On the Pitch: Toronto FC Beats Geography With Tag-Teamed Productions, Digital Platform
Orlando City SC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers have hosted Toronto matches this year
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.
There are road warriors, and then there are professional teams based in Canada. As one of three MLS nomads in 2020, Toronto FC have played most of their matches away from home: the MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando and six regular-season games in East Hartford, CT. This year, the club is continuing to team up with numerous organizations to play matches in other sports venues.
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Far From The Six: Orlando City SC Provides Helping Hand for Match-Day Productions
It has been 293 days since the club’s last game at Toronto’s BMO Field and 280 days since their last game in Canada. The time away from their own facility has taken some getting used to, but, with the help of a fellow MLS organization, the club hit the ground running. About 20 miles from the Orlando bubble site, Orlando City SC has hosted Toronto FC matches in Exploria Stadium.
On the production side, Toronto FC Specialist, Match Development and Events, Kadeem Bandali is leading the way in the control room, but he and his team are operating an unusual workflow. Since Canada is still operating under more-stringent COVID-19 protocols than the U.S., not all members of his crew could make the trip to Florida. So Bandali is executing the show alongside Orlando City SC Manager, Events and Fan Engagement, Geena Catalano and her staff.
“Geena and her team have been amazing to work with,” Bandali says. “We’re displaying all of the content that we would normally show, but our first load-in for our first match at Exploria was a heavy lift on their end. During the match, Geena has been there to support me while I direct and produce. She has been next to me to make sure that everything’s going well because she knows a lot more about her venue, equipment, and staff.”
Creation of the material is done by Bandali’s colleagues from the team’s offices in Canada or their respective homes. As a franchise under the Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment umbrella, the creatives also develop elements for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and NBA’s Toronto Raptors during their games. The process has required a fair amount of coordination and communication to produce elements in a timely manner.
“I would normally put in a creative brief at least two weeks before any of our matches,” Bandali explains, “and they would communicate with me and my manager to make sure that it’s all scaled to size and the audio sounds appropriate. We would then do a whole run of show to make sure that everything’s flowing and there aren’t any hiccups.
The videoboard content is designed to generate home-field flair, such as player animations of the starting lineup and static player cards. As an added touch on match day, Toronto FC is changing the purple Orlando City SC signage to red and black.
Without fans in the stands, the audio profile of a match is quiet. Unlike Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who have opted for fabricated crowd noise at Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium, Toronto FC has moved away from the soundtrack, opting instead for a silent experience to maximize clear on-pitch chatter.
“[Artificial] crowd noise is something that we have implemented,” Bandali notes, “but we’re not playing it in the venue. We’re pumping it into the broadcast, so fans at home can hear the supporter chants that we would normally hear at BMO Field.”
Physical signage is getting a makeover, but, with the help of technology, the linear broadcast reflects other signage changes as well. Through the work of the league and club partners, Canadian viewers can see the internal branding on TSN.
Besides Exploria: Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium Hosts Non-MLS Contest
The hospitality has extended beyond Major League Soccer. The Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers allowed Toronto FC to use Raymond James Stadium. A premier location in Southern Florida, the venue was originally sought as the club’s away-from-home base before Exploria Stadium was chosen, but, for the match against Liga MX Champions Cruz Azul in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, the NFL venue was the go-to option.
“They were another great staff to work with,” says Bandali. “We didn’t have much content for that match because everything [that was produced] was dictated by CONCACAF.”
Despite the lack of content, Bandali worked with Tampa Bay Buccaneers Venue Technology Manager Dan Roy to implement the content that was created. Having gotten comfortable with the videoboard at Exploria Stadium, the production team found its biggest challenge to be adjusting videos and pictures to fit the gigantic LED structure at Raymond James Stadium.
“There was a tight turnaround for us to get our content into the venue because we had to get our creative team to re-spec everything,” Bandali says. “It was very short notice that we were playing there, so we wouldn’t have made the deadline.”
Digital Connection: Club Builds Virtual Platform With Real Sports Entertainment
Second-screen experiences were a huge trend during the MLS Is Back Tournament and the period when fans weren’t allowed in the venue. But, since Toronto FC is still playing south of the border, supporters are connecting with their favorite players in the same way. Through Real Sports Entertainment, Toronto FC’s virtual portal is bringing match-day elements to mobile devices and laptops.
“Our team is pushing out trivia, different stats and facts,” notes Bandali, “and fans can win prizes through this [platform]. We also implemented this for the Maple Leafs and Raptors since people haven’t been in the building for over a year.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Shoutout to Toronto FC’s Production Team
A lot can go wrong with this split-team approach, but the club has banded together to make it work. As If supporting the MLS team wasn’t enough, the production department is also responsible for home games of the USL’s Toronto FC II, who were playing at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, AZ, before shifting to Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, FL. This approach involves a lot of people, including Toronto FC Executive Assistant to the President Melissa Frith and Senior Manager, Business Operations, Game Presentation and Supporter Relations, Miguel Ferreira, but, with teamwork and the will to succeed, they’ve pulled off something pretty impressive.
“[My creatives] do push back sometimes,” says Bandali, “but I totally understand because some of my asks are not within the deadline timeline. I appreciate them so much because, without them, the players wouldn’t be seeing anything on the videoboard and I wouldn’t have anything to show in the venue.”
Toronto FC will host FC Cincinnati at Exploria Stadium on Saturday, June 26 at 7 p.m. ET.