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Long-time Revolution producer/director discusses MLS’ deal with Apple TV

“I don’t have any definitives about it. I think it has a chance to be a new way to consume a professional sports league. It might be on the cutting edge.”

Jim Daddona has assumed an even-keeled personality after more than 25 years of producing and directing sports television. This is why he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to Major League Soccer’s new deal with Apple TV.

Announced on June 14, the 10-year agreement puts all MLS, Leagues Cup, and select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches in one spot. Some games will still be available on cable stations like ESPN, but local broadcast arrangements will cease to exist. Fans will have to pay an unknown fee for the new service.

It’s believed that there will be a team of national commentators who will cover the games. It’s also believed that fans will have an option to listen to local voices.

But there are still a lot of unknowns regarding next year, even for the people who work the games. In fact, Daddona and his colleagues are having regular conversations about what could be around the corner.

“If I’m honest with you, of course there’s some kind of anxiety about it,” Daddona told The Bent Musket. “When we see each other, it’s what everyone’s talking about. You know, ‘Have you heard anything? What’s going on?’ The people who have done it for a while and have shown that they have done a decent job, they’re [feeling okay]...I think a lot of us are going to wind up being a part of it. It’s just not knowing definitively if that’s true and what that means.”

Daddona noted that the new agreement could be positive for MLS, saying that the quality of the broadcasts could become more standardized. He said, “Hopefully there will be uniformity to it where every game will look similar in terms of quality of production, the pictures that you’re seeing, and the announcers.”

This isn’t Apple’s first foray into the sports world as they have exclusive rights to some Major League Baseball games. That said, MLS pivoting to a model where most games won’t be on cable is a new frontier for American sports.

Daddona is no stranger to innovation. As someone who has produced soccer, baseball, hockey, and more, he’s “always trying to do something different, push the envelope a little bit.” Some things work, and some things don’t.

He recalled mid-game interviews with the head coach, a feature that several MLS teams adopted in the 2000s. Then-New England Revolution head coach Stevie Nicol was a willing participant, even if it led to some interesting TV moments.

“There were some times when there was nothing going on, but, as can happen, all of sudden there’s an attack,” Daddona said. “So we’d go down to him and nothing was going on basically and all of a sudden something would happen. There were a couple of times, in that Scottish accent, he’d be like, ‘Jesus!’”

Mid-game interviews are a rarity now and it’s something that Daddona doesn’t think much about. He doesn’t regret them, however, because being innovative is important in the TV world.

The Apple deal has the potential to be innovative since many people choose to stream instead of paying for cable. Daddona anticipates that the Apple deal will be appealing to a younger audience.

Photo courtesy of Jim Daddona

He does have concerns, however. He worries that casual fans might not be invested enough to subscribe, which could affect local interest in the team. The Revs recently benefited from their partnership with WBZ, which included in-depth coverage from broadcasters such as Dan Roche.

The Revs have long struggled to gain a foothold in the Boston media market and the Apple deal might make this even harder.

“I think WBZ did a good job this year and Dan Roche really seems like he thinks it’s important, but it frustrates me when the Globe and other Boston media outlets talk about whatever and the Revs aren’t even considered one of the professional sports,” Daddona said. “That’s in a lot of markets. Any market that has a lot of professional sports, established sports, I feel like MLS gets a short stick, for sure.”

“Boston is a tough nut to crack because there’s a huge history, obviously, of all their major sports,” Daddona continued. “It’s like New York, same thing. NYCFC, they don’t get much coverage there. Red Bulls, they don’t get much coverage there. I thought it was funny, but also it pissed me off when [NYCFC] had their banner. It was this tiny, little banner in Yankee Stadium for NYCFC. It’s embarrassing. I get it, it’s not their home really, but it is their home, and they won a championship.”

In short, Daddona isn’t totally sure what to think of the Apple deal, saying, “It’s ten years, so I think there’s time for it to grow.” He later remarked, “I don’t have any definitives about it. I think it has a chance to be a new way to consume a professional sports league. It might be on the cutting edge.”

Photo courtesy of Jim Daddona

This type of casual attitude is what you’d expect from an industry professional who has seen it all.

Daddona remembers a trip to Houston in the early 2000s when the Dynamo played at Robertson Stadium. It was an old stadium that required television crews to use a generator in order to broadcast. For whatever reason, the Revs team didn’t have the necessary equipment.

Everyone quickly got on the phone, scrambling to locate a generator. They were successful, but it didn’t arrive until two hours before kickoff. They then needed to allow the truck to cool off before they could turn on any of the equipment.

There was uncertainty if the Revs broadcast would go on as planned with Daddona remembering, “There were so many things wrong.” While they didn’t air a pre-game segment, they did run one of the “most rudimentary games ever” as they only included the score bug and a few other graphics.

Another incident occurred in 2004 when Daddona and his colleague were scheduled to work back-to-back games. First up was the MLS Eastern Conference Final between the Revs and D.C. United on Saturday, Nov. 6. With the game tied 3-3 at RFK Stadium after extra time, the two teams went to penalty kicks, ultimately resulting in a D.C. win.

Daddona immediately got in a car and drove to Storrs, CT to broadcast a Sunday UConn game. He got an hour of sleep in the car before he went back to work. Still, that Revs’ playoff game is one of Daddona’s fondest memories.

Daddona was also present when Bruce Arena couldn’t hear the broadcasters during his halftime hit on Jul. 4, 2019, which led to him infamously asking, “Does anyone know what’s going on here?” Daddona and his partners had everything properly prepped, but something went awry. It was an unfortunate moment, but all they could do was laugh.

“You test it out beforehand and it works but sure enough when the time comes to actually do it, the headset doesn’t work,” Daddona said. “I thought Brad [Feldman] might be a little bit upset about it because you don’t like to have mistakes on the air but we all just thought it was just the funniest thing.”

Daddona has enjoyed producing segments with Arena, who “has a good sense of humor.” He does admit that he tries to cut away before Arena throws the headset after his halftime interview, but he often fails because “he does it so quickly.”

The hardest thing about the current uncertainty regarding the new Apple TV deal is that Daddona isn’t sure who he’ll collaborate with each week. He’s worked with several organizations, including the Columbus Crew and New York City FC, but he’s been present for 20 years of Revs broadcasts. As you can imagine, he’s forged some tight bonds.

He remembers dinners with Paul Mariner, who “was a fantastic guy” with “the best stories.” Jay Heaps spent some time in the booth before becoming head coach and “really immersed himself in it and did a lot of homework.”

Of course, Brad Feldman has been a central figure in Daddona’s career. The two have known each other for a long time and even worked WUSA games together in the early days.

“He’s awesome,” Daddona said of Feldman. “He was a great boss, but an even better friend. He’s really the linchpin of the whole thing…Without him there, those productions would not happen.”

Daddona spent some time away from the Revs to produce Boston Red Sox games. He remembers going into Feldman’s office to tell him about his new gig. Feldman couldn’t have been more pleasant while wishing him well. A few years later, Feldman asked Daddona to return.

Photo courtesy of Jim Daddona

“The crew that we work with, a lot of those people have done it for 20 years as well. It was kind of like a family,” Daddona said. “[Feldman] has been super loyal to me. He’s been supportive. He always has my back. It’s reciprocated. I always have his back in the broadcast.”

Daddona doesn’t believe he’ll work with Feldman on a regular basis anymore but does hope they’ll reunite from time to time. After all, he “considers him more of a friend than a coworker.”

For now, Daddona will continue to produce and direct on a weekly basis and will soon head to Qatar for the World Cup. He’s become a full-fledged “soccer guy,” which is a bit of a surprise since his “knowledge of the rules and all that stuff was super limited” when he began.

But Daddona learned quickly, gaining a knack for when to put up graphics and show replays. He doesn’t know what the next ten years will bring now that MLS has partnered with Apple, but he’s excited to learn, just like he’s done the last 25 years.

He’s proud to be part of the growing league.

“Of all the sports that I’ve done, [soccer] is the one that I probably had the least knowledge of back then but it’s been the best,” Daddona said. “I’ve grown to love the sport. I love being part of the soccer culture and I’m really happy that it’s worked out.”