These days, nearly every American -- athletes, people at the gym, Wall Street honchos -- watches international soccer.
Between FIFA (the video game), nonstop coverage on TV and countless YouTube videos, you can't escape The Beautiful Game.
In the late 1990s, though, Mike Carey was ahead of the curve.
He begged his father to get Fox Sports World for the soccer before any of his friends knew about it. He was a Leeds United fan, because of Robbie Keane and other great young players. He studied different nations' soccer styles, learned about geography and politics, and was hooked.
After helping Staples High School to an FCIAC championship and the state semifinals in 2000, Carey headed to Union College. He earned second-team All-Liberty League honors there, then moved to Philadelphia and became a senior paralegal.
He could have made that his career. But he continued to love soccer, and this April -- when NBC Sports sent out a press release touting its comprehensive Premier League coverage -- Carey realized the network would need talented, soccer-savvy help.
He emailed former Staples teammate Kyle Martino -- a national team player-turned-broadcaster -- asking for the name of an executive to contact. Once Carey was called for an interview, things moved quickly.
"They were looking for more than a fan," he says. "It helped that my work background involved a lot of research and due diligence." It did not hurt that he was intimately familiar with the game.
His interview consisted of questions like who he thought would win the Premier League title. Carey defended his choices knowledgeably. Subsequent discussions with his possible new colleagues sealed the deal.
Carey started work on Monday, Aug. 12. Five days later, NBC broadcast its first game. "That was pretty intense," the researcher notes.
It got even more intense from there.
If NBC is airing only weekend matches, the work ramps up on Thursday. A "match packet" covers the 10 upcoming games (five on television, the other five on a bonus television package). Included are statistics, team results, trends, story lines, press clippings and detailed data on every player.
It's sent to the studio talent, production crew and commentators in England. Arlo White -- the former Westporter who recently relocated overseas -- receives especially detailed notes.
A key part of the research is pronunciation of names. With players from all over the world, that's no easy task. Carey's research team may ask a club for clarification -- but even team officials can give incorrect information. Every item is double- and triple-checked. Read Full Article
On Friday, Carey and his co-workers monitor British press conferences. They're looking for good sound bites and whatever injury information they can glean. "It's pretty murky," Carey notes. "It's not like the NFL, where they have to give out injury reports."
On game day, the researchers fan out. In the tape room they watch video feeds to identify players, help cut highlights and prepare graphics.
The control room is even more complicated. There, the focus is on ensuring that every item that goes on the screen is correct.
Before the matches even begin, analysts -- including Martino and host Westporter Rebecca Lowe -- fire questions at the researchers.
"We have to be 100 percent accurate, 100 percent of the time," Carey notes. He and his colleagues must also be quick.
If there's an error, the Twittersphere lights up. Fortunately, Carey says, they have not made a major mistake so far.
He is proud that part of his job entails educating fans about soccer history. A recent feature on the Merseyside Derby between Everton and Liverpool -- located just a few miles apart -- showed how rival fans manage to overcome intense partisan differences.
Carey has been surprised by how much work goes into each item. He recently spent three hours writing a timeline on one manager. It showed on air for "maybe 20 seconds."
Feedback has been "phenomenal." According to Carey, his network has covered the Premier League substantially. "We're giving the league the attention it deserves," he says. "We really want to show it off."
Ratings have been very good. Though matches begin at 7:45 a.m., viewership even then is solid. The 12:30 p.m. games are rated highly, and new sponsors sign on all the time.
There is no letup in sight. A span of 40 matches in 12 days is ahead. Boxing Day -- yesterday -- was particularly busy.
When some of the staff heads to Sochi for NBC's Olympic coverage, "we'll have to do more with less," Carey says. Lowe is going too.
Meanwhile, the former player and longtime international soccer student is looking ahead at his own career. He admires the staffers who write for Lowe and Martino "on the fly."
Carey says, "That's pretty cool. I'd love to learn how to do that too."
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: email@example.com. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.