Fox Sports has announced that its broadcast coverage of the MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando, Florida, will feature artificial crowd noise.
The initiative began with the Atlanta United v New York Red Bulls game on the main Fox channel in prime time on July 11.
All of Fox’s televised games of the quarantined tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex will feature artificial crowd noise, while fans can opt out on digital devices.
The move is in sharp contrast with ESPN, which has decided to have natural sounds during its broadcasts of the tournament, a decision that was taken in partnership with MLS team supporters’ groups.
“We decided collectively that we thought using the natural sounds of the game, and the aggressive audio plan that ESPN has put in place, would allow for people to get closer to the game and provide a more authentic experience for the venue we’re playing in,” MLS senior vice president of media Seth Bacon said recently.
The Spanish-language Univision/TUDN is also using artificial noise on its broadcasts.
In another new initiative, Fox Sports broadcasters remotely interviewed Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas during the game. Armas was on the sidelines wearing headphones.
Armas said after the game that he immediately said yes to the approach by Fox and believes that such fan-engagement initiatives can help grow the game in the US.
Meanwhile, the first 9am ET kick-off of the event between Philadelphia Union and New York City FC on July 9 averaged just 159,000 viewers on ESPN.
By contrast, the tournament opener between Orlando City SC and Inter Miami on July 8 averaged 464,000 viewers on ESPN, with the telecast peaking from 9.45-10pm ET with 521,000 viewers.
ESPN had been confident that the early kickoffs would lead to significant domestic television ratings during the mornings for the sports network this summer.
ESPN’s vice president of production Amy Rosenfeld recently told reporters: “I think it’s ‘own the morning’, like Breakfast at Wimbledon or what the Premier League has been able to do [on NBC Sports]. I think [it could be] destination viewing in the morning. We experienced it with the World Cup. There is now this ability to multitask to do your workday stuff and be able to consume soccer. This is new territory for us – we’ve never done MLS in the morning. I’m excited about it because it’s new and it’s like a cool destination.”
Elsewhere, a virtual Adidas logo in the center circle of the main soccer field at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex has been considerably reduced in size since the opening day of the event following criticism from fans.