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How COVID-19 could lead to opportunities and pitfalls for MLS TV coverage

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

Amy Rosenfeld doesn't consider herself an artist. Yet in nearly three decades in television, she has helped bring some of the most memorable images in U.S. soccer history into tens of millions of American homes.

Brandi Chastain's shirt-doffing celebration at the 1999 Women's World Cup. Abby Wambach's game-tying header in the final seconds of overtime in a 2011 Women's World Cup quarterfinal. Landon Donovan's game-winning goal against Algeria in stoppage time at the 2010 World Cup.

But never has she had the chance to work with the kind of blank canvas she has been given for the MLS Is Back tournament, which kicks off Wednesday at the sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla.

The result might be some of the most innovative soccer TV coverage in recent memory.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the five-week competition will be played without spectators -- or grandstands -- on a series of fields more commonly used for youth tournaments. For Rosenfeld, who has produced coverage for eight World Cups and five Olympics, it will be like doing a game from an empty prairie.

The possibilities -- and potential pitfalls -- are endless.

 

"It's very depressing that there are no fans. But then how do you take a negative and make it a positive?" she asked. "Everything is going to be an experiment because everything is new territory. So what we're trying to do is say, 'OK, let's see what that's like.' "

For the opener, at least, it will be like no other soccer broadcast in history. Rosenfeld and her 160-person crew plan to use more than 20 cameras, about double the number for a regular MLS broadcast. Two will be in the locker rooms, one on a drone that will buzz the field far lower than would be safe in a stadium with fans and two others on poles that will extend behind the goals.

The plan is to have the center referee wear a microphone while others will be embedded in the turf near the center circle and close to both benches. About the only thing you won't see or hear is the sweat dripping from each player's brow. But Rosenfeld is working on that.

"Our position is to be authentic to the experience," she said. "Talk to me in three weeks and I may say, 'Oh, that was a terrible idea.' I personally am curious how this will sound.

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