The sport is simple at its core, with two teams of 11 players trying to knock a soccer ball into the net. And for most of its televised existence in MLS, the Beautiful Game has been shown to a viewing audience in this relatively simple manner, too.
That’s about to change.
As part of a new plan that will be rolled out in phases this month, Sporting Kansas City is adding layers to its home broadcasts, most of which come in the form of camera angles new to MLS.
The club recently finalized a deal with Skycam to have the computer-controlled, cable-suspended camera float above the action inside the stadium. It is also placing cameras behind each goal and one perched atop Children’s Mercy Park for an overhead view.
“It’s a big investment on the broadcast infrastructure within the stadium,” Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman said in an interview with The Star. “It’s a big goal of ours this season to increase the quality of our broadcasts and to continue to be a club that does innovative things with how we relate our team to the fans.”
The move centers around a new hire, producer Joe Loverro, who spent the past four seasons as a producer for Kansas City Royals games.
Loverro says he has covered live events across more than 30 sports over his career. But Sporting Kansas City’s home match Saturday against Vancouver will be his first time producing soccer.
“The thing I’m trying to do is learn from other sports and apply that to what I’m doing next. So while I’ve never produced a soccer game, I’m willing to take chances,” Loverro said. “I know what’s being done in other sports, and I look at soccer and say, why not here?”
The first installments — the Robo-cams behind the goals — are scheduled to be ready for this weekend’s match at Children’s Mercy Park. They will sit 2 feet above the crossbars, offering a goalkeeper’s perspective of the action.
“In the same way we would do a slow-motion replay of a Yordano Ventura fastball, that’s how you will see the bend of a Benny Feilhaber or Brad Davis free kick,” Loverro said. “It’s coming right at you.”
The biggest piece of the new puzzle — Skycam — should be in place later this month, perhaps as soon as the March 20 home game against Toronto FC. While that match will be broadcast by FS1, the national TV stations will have access to the new feeds for Sporting KC home matches.
Skycam, a popular feature in NFL games, was used in the MLS All-Star Game last season. The camera will be attached to cables on the four corners of Children’s Mercy Park, allowing it to hover over the game. Sporting KC president Jake Reid said the team has been in contact with the league office about establishing ground rules should the ball come in contact with the camera.
The Skycam view likely will be available to fans inside the stadium via the team phone app later this season, Heineman said.
“Right now, soccer has been shown for years from midfield and from the 18-yard boxes. But from that perspective, soccer players aren’t credited enough for their abilities,” Loverro said. “That’s what I want to get across in the broadcast — the athleticism, speed and strength these players exhibit in the games.”