Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 30
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

MLS updates media, player access policies

MLS is aligning its media access policy with those of other North American pro sports leagues, while also aiming to differentiate itself from international soccer leagues on television.

The new policy includes several changes and solidifies a few things the league had been testing, ranging from cameras in the locker rooms before the game and access to team huddles, to putting microphones on coaches during games and increasing the number of media “car wash” tours.

The league’s board of governors approved the policy at its December meeting, and the players union gave its OK in February. It’s the culmination of more than 18 months’ worth of research, meetings and discussions among all levels of league stakeholders.

“We want to make sure we’re providing tremendous access to broadcast partners and our internal constituents so that we can engage our current fans more frequently, and ultimately appeal to the broader soccer audience in North America, as well as around the world,” said Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications.
 

Access to players, like Alexi Lalas’ on-field interview with Kaka, could become more common.
Photo by: USA TODAY IMAGES

Discussions around changing the policy date as far back as June 2015. After review, MLS felt its policy was inadequate and didn’t address the evolution of digital and social content, as well as failed to meet the enhanced needs of its broadcast partners. At the league’s board meeting in July that year, Fox Networks Group CEO and Chairman Peter Rice and Fox Sports President Eric Shanks both spoke to the board about the network’s view on media access, showing clips from other leagues and properties for which they held the rights. MLS compared its policy with other leagues in the U.S., as well as with soccer leagues across Europe. It also created a working committee on the topic that included executives and coaches from across the league, and sourced feedback from every club and owner.

Jon Newman, general counsel of the MLS Players Union, said that while the new policy differs from those many of the international players have experienced, they not only are comfortable with it but see the value in the changes.

“From a players union perspective, we view this as a logical step forward to increase television ratings,” he said. “In the U.S., you can watch any soccer game from leagues around the world played live. That’s our competition on TV, and players want ratings to exceed those.”

Amy Rosenfeld, ESPN’s executive producer for soccer, said these changes will help to further grow the league, something the network is working in lockstep with MLS on.

“We share the same view with the league that we have a responsibility to ‘star build’ and to make the players part of a bigger conversation that goes beyond the play on the field but into who they are,” she said. “If we can personalize these guys a little more, that may expand our reach and help get an audience beyond that soccer-centric viewer.”

Rosenfeld said the league has been open to access across the board, with ESPN considering things like riding alongside players on the team bus or in the car going to training, as well as adding cameras inside the goalposts.

“In some ways, I think the league was a little behind the NBAs of the world, but it has always been challenging for MLS being under the umbrella of FIFA,” she said. “But from [Commissioner] Don Garber on down, they are interested in pushing these efforts forward, and once they get comfortable with the idea, they move at lightning speed.”

FIFA’s guidelines restrict certain broadcast techniques often seen in other sports, such as microphones on players during sanctioned matches.

Even ahead of the policy going into full affect, Univision got league and club approval to place cameras in the locker rooms at the 2016 MLS Cup Final, a view that the broadcaster even was floored to see, said Miguel Angel Garcia, vice president of live events for Univision.

“For viewers, and even us as broadcasters, this is the real experience and exclusive access you want to see when you watch live sports,” he said. “As broadcasters, you are always looking to innovate — the industry requires that — and the only league that is open to helping us is MLS.”