Soccer fans who are also avid video game players will feel at home with the enhancements Major League Soccer is introducing for the postseason.
Most MLS Cup playoff broadcasts will feature a second screen experience featuring data visualization technology, optical player tracking and enhanced metrics, such as player speed. MLS is the first professional soccer league to offer an augmented reality experience during games.
“We have the youngest fans and they want us to push the envelope. No one has created broadcasts like this,” MLS senior vice president of media Chris Schlosser said. “Our fans have grown up in a digital world. We see our role in global football as an innovator.”
Fans who play EA Sports’ “FIFA 21” will be familiar with the offerings. The location of every player will be displayed using a mini map of the field as well as a small ID tag showing which player has possession. Player sprinting speeds will also be showcased throughout the game.
The mini maps and tracking should provide a better indicator of teams’ formations and runs from players on attacks downfield that cameras aren’t able to pick up.
The second-screen experiences will be available on FoxSports.com and ESPN3 when Fox and ESPN/ABC air games. For games broadcast on Univision, they will be on MLSsoccer.com.
The playoffs begin Friday with a pair of play-in games with New England facing Montreal and Nashville SC taking on Inter Miami. Fox Sports 1 has the first game and ESPN2 has the nightcap. The only broadcasts where the second-screen experience won’t be available are games hosted by Toronto FC. The club is playing in Hartford due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The data tracking is part of a three-year agreement between the league and Second Spectrum that started this season. Second Spectrum installed an optical tracking system in every MLS stadium that captures the location of players, the ball and the referees 30 times per second.
The system has also been used by the club’s technical stats to provide enhanced analytics, such as how clubs do in transition and under pressure, as well as how often a player is susceptible to giving up possession while being tackled. Data that is proprietary at the moment for teams could become part of larger data offerings by the league in future seasons as tracking continues to evolve.