Major League Soccer (MLS) is taking a variety of approaches to improve the television viewing experience at home, by investing in extra resources as the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented fans from attending matches.
A screen wall has been installed at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex – where the MLS is Back tournament is being played. The big screen runs nearly the length of the pitch and displays advertisements, stats and graphics.
ESPN is using more than double the number of cameras it normally does for the regular season of the MLS. More camera angles are now available in the coverage with drones also being used to capture footage.
Better quality cameras normally used for the MLS Cup are also in use. Microphones have also been placed around the ground and in the field, but virtual crowd noise will not be used during the tournament.
“We are really looking to take what is a negative – not having any fans – and make it a positive,” ESPN VP of production Amy Rosenfeld said.
“How we can look at really leaning into audio and all of the sounds that we wouldn’t get the benefit of hearing because of the crowd? Our approach has been taking the negative of not having fans, which is such an intrinsic part of soccer, but then creating an authentic, immersive experience for the audience as if they were there and really giving them access to dialogue that we would never get access to.”
ESPN and MLS decided against using virtual crowd noise after discussion with the Independent Supporters Council.
“One of the things that [ISC] came out and said to us is, they wanted to make sure that we didn’t create this inauthentic experience, and that we weren’t trying to replicate something that they felt was so unique to our stadium environment and the passion that they bring to our event,” MLS Senior Vice President of Media Seth Bacon said.
Social media posts from fans using the hashtags #MLSisBack and #MLS will be shown during broadcasts and on the big screen.
The MLS also ran a competition called the All In Challenge to raise money for charities such as America’s Food Fund during the pandemic. To enter the competition fans had to donate to the challenge with the winner receiving a VIP trip to the 2021 All-Star Game as well as their signature replacing the MLS Commissioner’s on match balls for the MLS is Back tournament.
With the MLS putting in their investing efforts, it will create a more immersive television viewing experience.