Championship games present an interesting challenge for the networks covering them. In a season where they’ve broadcasted dozens of matches, how do they make this one seem different than all the others? How do they make it not just a game, but an event?
That is the challenge awaiting ESPN for Saturday’s MLS Cup between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto.
The circumstances behind the game will certainly aid ESPN in this task. Some of the league’s most high-profile players will be on display, as will a team looking to cement its status as the greatest MLS has ever seen. And it will all take place in a stadium worthy of a showpiece final.
“We want to step up to what the game deserves,” ESPN lead soccer producer Amy Rosenfeld told Goal. “We want to be able to present the match to the level of, ‘We are in a championship.’"
ESPN plans to accomplish this by utilizing a combination of its own network’s resources, as well as those of other broadcasters.
Coverage will begin with a live, on-site broadcast of the network's signature soccer show on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, hosted by Sebastian Salazar. That will lead into Saturday’s broadcast, which begins with a 30-minute pre-game show on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET followed by the match. Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman will be on the call, with Julie Stewart-Binks providing sideline analysis.
During the match, both head coaches will be mic’d up and ESPN will continue to utilize the goalpost cam and sky cam shots it has been featuring this season. It will also continue using a new camera angle it only recently debuted during this year’s playoffs.
The network put a small camera atop a long pole directly behind the goal, providing viewers with an aerial view of the 18-yard box. It’s an angle they’ve only featured in two games so far, one in the Eastern Conference final and one in the Western Conference final.
“I’m a longtime hockey producer and I always loved the goal overheads and we’re in a way trying to find a way to replicate that,” Rosenfeld said.
“You’re not relying on camera positioning – if something is going to happen in the box, we know that we have it framed properly.”
In addition to their own resources, ESPN will draw on other networks to help enhance its broadcast.
TSN will be carrying the match in Canada, and will have a helicopter on site to provide aerial views. The Canadian network will share this camera feed with ESPN.
ESPN will also draw upon some of the camera angles Fox utilized last season when it broadcast MLS Cup in the same venue.
“As much as people would like to think that we’re at each other’s throats and we don’t like each other … we’re all friends with each other and we all share ideas,” Rosenfeld said. “If someone has a good idea, we don’t feel like you have to reinvent it in your own vision.”
“The facility [BMO Field] is terrific. There are some angles, placements of handheld [cameras], etc. that Fox executed that looked cool. They had a great production and so yeah, if you’re in the same building, why reinvent?”
It’s not just the technical aspects that make up a great broadcast though, but also the storylines that keep a viewer engaged. In this department, besides the obvious angle of a MLS Cup final rematch, Rosenfeld said ESPN will use the event to take a broader look at the state of American soccer.
“It’s impossible to have a major soccer event in this country and not reflect on the situation with the U.S. men’s national team,” Rosenfeld said.
“A sub-story to this is, some of the characters that have been involved with the U.S. men’s national team and frankly, an eye toward the future.
“So I think that watching people like [Michael] Bradley, [Jozy] Altidore, [Clint] Dempsey, but then also, who’s in the future mix? That I know will be important in terms of our coverage.”
With established U.S. stars like the aforementioned trio and Jordan Morris, as well as potential future national team mainstays like Cristian Roldan, Alex Bono and Marky Delgado, ESPN should have no shortage of material to work with if they are to take an overall stock of American soccer.
Between the technical and editorial elements, ESPN hopes to produce a broadcast that meets the challenge of making a game feel like more than just a game.
“It’s going to be a big-feel, big-time event,” Rosenfeld said.