Fox Sports To Debut Corner-Flag Cameras at Highly Anticipated MLS Cup Final
Record crowd expected on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
Saturday is shaping up to be a night to remember for Major League Soccer and its broadcast partner, Fox Sports. A record crowd is expected in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2018 MLS Cup, which pits Atlanta United against Portland Timbers (8 p.m. ET).
It will also be a notable night in the production truck. Fox Sports plans to deploy a pair of cameras embedded in the corner flags, marking the first time technology of this type is used for the live broadcast of a soccer match on U.S. soil.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our productions across all properties,” says Zachary Kenworthy, coordinating producer, Fox Soccer. “When we do go to those cameras, we want to give the viewer a very impactful, almost immersive experience. We’re really excited about it, and, hopefully, the results pay off.”
In two of the four corner flags (both of which will be positioned on the near sideline), Fox has embedded small cameras with the lenses exposed through a small hole carved into the side. The cameras are directly fibered (these are not RF units) through the flagpole, out the base, to the truck. The angle provides a unique view of the action and will offer a first-of-its-kind look at corner kicks or action near the flags.
“There is probably a finite amount of camera positions left in terms of soccer coverage,” said Michael Davies, SVP, field and technical operations, Fox Sports, in an official release earlier this week. “We have seen the value of pylon cameras in American football from time to time, so we decided to try the corner flags. … We’ll look for opportunities to use this new view to enhance our storytelling.”
Fox Sports initially got the idea from its partner Sky Deutschland in Germany; the U.S. broadcaster also provides coverage of the Bundesliga to U.S. audiences. Operations executives were able to view clips of some trials that Sky had run on some matches and, after a shared conversation, decided to give it a shot. The unit was first tested by Fox Sports during an MLS Cup playoff match at Red Bull Stadium. The shots weren’t used on-air, but a highlight reel was sent to the Major League Soccer offices and to a Professional Referees Organization (PRO) to gain their approval since, technically, these cameras would be in the field of play.
Once all parties agreed, it was a go. “We knew that, for Cup, we wanted to do something a little different and bring something new and fresh to the audience,” says Kenworthy.
The full production is a 26-camera show, including deployments of a SkyCam and an RF MōVI camera made popular in other Fox Sports productions. The single-operator, gyro-stabilized camera system allows up-close angles on the sideline and, when appropriate, on the pitch to bring viewers deeper into the action. Kenworthy feels those two units, along with a pair of slow-motion cameras, will play a critical role in the production.
“I think those can really bring life to the game, both pregame and in-game,” he says. “In that sort of atmosphere, those kinds of cameras work great in capturing the electric atmosphere.
“We’ve been cleared to get that MōVI cam onto the pitch as much as possible during warmups,” he continues, “and this is a game that can go to extra time and penalties. If we do end up going to penalties, I think you are going to see that MōVI cam come to life as players step up to take their penalties. It’s such a dynamic angle.”
The atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium promises to be one of the stars of the production. In just the club’s second year of existence, Atlanta United set a single-season league record by averaging just over 53,000 fans during the 2018 regular season (13,000 more than its next-closest competition in 2018, Seattle). The club also registered a staggering 70,526 fans when it hosted New York City FC in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals last month. The current record for a crowd at MLS Cup is 61,316, which occurred in 2002 when the Los Angeles Galaxy beat New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. Needless to say, the confidence level is high that Atlanta will shatter that record and bring a new atmosphere to this match .
“Outside of the game itself, [the stadium atmosphere] will be the biggest factor for us,” says Kenworthy. “As we began our process after the second leg [of the conference finals], knowing that we would be in Atlanta, that really started to drive our pregame [coverage plans]. We really want to bring that electric atmosphere to the audience.”
Saturday’s MLS Cup match will be produced by Shaw Brown and directed by Wayne Wilson.