half the battle.
Vasos said that he prepares three charts for each game - for the Comets, the opposition and league information. That includes a box for every player, his hometown, number of goals, records, awards, and interesting anecdote.
His league board is a different set-up.
"What happened over the weekend with the teams? What's on tap tonight? What's ahead?” Vasos said. “It also has the officials' names on there. It's got it's got who's leading the league. Is there something unusual? Did somebody score six goals? Something that's newsworthy about the league.
"We've got two hours and 20 minutes to fill. You better be prepared to have something to say. I don't use all the information that I prepare. Some of it gets left on the cutting room floor but he and I are always prepared to meet that challenge ... Viewers can tell when you're not prepared. They can tell when you don't know a player's name, when you when you don't know anything about a player like [Texas Outlaws’] Luiz Morales, you know scores a hat-trick and he's on fire and was rookie of the year in 2021-22."
That planning goes beyond basic information.
"Nick and I every week try to figure out who do we want to interview, what are the storylines for each game?' Bergrud said. "I would call it a combination of an art and a science. Some of it we have boxes we want to check but in other cases we decide we want to riff on something, and we go with it."
Brian Holland, a Kansas City indoor soccer historian, has been a tremendous help giving the crew historical data that helps put particular moments into proper perspective and perhaps an opportunity to relay an intriguing story, game or event.
"Nick nicknamed him the professor," Bergrud said. "He sends me all sorts of facts and figures. It's great to have someone like that who cares so much about the game and is willing to volunteer hours to help make us look good."
As in every sport, unusual events and moments happen, as it did during the Dec. 3 broadcast. The Monterrey Flash had just defeated the Dallas Sidekicks, 22-5, and someone on Twitch chat noted that they had a higher score than the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots' NFL game (a 6-0 LA win).
"There was a there was a super Dallas fan who's a historian who kept giving updates in terms of Dallas history and what were the most goals that were given by the Sidekicks," Bergrud said. "Somebody else dropped that in the Twitch chat. I have to share those. The league wants us has to be like that. They want us to interact with fans. I think they want each broadcast to have its own personality. We definitely have our personality in Kansas City, and it works for us."
In case you were wondering, the next Comets’ home broadcast will be against the Texas Outlaws tonight at 6 p.m. ET.
Bergrud and Vasos have so many vivid memories of indoor soccer that it could fill another column and then some.
On the top of Bergrud's list was the first MASL all-star game in Kansas City on Dec. 5, 2020, after the league, during the COVID-19 pandemic. That made for a unique challenge in preparation.
"We had to prepare in a different way because this wasn't calling a Comets' game," he said. "We had to figure out whom to interview, how to make this relevant for everybody with not a lot of prep time. It was a great experience. There was a limited crowd because of COVID. So, we had quite a few people watching us online and it was a great and unusual opportunity for us to call it an all-star game in Kansas City. It’s something I would love to do again, hopefully under not so dire circumstances."
For Vasos, it was the excitement and magic of when the Attack won its second championship in 1997, when he was a rookie soccer announcer in 1997.
"It was Mother's Day of 1997," he said. "They beat the Cleveland Crunch in four games. I knew we were going to win when Brian Lofton scored a shorthanded goal against Cleveland. At that moment, I knew the mojo was with us and we were on our way to a sweep. I remember celebrating with the owners, Don and Patty Kincaid, Savic and the head coach was Jim Schwab back then. And celebrate we did."
Another big memory for Vasos was when legendary forward Leo Gibson buzzed through the 2014-15 MASL season with a ridiculous 48 goals and 45 assists for 93 points in only a 20-game season. "He had one of the most magical years an indoor player can have," he said.
Then known as the Missouri Comets, the team finished the regular season undefeated at 20-0, but was eliminated in the semifinals by the Baltimore Blast at home, 10-7. Former U.S. women's national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who guides the Kansas Current (National Women’s Soccer League), directed that squad.
"Unfortunately, I was not able to do that game," Vasos said. "I had commitments that I had made, and it just turned out to be bad."
Bergrud knows his indoor soccer history, but he doesn't necessarily live in the past.
"My one caveat, and I talk about it all the time, I celebrate the past, but I resist what I call ancestor worship," he said. "What I mean by that is only looking back at the past and saying how great it was and not enjoying the moments. I can also enjoy the modern era as well. I think too often in indoor, there's so much reverence for the Steve Zungul, Julie Veee, Branko Segota or Stan Stamenkovic era that we don't enjoy where we're at right now. Different time, different level of competition. I still get excited every time I go into the arena today, just like I did when I was a 16-year-old fan."
And yes, after all these years, they are still fans of the game, which they bring to their broadcasts.
"I love the league," Vasos said. "I've been around the game for a long time. This is my 28th year broadcasting pro indoor soccer. I've seen many iterations. The most recent one has been the strongest and the most lasting one. I think it's something to celebrate. The league is more than more than the Comets and more than just the opponent. The league is all of the teams and all of its personalities and all of its different nuances and locations whether it's a team in Mexico or a team in the Pacific Northwest, or the the San Diego Sockers. Each team has its own personality and Erik and I celebrate that."
At each and every Comets' home game.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has written two books" Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers and a sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers. It has many features about indoor soccer and MASL players. Both books can be purchased at www.RochesterLancersBook.com.