Why Most Local Broadcasts Of MLS Road Games Are Short Changing The Fans


On May 12, 2014, Major League Soccer signed new eight-year television and media rights partnerships with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes. Yet despite all the enthusiasm, MLS has short-changed the fans when it comes to the local broadcasts of road games for almost half of the teams.

Many things have changed in MLS from the league’s debut in 1996. The league has been growing with expansion and its popularity is continually on the rise. Despite the new broadcast agreement announced almost a year ago, there is one area where the MLS is still behind the other major sports in North America – the local broadcasts of a team’s road games. In the four major North American sports (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL) broadcasters will travel on the road, and be live on site, to do the play-by-play. In MLS, there are still some clubs whose local broadcasters will not travel with the team, and do the play-by-play in a local studio instead.

The reason they decide to do this is for cost purposes. Sending a crew on the road obviously costs more than having the broadcasters remain in studio. For the networks that do this, they have a short-term vision as they are looking at the return on investment now instead of in the future. The cost may not be justified now (in terms of increased viewers, for example) but that may not be the case in the future.

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The MLS is structured as a single, limited liability company (single-entity), whereby club operators own a financial stake in the League, not just their individual team. Given this fact, it is rather strange that when it comes to local broadcasts, there has not been a directive from the MLS that all games must be broadcast live at the stadium.

As the league continues to grow, the quality and consistency of the TV broadcasts should be the same for all teams. Every team should have its local road games broadcast live at the stadium, just like the other major sports do. It is not in league’s best long-term interest to continue having differences in the way games are broadcast between teams. The MLS should set a standard that applies league-wide, and not leave it up to each club to negotiate on their own with their local broadcaster on how road games will be broadcast.

The MLS can spin whatever they want about the new TV agreement, with the different types of marketing and cross-promotions in place to “build the profile of MLS.” Letting broadcasters save costs and do the play-by-play in studio takes away from the quality of the broadcast. You can’t compare being live on site, seeing a play develop right before your eyes, to watching a TV monitor and just react to what you see on-screen.

There are five main drawbacks when play-by-play is done in studio rather than on site.

1. Ebb and flow: a broadcaster should bring passion and excitement following the ebb and flow of the game. Being on site, the broadcaster can take a pulse of the action and describe what he sees better. Getting the right level of excitement is hard to do in a studio.

2. Potential for errors: performing play-by-play looking at a monitor increases the risk of errors. This is especially true in soccer when describing a team’s formation, tactics and in-game adjustments. Having a view of the whole field compared to a monitor gives the broadcaster a better understanding of what teams are doing on the pitch.

3. Energy of the fans: Play-by-play works best when the broadcaster is overlooking the field, vividly describing what is going on while being in immediate contact with the people most interested in the outcome, the fans!

4. Ability to anticipate: The play-by-play broadcaster must always be on top of the action and many times has to anticipate something before the play develops. When at the stadium the broadcaster can see many things before they happen, and be ready for it, which you can’t do looking at a monitor.

5. Cater to the local fan: National broadcasts must be presented in a neutral fashion, as the game is viewed ‘nationally’ rather than ‘regionally.’ When it comes to local broadcasts, the dynamic changes. The audience is primarily the team the broadcaster is covering. An argument can be made that the expectations are higher when a local broadcaster is doing the play-by-play.  Fans expect more and are more critical since the broadcaster’s main role is to focus his/her attention on the local team. The ability to provide thoughtful analysis and insight that fans want is much better when a broadcaster is on site instead of a studio.

The other aspect to consider is the coverage of the fans who travel on the road to watch their team play. Often referred to as ultras, these fans won’t get the exposure they deserve when they travel to support their team. It would be totally different if the local broadcaster was there, who would put a priority to have the TV viewers see the supporters in an opponent’s stadium.

To better understand this dynamic, I spoke with Rick Moffat of TSN690 in Montreal. Rick is a professional radio broadcaster who has done the play-by-play of many sports in his career such as tennis, CFL football, hockey, soccer, to name a few. I asked him how much better does he do his play-by-play by being live on site rather than in a studio.

Rick Moffat

“I have never called a game from a studio, it has always been live on site. Although I speak from a radio perspective, I still can’t imagine working from a studio to do play-by-play.

"“When you are on site, you capture the ambiance, feel the energy of the crowd. A soccer pitch is a huge terrain, you can’t compare seeing the pitch when you are in a stadium to looking at a TV monitor.”"

“When on site, you can keep an eye on the match, the crowd, the coach, the player’s bench. In studio you only follow the ball and the images presented on the monitor.”

Rick went on to explain how valuable it was to see a play develop live, using the Montreal Impact vs Pachuca match.

“When describing the goal scored by Cameron Porter, I was able to see the action properly as Mallace made the pass to Porter.”

“There was also a play I saw when (goalkeeper) Evan Bush shoved a Pachuca player. If you are limited to the camera, you miss out on such things, sort of behind the scenes type of play.”

The table below outlines the location where the play-by-play crew will broadcast a team’s road game. Please note this refers to local broadcasts only. Games that are broadcast nationally will always be broadcast live at the stadium.

Of the 20 MLS teams, 8 do play-by-play in-studio, 12 travel on the road to broadcast live.

Live = the broadcast team travels on the road, does the play-by-play at the stadium

Studio = the broadcast team does not travel, does the play-by-play in a studio

Table: MLS local broadcast of road matches


TeamBroadcast Location
Chicago FireLive
Columbus Crew SCStudio
D.C. UnitedStudio
Montreal ImpactStudio
New England RevolutionLive
New York City FCLive
New York Red BullsLive
Orlando City SCStudio
Philadelphia UnionStudio
Toronto FCLive


TeamBroadcast Location
Colorado RapidsStudio
FC DallasStudio
Houston DynamoStudio
LA GalaxyLive
Portland TimbersLive
Real Salt LakeLive
San Jose EarthquakesLive
Seattle Sounders FCLive
Sporting Kansas CityLive
Vancouver Whitecaps FCLive

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