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PRO Insight: Preparing for in-stadium announcements

On April 20, referee Ramy Touchan made the first in-stadium announcement in MLS during the game between Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps.

Adding to the return to play equity protocol and stoppage time clock, which were introduced at the start of the 2024 MLS regular season, Week 10 saw the introduction of three new competition initiatives:

• The off-field treatment rule
• Timed substitution rule
• In-stadium video review announcements

Off-field treatment rule
This has been introduced after a successful implementation in MLS NEXT Pro that began in 2022. It was devised to give medical professionals the time to assess and treat players off the field in a less pressurized environment.

Timed substitution rule
Any player being substituted and failing to exit the field within 10 seconds of the fourth official’s board being raised will incur a 60-second holding period for their replacement under the new timed substitution rule. After that time penalty has elapsed, they can enter the game at a stoppage.

In-stadium video review announcements
At its AGM in March 2023, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) approved trials of broadcasting in-stadium video review decisions for FIFA tournaments, and the concept rose to prominence during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Those trials were extended this year to competitions that followed FIFA’s refereeing and technology guidelines, and various leagues across the world, with permission from IFAB, began implementing live video review announcements. This led to MLS becoming the first domestic league where English is the primary spoken language to begin explaining VAR decisions in April 2024.

Mark Geiger, PRO’s GM, said: “During the Women’s World Cup, we put together a working group with MLS to evaluate how we could best incorporate announcements into games.

“Alan Kelly (PRO’s director of senior match officials), Sandro Ricci (PRO’s manager of senior referees) and Chris Rivett (PRO’s manager of communications) led our planning, and we started to practice announcements at our camp in August, and they have been a regular part of camps since, whether in the form of field practice, education sessions, or one-to-one coaching. The work served to fine-tune our processes and get officials comfortable making announcements around each other, in front of cameras, and eventually, in empty stadiums before we went live.

“It wasn’t simply the case of turning up last month and pressing a button; a lot of stakeholders have done a considerable amount of detailed preparation and testing. The concept was first discussed in 2018 and is something both PRO and MLS have been keen to lead the way on. Our goal was to improve the experience for fans, and the feedback we have received from around the world has been positive.”

Rivett said: “The process began by analyzing each announcement from the Women’s World Cup and establishing what worked well and what hadn’t. From there, we started to build a framework, with input from our senior match officials, of how they would be structured.

“This opportunity increases the spotlight on the officials and now makes video review an even bigger moment in the game for fans, so establishing a six-month program with time committed to preparing at every camp was vital to create consistency across the group. From the outset, we agreed that we didn’t want the announcements to be scripted, and the continual rehearsals and evaluations have highlighted the importance of the choice of language and executing the decision from a stationary position to the main camera for maximum clarity and authority.

“The window to educate in the moment is very small, but over a sustained period of consistent delivery, we can achieve improved understanding through repetition. The balance we have strived to find is being concise and informative without quoting law in great detail, and the format of the announcement will continue evolving as officials become more comfortable with the process.”

Source: Proreferee

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