On the Pitch: Colorado Rapids Prep for State’s Largest Fireworks Show, Ceremony for Pablo Mastroeni on July 4
Elements from last summer’s Virtual Watch Party are being used at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park
The past 10 months have been a whirlwind for Major League Soccer. After last summer’s MLS Is Back Tournament in the Orlando bubble and the eventual return to empty home stadiums, the attendance of some clubs in the league are returning to pre-pandemic levels. Much like At the Ballpark, On the Gridiron, On the Hardwood, and At the Rink, SVG’s On the Pitch takes you into the control room with in-venue crews to understand what their job is like before, during, and after the official’s whistle is blown.
When it comes to sports that are synonymous with the Fourth of July, baseball is the first to come to mind, but, in Commerce City, CO, Major League Soccer is a close second choice. The Colorado Rapids are operating on a relatively normal schedule at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, but, on the upcoming holiday, they’ll be hosting the state’s largest public fireworks display in front of the first full capacity crowd since March 7, 2020, and, at halftime of the match against the Seattle Sounders, retiring the jersey of club legend Pablo Mastroeni.
“Since the inception of the Rapids, we’ve been doing a Fourth of July fireworks show,” says Mark Witte, director, event presentation, Colorado Rapids. “It has become an awesome event. It typically goes on for 20 minutes, so we get to put our stake in the ground and claim it as our day.”
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Fourth of July Fútbol: More Fans in the Stands and Fireworks, Too
Outside of the club’s 2010 MLS Cup victory, the Fourth of July is always the biggest day of the season. It takes months of planning and asks for the utmost attention from every member of the team. A staple since the team’s first season 26 years ago, the Fourth of July match will be accompanied by the 4thFest Celebration, which includes a postgame fireworks display.
The actual shooting of the fireworks occurs outside the stadium after the final whistle, but, inside, the production staff is responsible for getting the fans ready for the display regardless of a win or loss. There’s a lot of content to precede the spectacle, such as a countdown video and other ancillary material. An expanded number of fans and a matchup against a Western Conference foe will add to the day’s excitement.
It’s Witte’s first time being involved in the pyrotechnic showcase. “It’s the one thing that I haven’t been able to experience in person yet. It has been interesting to plan, but I’ve heard stories of how great it is from people that have been around [the club].”
Along with the fireworks show, the club will retire its first jersey. The honor will be bestowed on Pablo Mastroeni, the team’s all-time appearances leader, a three-time MVP, and the individual who wore the captain’s armband during the club’s sole championship win. He also managed the squad from 2014 to ’17.
“It’s a huge honor,” Witte says. “We’re not only coming back together but coming back together to celebrate this legend. It’ll be exciting to set the standard for productions like these for years to come.”
Lessons From Last Year: Recurring Themes, New Activations
Witte and his crew are reaping the benefits of seeds sown last summer, when many professional and collegiate programs produced second-screen experiences to connect fans with players competing far from home. One of the few MLS clubs to do so, the Rapids created a Virtual Watch Party that allowed supporters to hang out with on-air talent, participate in real-time trivia, learn behind-the-scenes stories from former players, and more. Of these fan-centric opportunities, the ones that have had a lasting impact on the team’s game-presentation strategy were developed in conjunction with marketing and analytical teams.
“QR codes were a big hit last summer,” notes Witte. “Since we’ve seen long lines at the team store, our marketing team took it to another level: fans can scan these codes in line to potentially win a jersey. We have another new element called Stat Stakes: if our team records 10 shots, a fan can go home with a free giveaway.”
Aside from these recurring themes from the Virtual Watch Party, a whole new fleet of activations are being shown on the videoboard. Since the bulk of last season’s games were played behind closed doors, the in-venue staff is looking to introduce the fans to new players donning the Rapids kit.
“We have a lot of personality on our team,” Witte says, “so we’re doing segments where we give some fun facts about our players. We’re also showing a series called ‘What Happens Next,’ where we pause a highlight and fans have to guess the next part of the play.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Shoutout to Colorado Rapids’ Production Team
As one of four Colorado-based teams — the others being the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, and National Lacrosse League’s Colorado Mammoth — under the Kroenke Sports & Entertainment umbrella, the Rapids are in close conversation with fellow member organizations, giving Witte a large sounding board for his ideas. On the Rapids team, he notes SVP/VP, Business Operations, Wayne Brant; VP, Marketing, Alyssa Bruno; Marketing Manager Jamie Kingston; Marketing Director Jared Bernstein; and Creative Director Jordan Rothrock. From the Kroenke side, he cites VP, Broadcast Services, Billi Capra; Event Presentation Manager Taylor Milner; Senior Director/Producer, Broadcast Services, Ryan Gonzales; Chief Broadcast Engineer, Broadcast Services, Andrew Kenyon; and Broadcast Production Coordinator Ben Meadows.
“We’ve had full-time staff step into some roles that they’ve never done before,” Witte says. “We’re all in this together and pick up slack when it’s needed. There was this great build-up throughout all of last summer, and it has continued into this year.”
After the Fourth of July match, the Colorado Rapids will host three consecutive home games at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park: vs. Minnesota United FC on Wednesday, July 7 at 9 p.m. ET, vs. San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, July 17 at 9 p.m., and vs. FC Dallas on Wednesday, July 21 at 9 p.m.