Sounders FC is set to jump back into 2020 regular season action, with an initial six-match slate that kicks off this Sunday evening in Portland (7:00 p.m. PT / FS1). As the team prepares to continue play, the Rave Green’s broadcast teams are likewise planning, with both television and radio broadcasts ready to provide fans with quality matchday production, with increased attention to health and safety protocols for all involved, as well as a special focus on using the unique situation as an opportunity to explore new ways to connect with fans in providing topflight match coverage.
REGIONAL TELEVISION & STREAMING
For all non-nationally televised matches both home and away, fans can continue to tune into Q13 FOX / JOEtv to watch the Rave Green. In addition to broadcasting matches, Q13 FOX / JOEtv is also providing 30-minute pregame and 30-minute postgame shows before and after each match.
As announced earlier this week, Amazon Prime Video has become Sounders FC’s official video streaming partner, with fans anywhere in Washington State able to utilize the service to catch all the action from their favorite team. Prime Video is carrying the Q13 FOX / JOEtv feed, and fans can tune into matches via Prime Video at home or on the go across hundreds of compatible devices, including smart TVs, mobile devices, Fire TV, Fire tablet, Apple TV, Chromecast, game consoles, Comcast X1 or from the web.
The Sounders FC broadcast team continues to consist of play-by-play man Keith Costigan and in-game analyst Kasey Keller, while Steve Zakuani – typically positioned at field level – will join Costigan and Keller upstairs as a third member of the announce team. During home games, former Sounder Brad Evans will also join in pregame, halftime and postgame commentary from the Toyota Fan Deck at CenturyLink Field.
The trio will be physically distanced when calling the games, each with their own dedicated camera, but shown together by split or tri-screen when appropriate. For home matches, announcing the game will take place as usual, with announcers able to call action in person from the broadcast booth, though with distancing protocol in effect.
However, due to health and safety considerations with travel and league restrictions for permitted club personnel in a given stadium, no away team broadcast is allowed to be onsite producing its own broadcast for away matches, as Sounders FC typically would. Instead, every host team in the league will distribute to the away club a singular “world feed” that serves as a neutral view of the game, from which the away team broadcast talent calls the game via monitors from another location.
In Sounders FC’s case, all away matches are being produced in Seattle, and specifically at CenturyLink Field, precluding any conflicts with away matches and the Seattle Seahawks’ home schedule.
Both Costigan and Keller have plenty of experience calling games from a monitor feed, with Costigan doing so for FOX for Bundesliga matches, the FIFA U-20 World Cup and other high-profile games, and Keller the same for FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship matches for ESPN.
“2020 has certainly been a unique year that has seen us all have to adapt to new realities,” said FOX Sports and Sounders FC broadcaster Keith Costigan. “Our broadcast recognizes the importance of minimizing gameday staff and that means calling the game remotely. While obviously we would prefer to be there in the stadium with the team, we are still excited to find new ways to interact with the fans and help show Brian and the players that we are still 100 percent behind them. Kasey Keller and I have called a number of games from studio throughout the years and can guarantee we will bring the same passion and excitement as we do when calling action in a stadium full of fans. Along with Steve Zakuani, our crew is looking forward to sharing the match experience and interacting with Sounders fans as we cover another Rave Green playoff push.”
Fans can expect to see the same look and feel that they have come to expect from the high-quality Sounders FC broadcasts. Even for away matches featuring the “world feed,” club production staff will supplement the coverage with one controlled camera that is operated onsite while directed from Seattle.
“As we return to having matches to broadcast and call, I’m reminded that the new protocols won’t come without challenges,” said former Sounders FC and U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper and current Sounders FC broadcaster Kasey Keller. “However, any of these inconveniences are easy to accept in exchange for resumed seasons and players back on the field. Not being able to travel, calling a match off a monitor, the difference in atmosphere without fans and having to distance from your co-commentator—all of these are adjustments I’m happy and ready to make in order to put safety first while supporting the team and building a great broadcast for the fans.”
The unconventional nature of the season also presents the opportunity for production to try new things, specifically items centered around fan engagement. The Rave Green plan to encourage fan participation during matches through social media using #SoundersMatchday, where select fans will be featured on the broadcasts and through virtual fan watch parties. There is also increased opportunity to include Sounders alumni and special guests on broadcasts via video conferencing.
With an eye toward hygiene and safety, all interviews with players or coaches are being conducted either via video conference or with use of a headset – disinfected after each use using recommended products – and administered by a club official in the highest tier of club access, which includes COVID-19 testing every other day.
The number of production crew members for each gameday is strictly limited, with each worker following rigorous safety protocol, including a dedicated and separate entrance into CenturyLink Field, physical distancing and mandatory PPE to be worn at all times.
On the radio, fans can continue listening to all matches on Sports Radio 950 KJR AM and El Rey 1360 AM. Both radio broadcasts are complete with pregame and postgame coverage, beginning 30 minutes prior to kickoff on each affiliate and followed by another 30 minutes of coverage following the final whistle.
Talent will rotate to minimize personnel on site, but English-language radio efforts continue to be led by play-by-play voice Matt Johnson, with Keller serving as analyst for any games appearing on national television and one of either Wade Webber, Pete Fewing or Danny Jackson in that role for regional broadcasts. Jackson Felts continues to lead pregame, halftime and postgame efforts.
Radio personnel are being spread out between two separate broadcast booths, allowing for proper distancing during game production, and onsite staff will also make use of masks and proper PPE.
Matches are being called similarly to television, with away games utilizing the “world feed” that is supplemented by an All-22 camera.
Spanish-language radio talent from El Rey 1360 AM will call home matches from CenturyLink Field, while producing away matches from a studio location.
For additional Sounders FC coverage, KJR’s Sounders Weekly with Jackson Felts continues to air Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. PT. El Rey’s studio show Somos Sounders FC also continues on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. PT.
During home matches, Sounders FC will utilize recorded crowd noise within the stadium. This decision was made after consulting with players and coaches, who overwhelmingly wished for games at CenturyLink Field to feel as they are accustomed to.
“The Sounders crowd and home-field advantage is something we all appreciate and has been a source of pride for our club for many years,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “Although I fully understand there is no substitute for real fans in the building, I prefer some background cheering and reminders of our crowd, as it may help our players in an already challenging time. I hope that some familiar banners and flags, combined with the right amount of background atmosphere, will help the players feel at home.”
Crowd noise, piped in via the external PA system, will be picked up by the broadcast microphones, allowing fans to hear the noise over both television and radio broadcasts.
For road matches, Sounders FC is not adding crowd noise to the “world feed” broadcast, leaving crowd noise at the discretion of the host team.
HEALTH & SAFETY
As with the MLS is Back Tournament, COVID-19 testing protocols again play an important role in MLS' competition framework as teams continue play. MLS continues to work closely with the league's infectious disease advisors, as well as advisors for the MLSPA on the plan for testing. All clubs are forming testing partnerships with a local certified lab, and all players, technical staff and essential club staff are being tested every other day, including the day before each match day. Also, guidelines are being provided to players, coaches and essential staff to avoid the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 during their time away from club facilities.
In addition to adhering to health, safety and medical protocols, another focus of the new schedule is efficient travel. Teams are taking chartered flights, and for the majority of road trips will arrive in the host market on matchday and depart after the match later that evening.
On matchdays, essential staff, including broadcast production personnel, will each be designated into one of three levels of tiered access, with each tier kept separate from each other including utilizing unique stadium entry and exit points and workspaces.
The initial phase of MLS’ continuation of play consists of six matches. Sounders FC first faces archrival Portland Timbers at Providence Park this Sunday, August 23 (7:00 p.m. PT / FS1). Other road fixtures include the LA Galaxy (August 26) and Real Salt Lake (September 2).
The Rave Green return to CenturyLink Field for the first time since March with an August 30 home date against Los Angeles FC (7:00 p.m. PT / FS1), with other home matches scheduled against Portland (September 6) and San Jose (September 10).
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, these home matches are scheduled to be played without fans.