NASL Opens New Season With Advances in Video Production, Distribution
When the North American Soccer League (NASL) campaign kicks off with a five-game slate on Saturday, it’ll be the dawn of a new live-video era for the league.
During the off months between the NASL’s fall and spring seasons, league brass put a strong focus on improving the quality of the live production and distribution of club matches. In addition to designing new streaming and production standards at each of its 11 venues, the league also struck a deal with ESPN for at least 120 matches to be carried on ESPN3.
“This is part of our growth plan,” says NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson. “We feel that this step coincides with how we’re growing as a league. We don’t expect to have a broadcast partner until we can add a few more teams, which might not be for another year or two. But being able to deliver our content on a digital basis at a good quality with a good partner was something we knew was the next step. I’m not sure we predicted it would be this year and with ESPN, but this is very important to us.”
With a new streaming platform putting matches in front of significantly more eyeballs, NASL executives knew they needed to bolster the quality of the clubs’ live event productions. The league mandated that each show feature a minimum of four cameras (some have shows with as many as 12 cameras) and each venue must host a connection offering at least 30 MB leaving the building. The league signed an exclusive transmission partnership with LTN Global Communications to use its global IP network to transmit games to distribution partners.
LTN equipment has been permanently installed in each stadium and at local-broadcast-partner locations. The equipment provides one standardized platform for all teams through its point-to-multipoint delivery mechanism. The system allows the NASL to avoid satellite uplink.
Each match will continue to be produced by the home club’s local broadcast partner, which will transmit a dirty feed of the production through LTN to the broadcaster’s home studios and ESPN3. A clean feed will also be sent to the visiting broadcaster, which overlays its own custom graphics package and announcers.
“We are excited to be part of the North American Soccer League video-transport network,” says Tom Buffolano, regional VP, sales, LTN, “and look forward to delivering North American Soccer League games to broadcasters both in the USA and internationally.”
According to the NASL, eight clubs — Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Indy Eleven, Jacksonville Armada FC, Minnesota United FC, San Antonio Scorpions, and Tampa Bay Rowdies — will have their home-match productions distributed across ESPN3, ESPN Play in Latin America, and ESPN Player in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The remaining clubs — New York Cosmos, Ottawa Fury FC, and FC Edmonton — have existing broadcast agreements that prevent their participating in the ESPN3 partnership.
Distribution over ESPN3 is a huge opportunity, allowing more NASL matches to be seen by more fans across the globe, and the league considers the streaming platform a fit for its fan demographic.
“We’re pretty committed to our digital strategy,” says Peterson. “It fits in with our core group of fans: millennials. It provides them a lot of flexibility, being able to watch in almost any set of circumstance, whether it’s on their phone, laptop, or [tablet]. We’re curious, if we’re not leading the way as a league. We think digital is part of the future.”