MLS Cup 2017: ESPN, TSN, Univision Ready Tremendous Collaborative Effort for Championship Rematch in Toronto

Specialty cameras, on-site studio sets, fleet of production trucks to max out BMO Field on Saturday

Same teams. Same venue. Same (cold) weather. You’d excuse many involved in this weekend’s MLS Cup if they are experiencing a bit of déjà vu. However, this year’s event – which is a rematch between defending champion Seattle Sounders and Supporter’s Shield winner Toronto FC – is shaping up to be an impressive television production thanks to the collaborative efforts of ESPN, TSN, and Univision Deportes.

With ESPN serving as the host broadcaster on the event and Canadian rights holder TSN and U.S. Spanish language rights holder Univision Deportes supplementing with their own productions, BMO Field in Toronto is maxed out in terms of its camera positions, its studio set locations, and its production compound.

There’s close to 40 cameras on the match alone, three studio sets in various locations around the building, and six full-fledged production trucks in the compound (accompanied by a generator and a backup uplink truck). It’s a complement perhaps never before scene on a domestic soccer match in the U.S. or Canada.

“[MLS Cup] is a big-time event with a big time feel. It just keeps growing and growing.” – Larry Tiscornia, MLS

“The MLS Cup just keeps getting bigger,” says Larry Tiscornia, VP, Broadcasting for Major League Soccer. “It’s a huge event now. It’s a big-time event with a big time feel. With all of the additional enhancements and specialty cameras, it feels big time. It’s always been a big event for us but it just keeps growing and growing.”

ESPN Rolls In With Diversified Camera Complement
The one differentiator from last year’s MLS Cup is the arrival of ESPN has the primary U.S. broadcaster of the event (Fox Sports did the honors a year ago as the two broadcasters alternate MLS Cups under the current rights agreement). ESPN is first in the building, parking its trucks (F&F Productions GTX-18) and setting its cameras, followed by TSN, and then Univision. All broadcasters collaborate and make all available camera resources to everyone.

Among the highlights on the camera front include a SkyCam, a Steadicam, and a couple of Super Mos, and the popular Goal Post Cameras provided by ESPN and an aerial view provided from a helicopter (weather permitting) by TSN.

Both goals promised to be covered at an almost comical level. There are two goal post cams on each net, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is on hand, and ESPN is even experimenting with a camera on a pole extended above the 18-yard box.

The Goal Post Cameras continue to be a point of pride for ESPN, which debuted the technology a few years ago.

“Sometimes we do funky angles just to try to be different,” says Amy Rosenfeld, Senior Coordinating Producer for Soccer at ESPN. “To me, this improves the viewer’s experience and understanding of the play. To be able to give that definitive look, that’s every producer’s and director’s dream.”

ESPN’s Amy Rosenfeld says she’s in love with the Goal Post Cameras that have revolutionized her network’s coverage of MLS over the past few years.

As for that pole camera, this is something new that ESPN has begun experimenting with during this year’s MLS Playoffs. Rosenfeld’s past as a hockey producer has her planning a way to recreate the overhead goal line angle made popular in coverage and in instant replay for goals of the NHL. To pull it off, ESPN has placed an unmanned cue ball camera atop of a pole and extended high up above the goal mouth shooting down on the penalty box.

For the first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals in Columbus, due to the nature of the venue, the pole couldn’t be placed directly behind the net and instead was off to the side on the angle. To compensate, the crew tried to use a fisheye lens effect to compensate for the angle. That lead to mixed reviews among the crew. During the second leg of the Western Conference Finals in Seattle, it was raised right behind the night, with the camera extending over the above about the penalty spot. That latter option is the one likely to be attempted this weekend in Toronto with it being placed on the end of the field that the jib is not on.

“What I like about this is that it’s a relatively inexpensive way to provide a clear look at the box and since its fixed you’re not relying on a camera operator,” says Rosenfeld. “The jib, for example, has so many other responsibilities that you may not get a certain shot, and frankly a jib is expensive. So we’re just trying to find ways to provide a cool replay look relatively inexpensively while not obstructing the spectators look.”

As host broadcaster, ESPN is responsible for providing their broadcast as a clean feed to other broadcasters in the building (though TSN and Univision will cut their own shows) and to IMG in London, which will build a package around the game production for distribution of the match to more than 170 countries around the globe.

TSN, Univision Add Resources to Round Out the Show
With Toronto FC looking to avenge last year’s MLS Cup defeat on their home field to this same Seattle Sounders club, Canadian broadcaster TSN is naturally hyped for the festivities. The network is coming with the aforementioned helicopter, added low and high endzone and sideline cameras and its own studio set.

Working out of Dome Productions’ Pioneer, TSN has an on-site studio set in the southwest corner on the mezzanine level of BMO Field and is programming for a one-hour pregame show and is holding out for a longer, extended postgame show is TFC does, indeed, come away with the title.

“Last year was a really good effort,” says Jim Panousis, Executive Producer for Soccer at TSN. “The league knows what the building can do, and we’re familiar with it as well so there’s no issues.”

As for Univision, this year represents a more comprehensive effort on site from them this year, as opposed to the 2016 MLS Cup. For the game itself, the network will used shared resources from ESPN and TSN while adding four cameras on the match, including two handhelds.

The centerpiece of Univision’s coverage, however, will be in its pre and post match coverage. A year ago, due to sponsor conflicts, the network was limited in its ability to produce its studio coverage on site. This year, however, they are going all out, erecting an impressive set outside the stadium right near its entry gates. Univision’s flagship MLS program La Barra MLS will be live a full hour before the match and will look to capture the excitement of the fans outside the stadium as they enter the building for the big game.

According to Univision Deportes’ VP, Live Events Miguel Angel Garcia, there will be 15 Univision employees on site, eight of them serving in a behind-the-scenes capacity.

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