NEP Group Back for a Second Helping of MLS Season Pass on Apple TV  

NEP provides facilities, crew, and a variety of services coast to coast in Year 2

The 2024 MLS season opener, for which a sold-out, star-studded crowd turned out to see megastar Lionel Messi and Inter Miami FC take down Real Salt Lake 2-0, served as yet another sign that the epicenter of U.S. soccer is securely rooted in South Florida. For NEP’s Vista Worldlink, which proudly calls South Florida home, the setting could not have been more fitting. After all, Vista has served as one of the league’s key production partners and an ardent supporter for more than two decades and has watched the MLS’s monumental evolution firsthand.

NEP Vista Worldlink’s Josh Liemer (standing) at the Dania Beach, FL, facility.

“We’ve been working together for more than 20 years,” says Josh Liemer, president, NEP Vista Worldlink. “It really is a special relationship. We have seen this league grow by leaps and bounds, so being at the stadium [for the opener] and seeing the excitement right in our own backyard was special. And to be there with individuals from MLS that I’ve known for 20-plus years watching Lionel Messi and the stars coming out to support was pretty emotional and shows the amazing growth of this league.”

As it did throughout the inaugural year of MLS League Pass on Apple TV, NEP Group is once again overseeing all broadcast services and providing all mobile units, technical crew, and operations; support for remote and decentralized production; studio facilities in NYC; and infrastructure and systems management.

NEP Goes Coast to Coast: Inside MLS Season Pass Production Operations

To pull off this coast-to-coast effort, NEP is providing dozens of mobile units at MLS venues (both from the NEP fleet and contracted from third-party providers) and has built a connected ecosystem comprising centralized-production facilities and technological infrastructure in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, South Florida, and Washington, DC.

First off, all MLS Season Pass studio productions — including the new Spanish-language version of the MLS 360 whip-around show — will be handled by NEP’s Metropolitan Studios in New York City.

The MLS 360 whip-around show will also be produced in Spanish this year for the first time.

For live matches, NEP oversees production of a world feed and English- and Spanish-language feeds (and French when necessary) with announcers onsite. The 1080p feeds (along with 16 channels of embedded audio for 5.1 surround sound) are sent to NEP’s data center in Dallas before being distributed to multiple locations: Vista Worldlink centralized-production center in South Florida, which is managing connectivity and distribution and is responsible for remote productions of MLS Next and MLS Next Pro games; Media NEP’s Mediabank media-asset–management operation in Washington, DC; the NEP Production Center in L.A. (PCLA) for playout and commercial insertion; and Metropolitan Studios in New York City for shoulder programming.

“It’s pretty unbelievable just how far this whole operation has come,” says Liemer. “I remember the days of rolling up mobile uplink trucks to backhaul all the signals from the stadiums. Today, the league has installed its own private fiber network and is distributing all of their events in native 1080p onto the Apple platform.”

Live coverage of all MLS and Leagues Cup matches will be produced at MLS stadiums, including onsite English- and Spanish-speaking talent, with NEP’s fleet of mobile units — and trucks from other providers when necessary — deployed to produce simultaneous coverage of up to 14 matches each game day.

“Finding enough trucks to cover all those [games] was one of the biggest challenges that MLS put in front of us from day one,” says Liemer. “The fact that we have been able to deliver speaks to the strength of NEP — not only the amazing fleet we have but also the relationships that we have with some of our strategic competitors that are also partners.

“They support us through a variety of different projects and help us meet the challenge for MLS,” he continues. “That’s what makes this industry so special: there are days when we’re competing against each other; there are days we’re supporting each other. I think it has always been a relationship-driven business, and we are lucky to work with great individuals.”

More than 500 MLS Next Pro and MLS Next matches will be produced remotely at NEP’s Vista Worldlink centralized-production facility.

In addition to MLS and Leagues Cup matches, the new service will carry 250+ MLS Next Pro regular-season matches, the MLS Next Pro Playoffs and Cup, and 100 MLS Next elite-youth tournament matches. These games will be produced in 1080p with full custom graphics packages (though not with enhanced data or Dolby 5.1 surround audio). More than 500 MLS Next Pro and MLS Next matches will be produced remotely at Vista Worldlink.

‘Creative Sandbox’: MLS, Apple, NEP, IMG Work Together for a Common Goal

Three years ago this week, NEP acquired Vista Worldlink, and, in addition to being a key asset in NEP’s overall portfolio, the Dania Beach, FL-based outfit has been integral to the success of MLS Season Pass. Liemer describes NEP SVP/Head of Production Jeff Jacobs and Vista Worldlink Executive Producer Mike Freedman as the ringmasters of the sprawling operation.

“One of the special things that NEP delivers day in and day out is the amazing people that manage this incredible puzzle and all of these logistical obstacles,” says Liemer. “They have been planning for months to get this equation solved. They are the ones who make this happen.”

NEP Vista Worldlink’s facility has served MLS productions for more than two decades.

In Year 2 of MLS Season Pass, Liemer says, NEP will look to build on the success of 2023 and embrace the evolving vision of both the league and Apple. He lauds the addition of Ignacio Garcia, who recently joined MLS as SVP and executive producer after more than 15 years at ESPN Deportes.

“We are the conduit of technology and operational logistics,” says Liemer. “It’s our job to work with MLS’s broadcast partner Apple, their creative-editorial partner IMG, and Ignacio and his team to deliver MLS content to their fans at the highest quality level possible. Having Ignacio join the team here has been fantastic for all of us. He brings a fresh creative approach to the overall delivery of the product.

“And seeing firsthand the innovation that Apple has brought to the table from a broadcast perspective has been absolutely incredible,” he continues. “We have been able to put together this creative sandbox, along with our partners in IMG, that allows MLS and Apple to deliver a one-of-a-kind product to fans. We couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.”

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