Connect with us


MLS & ESPN pull off unprecedented TV coverage of MLS Is Back

Long accustomed to being the broadcaster for select soccer games, ESPN took an unfamiliar seat this July when it partnered with Major League Soccer to become the production services provider for the MLS Is Back tournament.

Instead of just televising its select number of games as it normally would during a typical season, ESPN and MLS worked together to pull off an unprecedented accomplishment — televising 54 games of a soccer tournament during a global pandemic, and creating the world feed for ESPN, FOX Sports, TUDN and international broadcast partners to use. The job isn’t done just yet as the tournament heads into the Knockout Round this weekend before wrapping up on August 11, but like or dislike MLS, what ESPN and the league have done thus far has been nothing short of groundbreaking.

Two of the key personnel that could best explain the sheer complexity of pulling off such a feat are Seth Bacon, Senior Vice President, Media at MLS & SUM, and ESPN’s Vice President of Production Amy Rosenfeld. World Soccer Talk had the opportunity to learn more from both executives during an exclusive interview this week.

“I’m incredibly proud of the team on the MLS side,” shared Rosenfeld. “I’ve never worked closer with a league than we’ve had between ESPN and MLS to really understand each other. To do this together, this is an unusual arrangement that they’re the client and we’re the production services provider, but we’re also the client to ourselves because we’re receiving that production.

“The fact that these productions from all of the broadcast rights holders have looked as strong and big as they do, I can’t put it into words how hard the people side of that is.”

To pull off the TV production of this tournament in such a short amount of time required ESPN and MLS working around the clock, and hosting a tournament inside the “MLS bubble” in Florida, a state that’s currently “ground zero” for COVID-19 in the United States.

“We [at ESPN] frequently very much try to stay in the shadows — whether you’re a league person or a production person — it’s all about [what’s on] the screen,” Rosenfeld said. “I have to say that this is a moment where I’d like to recognize [everyone] and pull the curtain back.”

SEE MORE: Schedule of MLS TV games on US TV and streaming

The tournament itself has been a learning process for everyone involved.

Bacon shared, “I think that what we’ve learned is that it’s smart at times like this to think big and to take some risks, and to use opportunities like this to try new things.

“We’ve learned how to move much quicker with things. We’ve learned how to rethink the way production of games is done. We’ve learned a lot from our friends at ESPN.

“As we think about what the production of games looks like — not only post tournament in 2020 but also from the perspective of what our long-term production looks like in the idea of centralized production — there’s a lot of things we’ll be able to take away from a production and a commercial and a broadcast standpoint that we can apply in the immediate term, the near term and the long term.”

Asked about TV ratings for MLS Is Back, Bacon explained, “We’re learning a lot about the 10:30PM (ET) games. When you ‘program’ in teams that should play at 10:30PM, west coast teams, we’re actually doing pretty well. If you take all those games and just look at it straight across the board, the numbers are about 225,000 (P2+). But if you ‘pull out’ the Eastern and Central Time teams that you would never put at 10:30PM, and you have just the west coast teams, the numbers go up to 300,000 and you’re at a good number.

“We’re learning constantly. We’re happy with the numbers but we always want bigger numbers. Obviously, no matter what the number is, anyone who is in sports always wants the number to be bigger.” (Compared to July 2019, MLS has had more telecasts and more total viewership. For July 2020, total cable viewership is up 7% versus July 2019).

Looking to the future, even with MLS Is Back still in full swing, MLS is already working on plans for the resumption of the 2020 regular season.

“There’s a lot of planning that’s being done,” explained Bacon. “First and foremost, approaching the season safely for players, staff and fans — that’s being led by the Commissioner and the executive team. And once we get through that point, there’s other work that is being done from a schedule standpoint, a marketing standpoint, and certainly from a television production standpoint. Those will get activated and plugged in once the work is complete on player and staff and fan safety.”

Beginning this Saturday, the Knockout Round of the MLS Is Back tournament begins with two games scheduled per day through Tuesday followed by the latter stages of the competition.

Expect more enhancements to the coverage beginning with the Knockout Round.

According to Rosenfeld, a new camera will be used that can super slo-mo the view from behind the goalkeeper with a wide-angle lens. “It’s really great on a goalkeeper POV (point of view) on a free kick to [see] his perspective,” said Rosenfeld. She also added that a Steadicam will be used along the touchline. Plus, with one less field being used in the Knockout Round due to no more 9AM ET games, it’ll allow ESPN to take some of those microphones to redeploy them on the night-time games which will help enhance the audio to a greater degree.

200+ Channels With Sports & News
  • Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
  • Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
  • Price: $35/mo. for Sling Blue
  • Watch Premier League, World Cup & MLS
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
  • Price: $9.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
  • Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
2,000+ soccer games per year
  • Price: $4.99/mo
  • Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
  • Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
  • Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
110+ channels, live & on-demand
  • Price: $59.95/mo. for Plus Package
  • Includes FOX, FS1, ESPN, TUDN & more



  1. Donald Duck

    July 27, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Ill agree and disagree with this comment. Here in USA it seems this is more of a anti police and anti Trump statement. Overseas it is definitely more of a REAL issue.
    I live near Chicago and our news spends 1 or 2 minutes on murders but then spend 5 minutes on (BLM the organization) talking points.

    I like WST and TalkSports are the only places i now go online on a daily basis. I do hope they stay within the bounds of what is sports related and what is political related within the Black live matter saying/organization.
    Personally ive given up on news here and i turn to European football and all other non USA soccer for my outlet.

  2. Robert

    July 26, 2020 at 10:12 am

    Even though we disagree, most of Azer’s comments were valid. He does not hate football or he would not be following WST. This forum is mostly about how to improve the coverage of football.
    That often also includes comments on the game in general. Chris and Kartik provide us with a place to express our views.

  3. Chris

    July 25, 2020 at 8:02 am

    I used to like watching MLS, but I’ve been so turned off by many sports leagues and clubs pushing political agendas. I tune into sports for an escape from the craziness going on in this country. We have cable news to follow current events, not MLS.

    • Robert

      July 27, 2020 at 8:54 am

      Fighting Racism is a social, not political issue!

    • Tim

      July 29, 2020 at 4:21 pm

      I am with you on this.

  4. Robert

    July 24, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    Great article! The coverage has been excellent. Now if more people watched, it would be a very nice showcase for the MLS.

    • Azer

      July 24, 2020 at 10:19 pm

      You’re joking right? The coverage has been terrible. How can a pre-game show be only 3 to 4 minutes long? How can Jon Champion & Taylor Twellman be studio hosts and then do commentary which also is terrible. I guess, it’s MLS where anything goes. All this, along with an ugly score bug and a big ticker at the bottom of the screen makes it unwatchable. I recently turned it off after a few minutes.

      • Robert

        July 25, 2020 at 9:04 am

        When I lived near Seattle played football and saw a lot of Sounders games you get use to just seeing the action and not having someone tell you what is going on in the game, just the lineups is enough. There are other programs for telling you what you will see or already witnessed.
        The cameras provide a good view of the game. I agree the banner at the bottom is a problem. To say they are unwatchable is over the top.
        NBCSN use of ads in the top left corner of the screen started this trend.

        • Azer

          July 25, 2020 at 11:42 am

          Robert – On July 17th, there was a USL game on ESPNEWS. Tampa Bay Rowdies vs North Carolina FC. I couldn’t believe what I saw on the screen. They were playing on actual grass, no hard turf like in MLS. It looked like a game from overseas. The score bug looked like it came from a European league. I only watched it for a few minutes but was impressed with the coverage unlike MLS, even the commentary is better.

          • Robert

            July 25, 2020 at 12:29 pm

            It would sure be nice for games to be on grass. A story from Seattle. When what is now called Century Link Stadium was being planned and in order to get the voters to approved the use of public money, a series of meetings was held. The world football people wanted grass but somehow fell for the line grass would not grow that far north. Americans are geography challenged, The whole U.K. and northern Europe is further north! Sure landscaping is much better then the 70s, muddy pitches but the stadium in Seattle was built in the late 90s.

            • Grass

              July 25, 2020 at 4:27 pm

              It’s not that grass can’t grow. The grass field would be in awful shape.

      • MAHLUF

        July 26, 2020 at 5:46 am

        Azer. You really seem to HATE watching soccer on TV. Why don’t you find something else to bitch about?

        • Azer

          July 26, 2020 at 5:16 pm

          Your reading comprehension is terrible. I never said anything like that. Take a reading class, it’s going to help you.

          • MAHLUF

            July 27, 2020 at 11:58 am

            I can read just fine thank you and not sure why you need to insult my intelligence for making a simple observation. I didn’t realize how sensitive you are.

            ALL you do on here is COMPLAIN about broadcasts. To me, that would mean you are completely miserable whenever you are watching soccer. because all you are doing is thinking about easy to complain about what you are seeing. It’s not a hard concept to understand. Maybe if you just lighten up a bit, you might be able to find more enjoyment out of life.

      • Tim

        July 29, 2020 at 4:20 pm

        I bet you’re a lot of fun at parties.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in ESPN

Translate »