MLS Kickoff 2024: Behind the Scenes With MLS Productions’ New SVP and Executive Producer Ignacio Garcia

Every match in English and Spanish, 1080p productions, evolving studio programming

The 2023 season marked the start of a new era for Major League Soccer, which kicked off a new 10-year rights deal with Apple. Now, in year two, which began on Wednesday with Lionel Messi and Inter Miami beating Real Salt Lake 2-0, MLS and Apple are looking to evolve their coverage both on the pitch and in the studio. 

Ignacio Garcia at MLS Studios (All photos: Mark Smith–USA TODAY Sports)

In addition to carrying every game, Apple’s MLS Season Pass streaming service features an MLS 360 whip-around show, as well as MLS Countdown and MLS Wrap-up studio shows — all produced from the league’s production center in New York City. Once again teaming with NEP for broadcast facilities and IMG for production services, MLS Productions now has a fully staffed broadcast operation running out of its NYC facility and will once again deliver all matches in 1080p with production crews and both English and Spanish announcers onsite for every match. 

SVG sat down prior to the league’s opening weekend with Ignacio Garcia, SVP/executive producer, MLS Productions, who came aboard this season after more than 20 years at ESPN Deportes, including serving as GM of its studio shows since 2010. Garcia, a native of Argentina, discussed how his team plans to balance coverage of Messi with the rest of the league, his key production goals and philosophies heading into this season, enhanced production technology in the studio and on the road, and what soccer fans can expect from MLS Season Pass in 2024. 

In your first year with MLS, what are you most excited about this season? What are some key production philosophies and goals you’re focusing on?
One of the things that gets me the most excited is the chance to elevate the storytelling and elevate the experience throughout the season. In 2023, there was great coverage during match days but not necessarily a 24/7 type of [offering]. I come from that 24/7 network environment so one of my goals here is to provide not only the great coverage on match days but also great shoulder programming. We want to transition into creating content seven days a week that fully surrounds the league.

At MLS Studios: (from left) Liam McHugh, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, and Andrew Wiebe

And how are you going about creating that 24/7 network mentality?
A lot of it is being done behind the scenes with the foundational bones [of the operation]. We now have more of a proper newsroom with people working here at our facility five days a week. We are putting in a lot of work behind the scenes to beef up the production, and I’m very confident that you will be see the results on-air.

We’re also looking to expand our digital content. For example, this week, we debuted a brand-new show: This Is MLS in English and Esto es MLS in Spanish on YouTube, which is a one-hour show previewing all the matches happening this weekend. We didn’t have one before, and it could potentially transition into MLS Season Pass at some point. We will continue to [create content] like that for the digital space throughout the season.

Kevin Egan at MLS Studios

How are you looking to boost your coverage for Spanish-speaking fans this season?
We are very eager to serve fans on both the English- and the Spanish-language side equally. One thing we are super excited about is adding MLS 360 in Spanish, which we only had only in English last year. We also have two different studios: one for our English[-language programming] and one for the Spanish-language side. We have made several enhancements to the Spanish-language studio, and we also plan to use Studio 1, which is our largest set used for [English programming] to do some preproduction and original content for the Spanish shows. Whether you are watching us in English or Spanish, you’ll see much more cohesive coverage across the board.

TV crew at MLS Studios

Let’s dive a bit deeper into MLS 360. After a pretty strong debut last season, how are you looking to evolve that whip-around show in 2024?
We are pumped to be debuting a new host, Kevin Egan, who is high energy and very engaging, while keeping most of the core talent that we had in the show last year. We are very excited because we are also adding some bilingual talent that can contribute, with former MLS coach Gio Savarese joining the team.

Philosophically, for MLS 360 this year, we’re going to lean much more on the games and the live action, with the premise that you are not going to miss a single goal and you’re going to see every key moment in every match. When we come back to the studio, the talent is going to be much more intentional about what they can contribute.

Since live action is the number-one priority, we’re also going to be much more mindful about when we go to break, always looking to break at halftime and not in the middle of the action. There are a lot of things that we are doing conceptually to bring a new vision to MLS 360 while also building on the success of year one. 

Tony Cherchi at MLS Studios

In terms of live match productions, how are you looking to build on year one of MLS Season Pass?
We love the studio side, but matches are obviously our bread and butter. First of all, just like last year, every match will be produced [onsite] with at least one truck, if not two, and both English and Spanish announcers will be at the stadium for every match. All matches will be done in 1080p again this year. And there are several things happening behind the cameras that we are confident will create new MLS style that is [on par] with the important international competitions around the world.

One of the main focuses this year is consistency. If you watched matches last year, you could have a different experience from match to match depending on who was producing the match. This year, from the graphics to the cameras to the replays to the [overall production] style, we want to treat every game the same. Just as at the most important international competitions, every game has a set standard, in not only the technology being used but also the playbook on how to produce those games. We have an amazing team that will be reviewing each match each week and implementing that style guide so that every match is under one vision, one team.

In 2024, the focus is to provide every fan — not only in the U.S. but around the globe — with a consistent experience and style that [makes it apparent that] this is an MLS game. We give each [production team] a playbook, and they can create within that playbook.

At MLS Studios: (from left) Antonella Gonzalez, Giovanni Savarese, and Miguel Gallardo

How has the MLS partnership with Apple evolved? How does the relationship with Apple affect your production philosophy, and how games/studio shows are presented?
It’s an amazing experience to be in this with one of the most advanced — if not the most advanced — technological companies on the planet. They are a true partner. The look and feel, the graphics, and the overall design are all [based on] Apple aesthetics. Here at MLS, we feel really good about having them side by side and working with them every day. I work very closely with Royce Dickerson [head of production and executive producer, live sports, Apple TV]. We have regular meetings with the Apple design team where we have creative and collaborative conversations on how to translate that Apple [branding] and execute those elements in the broadcast.

One great example is the new touchscreen that we will be debuting in the studio for analysis. You won’t see it tomorrow, but it’s coming soon. The whole look and feel will be an Apple [aesthetic] and have the look of MLS Season Pass.

At MLS Studios: (from left) Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Liam McHugh, Kaylyn Kyle, and Andrew Wiebe

Are there any other new production technologies being deployed this season that you’re particularly excited about?
Aside from the touchscreen, we are also bringing a Steadicam into the studio that we didn’t have in 2023. It is going to add a lot more movement to the shows and will allow us to use pretty much every inch of our 360 studio. We think it will create a more dynamic look and feel for the different shows we’re doing out of that studio. We have also upgraded all our cameras and added a new jib this year.

We also have built new control rooms for both our English and Spanish studios. We now have two mirror-looking control rooms with the same technical capabilities and new switchers installed in both rooms. We’re excited to be bringing the same resources to the Spanish-language coverage that we have on the English side.

Can you provide some details on your partnership with NEP and IMG and how they are serving MLS Season Pass this year?
Absolutely. Those are both key partnerships. NEP provides below-the-line crewing and oversees all the technical aspects for us. They built the control rooms for us and handled the technical enhancements in the studios with the cameras. And IMG provides above-the-line production personnel and studio-directing personnel. They have been an amazing partner as well.

At MLS Studios: (from left) Antonella Gonzalez, Giovanni Savarese, and Miguel Gallardo

How did the opener go on Wednesday, and what can fans expect on opening weekend?
Wednesday went great. Not only did we do the match, but we also debuted a 90-minute preview show focusing not only on the match but on the entire season. It was really a good start. Tomorrow will be the first MLS 360 day, so that’s very exciting. We also have a new programming lineup this year, with consistent start times for each of our different studio shows. On Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET will be a one-hour countdown show; we are moving away from the 15-minute countdowns into a much larger one-hour countdown that will help us to build the excitement before the action begins. Then at 7:30 p.m., we’ll have MLS 360 go live in both languages and run until about 11:30 p.m. At 12:30 a.m., we will have the one-hour wrap-up show. It’s a very robust and consistent lineup to make it easier for the fans. We want these shows to become a staple for enhancing the fan experience.

How do you balance telling the story of an entire league with telling the story of the biggest star in the world in Lionel Messi?
Full disclaimer, I’m from Argentina so I’m a bit biased, but he is the best player in the world and is a living legend. We are very lucky to have the biggest soccer player in the world playing in MLS; obviously, that is a huge focus for us. Fans from all over the U.S. and around the world want to see every single thing he does. But it is also important for us to balance the world’s biggest star with comprehensive coverage of the entire league. The league is so much more than just Messi, so our goal is to show the cities, the fandoms, the culture. Someone might be tuning in for Messi, but we are going to give them much more.

The U.S. is at the center of the soccer-world community over the next few years with the [2025] Club World Cup, [2025] Gold Cup, and [2026] Men’s World Cup, plus possibly the [2027] Women’s World Cup, coming here. We are very mindful that we are broadcasting in more than 100 countries. It’s our job to create and enhance the MLS brand around the world. It’s an honor to be a part of that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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