It’s a challenge and an opportunity for both MLS and Apple: How do you make every match with Lionel Messi on the MLS season ticket feel like an event?
Well, if he scores the game-winning goal in the final seconds of regulation, with a glorious free kick, in his Inter Miami debut, delivering one of the most memorable moments in American football history, a moment that caused Inter Miami owner David Beckham to shake in disbelief and the Florida crowd to erupt in ecstasy — well, it happened.
“It’s a Messi moment,” MLS announcer Jake Ziven said after the goal. “It’s Messi night.”
In some cases, creating an event is easy for sports broadcasting outlets. There are certain dates on the calendar (Super Bowl, World Cup, March Madness, college football game) that are just there events. There are also one-off annual events like the Kentucky Derby, opening round of the NFL Draft, or even WrestleMania that have a can’t-miss element. On a smaller level, ESPN’s Formula 1 coverage via Sky Sports has done a great job of making every Formula One race day feel like something special. (Sky Sports F1 announcer Martin Brundle’s pre-race grid walk, as silly as it is, gives the event a lot of feel.)
This is what I was looking for when I tuned in to the MLS Season Ticket at 7 PM ET, one hour before the League Cup game between Inter Miami and Cruz Azul. How will MLS/Apple approach the pre-game show? Will they have a set on site to give us a sense of atmosphere similar to what Amazon Prime has done for “Thursday Night Football” and the NFL and NBA networks traditionally for big postseason games?
The answer is yes. Host Kaylyn Kyle and analysts Maurice Edu and Taylor Twellman were live from the corner of the floor of DRV PNK Stadium as the happy crowd in pink began to pop up. The group interviewed MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Liga MX President Mikel Arreola during the first five minutes, and much more importantly for viewers, we got the starting XI and substitutions for both teams within the first five minutes. Nor did they simply overload viewers with Inter Miami as reporter Katie Witham interviewed Cruz Azul goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado on the field.
We got a lot of bold names on the broadcast (Kim Kardashian and the kids posing with Inter Miami owner David Beckham; Victoria Beckham posing for a photo of her husband and LeBron James; Witham being interviewed by the Kardashians). We also get Twellman rocking the moment in the style of WWE Director of Wrestling Paul Heyman. “Inter Miami pulled off the greatest robbery in sports history,” said Twellman, who is entitled to some Apple stock for the huge feat.
Twellman said before Friday that Messi’s call-up to his first MLS game will end up being one of the highlights of his broadcasting career. “I grew up in a family where Pele and the NASL club were a big part of my dad’s life and his career,” said Twellman, “and now I get the same kind of experience with the greatest player ever and possibly the best player and his influence on what’s going to happen in this league.”
The preliminary match had to be extended because Messi did not appear on the field before the match. (I was hoping for something like this.) There were some glitches, including going broke while Kyle was mid-sentence at 7:52pm ET. Viewers got breaks at 7:55 and 7:58 PM ET, and those tight breaks were very confusing as a viewer. (I watch in Canada, I don’t get the US ads.) Someone on a microphone heard Twellman speak before kicking. They have to brush this stuff up if they want to compare with the best in the sports broadcasting category.
MLS said its coverage of the game featured improved production, including 18 cameras, four super slow-motion cameras, a Skycam, a Steadicam, and a drone. As with MLS League Pass, viewers can choose between coverage in Spanish and English. Zivin and Twellman called the game in English and will also work Inter Miami’s game against Atlanta United on Tuesday. Sammy Sadovnik, Eduardo Piscayart, Carlos Hermosillo and Antonella Gonzalez called the game Spanish.
As viewers, we first saw Messi on the Inter Miami bench at 8:05 PM ET, sitting next to Sergio Busquets. There were beautiful pictures of LeBron in a long hug with Messi. (You will see this video around the world, which is invaluable to MLS and Apple in terms of pub.) Zivin balanced Messi’s debut and game-calling responsibilities well. (For someone who doesn’t know much about Cruz Azul, Zeven helped educate me about the club, including on the success of coach Riccardo Ferretti.)
Twellman has a deep knowledge and respect for MLS, which is what you should want if you are a fan of the league. The director and producer went a lot into shots of Missy, which is what I wanted as a viewer. I imagine some would call it excessive, but I don’t think that can be the case with Messi. There were some glitches with the in-game audio, which, again, MLS/Apple needs to fix.
Twellman said he wanted to get out of the way and give viewers the experience of what it feels like to be on the field.
“I think this audience is universal versus an audience from the United States or Canada,” Twellman said, “I need to make sure people understand how important this is to the league.” “But I’d be surprised if audio and video didn’t tell that story about scale, environment, and occasion.”
Messi began warming up as the second half began and donned the Inter Miami jersey at 9:27 PM ET. He came on in the 54th minute. Cameras stayed with him as he entered the pitch, and Zeven and Twellman were cleverly kept silent as the public address announcer gave a special introduction to Messi and Busquets to the crowd. Twellman predicted in the first half that we would see Messi for 20 minutes given where he was in training, but he went for much longer.
Apple kept feeding us celebrities (Serena Williams chatted with the Kardashians), and while I’d be happy to never read about the Kardashians again, this was smart to me because the goal was to make streaming feel bigger. (Plus, Serena is a legit goat.) There was such a beautiful ball from Busquets to Messi late on that we needed at least one full restart. Then came the dream moment with Messi’s free-kick winner. Hollywood in Miami.
The pre-match group then did the post-match, where we got multiple looks at Messi’s goal.
Signing Messi is obviously huge for the league, huge business, like the athletePaul Tenorio, Pablo Maurer, and Tom Bogert have all chronicled here. Twellman said it was crucial for Inter Miami to succeed in order to capitalize on Messi’s presence in the league. They are currently in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference. But this must change.
“If you want to be the face of the NFL for the two-and-a-half to three years he’ll be here, and then eventually for years later, you’ve got to win,” said Twellman. “You create your legacy and create a foundation for success.”
So Messi Night 1 is in the books. It wasn’t perfect (we heard on air that Apple was only taking one question after a match), but Apple and MLS did very well. It just felt big, and Messi finally made it even bigger.
“I got goosebumps,” Twellman said on air, “because for the next 50 years of my life, I’m going to tell everyone I’ve been on the block.”
(Photo: Mike Ehrman/Getty Images)
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