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Volume 23 No. 8
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Post play: League gives ESPN access to unusual view

On the scramble that led to Columbus’ first goal in this year’s MLS Cup championship match, viewers on ESPN got a unique viewpoint: from the goal post. It came courtesy of what ESPN has dubbed “goal post cam,” a camera placed inside a side post and covered by a small plastic screen.

The Dec. 6 final was the first time ESPN had used the technology during a Cup match, though it had tested the feature at the 2014 MLS All-Star Game and in some friendlies. MLS Commissioner Don Garber agreed to its use for the championship.

Scott Guglielmino, ESPN’s senior vice president of programming, said the network has loved the kind of shots that have come to ESPN’s NFL viewers via the comparable “pylon cam” in that coverage. It wants to give MLS fans something similar.

“This is one of the things the league has been open to providing access to, and getting closer to the game in general,” he said. “I think there are a lot of great stories and a lot of great action that this showcases, and I feel really positive about its future.”

It’s unknown when the camera angle might be seen again, though. Guglielmino noted there are a number of approvals required from soccer’s governing bodies beyond just MLS for its regular use, saying that in comparison to working with the NFL directly to get the pylon camera approved, this is a “different kettle of fish.”

In the days following the match last week, much also was made of MLS Cup’s television audience: ESPN finished with 668,000 viewers for the final, down about 31 percent from last year but up about 32 percent from 2013. Across UniMas and Univision Deportes, there were 506,000 viewers, down 45 percent from last year’s combined mark, which was a Cup-best for Spanish-language coverage.

“We want to see growth year over year, so from that perspective, there’s work to do,” Guglielmino said.

Guglielmino admitted some of that falls on ESPN itself. While he said the network is still mapping out next season’s MLS coverage, there are plans to be more aggressive in scheduling games on ESPN as opposed to ESPN2; carving out more 2 1/2-hour broadcast windows as opposed to just two hours; and finding ways to highlight the atmosphere and fan culture at matches, which he thinks will get neutral viewers more interested.

FUTURE TEAM AND TV PLANS: MLS’s board of governors met while in Columbus, with the biggest news of the meeting being that the group supports further expansion of the league, to 28 teams. MLS’s current plan calls for 24 teams by 2020, a target that looks as if it will be achieved following the league’s backing of David Beckham’s stadium site in Miami, and Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minnesota all on line to join in the next three years. What the timeline would be for a new wave of teams is less certain. The league, currently with 20 clubs, left the additional growth plan open-ended.

Also out of that meeting came the news that every game on the league’s final weekend of the season in 2016 will be played on the same day and at the same time, a drama-building move used by European soccer leagues as well as by Major League Baseball in recent years. The league’s three broadcast partners were meeting in Columbus to discuss the first year of their media rights deal with MLS, as well as plans for 2016. They embraced the season-finale idea, and while no final decisions have been made, the broadcasters did discuss the possibility of providing live look-ins to matches being broadcast on each other’s networks.

The new MLS Cup slogan, a first for the game, was on display this year.
MAKING IT SPECIAL: MLS wrapped the slogan “One Game to Glory” around its title match this year. The idea and campaign, created in-house by MLS Chief Marketing Officer Howard Handler and his team, looked to build upon the knockout nature of the MLS playoffs, as well as the glory that comes with lifting the championship trophy at the end of the season. The league, which hasn’t had a specific slogan tied to the Cup prior, will look to carry it to future seasons as well.

The fact that the associated marketing materials were in black and gold — Columbus Crew SC’s team colors — was simply a coincidence.

MLS splashed the campaign across a number of platforms. ESPN used it, there was a billboard in Times Square, and it could be seen throughout downtown Columbus and on the baggage carousels at the city’s airport.

ACTING OUT: Univision was part of one of the biggest sponsorship activations at MLS Cup. League sponsor The Home Depot served as the exclusive presenting sponsor of “La Barra,” a 30-minute pregame show that is roughly translated to English as “The Bar.” The show was broadcast just inside of Mapfre Stadium, providing a “College GameDay”-esque environment. Commissioner Garber appeared on the show, as did former MLS star Landon Donovan.

Among other MLS partners that activated at and around MLS Cup: Allstate hosted a community initiative focused on helping underprivileged youth soccer programs called Good Hands FC, selecting a Columbus soccer group that will receive uniforms, training equipment and a private soccer clinic with former and current MLS players. … Continental Tire had an activation site within the stadium and showcased its “What’Cha Got” racing series among MLS players by showing the final episode of the season on-site and presenting the winner, D.C. United’s Perry Kitchen, with a Lamborghini at halftime. … Johnson & Johnson had a consumer sampling section set up at the stadium, as well as its “Donate a Photo” experiential activation that encourages fans to take a photo, with the company then donating $1 to charity for each picture taken.