MLS instructed broadcasters not to ‘belabor’ referee commentary amid lockout


MLS sent memos to TV and radio broadcasters this weekend not to “belabor the point” when addressing the lockout between the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) and Professional Referee Organization (PRO), according to a memo obtained by The Athletic and verified by multiple sources familiar with MLS broadcast operations.

“Fans tune in to watch and listen to the game,” the memo read in part. “They aren’t focused on the officials; therefore, we don’t believe it is necessary to belabor the point during the match. It is best to mention the situation in the pregame and move on.”

The document also included a recap of negotiations and instructed broadcasters to refer to the replacement refs only as “referees, no other description necessary,” aside from their name, where they are from and their officiating experience.

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The memo included “example language” on how to describe situations, including the lack of in-stadium/in-broadcast VAR announcements, the implementation of which is among the new officiating initiatives (including those concerning time-wasting) with rollouts that have been delayed due to the lockout. Commentators were also told they were welcome to “agree or disagree” with any controversial calls, but the memo stressed to not imply that the replacement referees were “the reason for the controversial call.”

An MLS spokesperson did not respond to The Athletic’s request for comment on Sunday.

MLS manages the production of its gameday broadcasts in partnership with IMG as part of the league’s 10-year, $2.5 billion media rights deal with Apple that began last year. The deal makes MLS-produced broadcasts of its games, via its Season Pass service on Apple TV, available to most of the world in English, Spanish and occasionally French and Portuguese. Some games are simulcast in the United States on FOX networks with different commentators than those offered on Season Pass.

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Inter Miami match referee replaced after discovery of photos in Inter Miami shirt

Refereeing has been a central topic of conversation through the start of MLS’s season. This weekend, PRO replaced the assigned center referee for the Inter Miami vs. Orlando City game hours before kickoff because photos surfaced of the official in an Inter Miami jersey this winter. The Athletic also reported that MLS executives were “pleased with the performance” of the replacement referees in the opening weekend.

PRO locked out the officials represented by the PSRA on Feb. 18 after a pair of temporary extensions to the previous labor agreement between PRO and the PSRA expired and the PSRA’s membership rejected the initial proposal put together by negotiators. MLS proceeded with a collection of replacement referees for the league curtain-raiser on Feb. 21, all of the weekend’s other openers, and they have continued in the second weekend of the season.

(Photo: Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images)





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