You might have caught it on one of the broadcasts last weekend while watching Major League Soccer games – a seemingly small change to the Video Review process.
Well, not the process as much as the location. MLS has moved to a centralized location for all Video Review teams, at Hawk-Eye’s facilities in Atlanta, Georgia.
“It was inevitable we’d go to a centralized VAR, even from August of 2017,” Senior Vice President, Competition and Medical Administration Jeff Agoos told MLSsoccer.com. MLS first implemented Video Review in 2017. “Most US sports went to centralized video review centers and we spent a lot of time with those leagues.”
The NBA, NHL and NFL all use centralized video replay centers. Agoos spoke with all the other leagues, learning best practices and what they’d do differently at the beginning if they could do it over.
MLS believes the centralized location will streamline video officials, who have the potential to work more than one game in a weekend rather than being limited to one. They will also be able to have pre-matchday meetings with all of the video officials, plus immediate debriefings after games.
"Postgame we can debrief them, we can monitor their processes, whereas previously we were only able to do that remotely or maybe a few days afterwards," said Howard Webb, General Manager of Professional Referee Organization. "So, there’s some real benefits we think in the ability to have that contact with those officials on-site and we think the outcome of the performances will be better because of it. We can double on officials in the same weekend, so some efficiencies in many ways of being central."
Officials also aren't worried about implementing the change during the 2022 season. VAR was introduced to MLS in August of the 2017 season, after all.
“We believe we can use our better VARs in more of our games,” Agoos said. “We can have a smaller workforce that can do more games, rather than having to fly to wherever the game is. Then because we have a smaller, VAR dedicated workforce, it gives you more flexibility for referees on the field. With growth and expansion, we need as many referees as we can get.”
Communication with fans
The centralized hub was launched in conjunction with a new video review graphics package that, in a multi-lingual fashion, communicates checks and reviews on MLS game broadcasts and on stadium videoboards.
That change gives fans access to nearly real-time decision-making information, including VAR recommendations for key checks and video reviews in addition to the results of those checks and reviews. Once a check or review is in progress, the automatically generated graphic is immediately distributed for on-screen display, allowing for more transparency of the league's Video Review process.
"Hopefully that helps piece together the process," Webb said. "Obviously people can see for themselves the referee going to the screen, they’ll have seen the incident, but then they can also get some insight into the rationale for why that’s happening."
Long-term, Agoos said MLS strives for their own facility at a to-be-determined location. In the meantime, PRO Director of Senior Match Officials Mark Geiger said it's about continuing to fine-tune the Video Review process to ensure improved outcomes on matchday.
"VAR is so new but we’re seeing the impacts of VAR right from the beginning," Geiger said. "It’s only been around for about five years now, but we see really, really positive results. When you think about the decisions that are changed on the field of play, in the past before VAR, these are critical errors in a match that would have remained, that would have had an impact on the outcome of the match.
"So VAR has been so positive for the referees in this generation. Many referees went through their careers starting from grassroots, coming up through amateurs and even the second-division professional leagues, they didn’t have VAR. So they needed to work to get the right decision on the field. But in MLS now we have VAR, so it can help us, and it’s a tool to help get the correct decision on the field."