Dateline: April 6, 2036
With Major League Soccer officially over the hill, the league again sits on a precipice. Much like it has had to make monumental decisions in the past to dictate and engage an ever-evolving fanbase, MLS must decide if it continues investing in tech or attempts to recreate stadium experiences of yore.
Now 40 years in, the league has watched attendance at games rise and dip more than a gym rat on tricep day. While bodies in seats reached highs in the '20s, lucrative streaming deals and monstrous viewer numbers over the last ten years have slowly pushed fans back to the home.
"It's a debate that's been happening for a long time," said Romeo Beckham, Director of In-Game Engagement for MLS. "How do we replicate and combine the information overload aspect and connectedness of consuming on-screen content with attending a match in person?"
Some teams have added alternate-reality experiences only available in stadiums, not through similar at-home products. The 100-Yard Bar at Mercedes-Benz Stadium offers Atlanta United "Be the Game" POV player simulations using augmented reality headsets.
"MB Stadium is now one of the oldest venues in the league, but it continues to push the level of amenities for supporters," Beckham said. "Utilizing cameras in the crest on players' jerseys, fans can now watch a game as their favorite player. See the game how they see it. Watch them make their runs and call for the ball."
"It really allows you to appreciate what the players do out there," said one visiting Charlotte Independence fan last season, her first time using the POV mode.
Services like this in Atlanta may not keep people tied to their assigned seats (rather, they will roam the concourse looking for something new and unavailable outside the confines of the arena) or contribute to the traditional supporters group culture and game atmosphere, but it does get them through the turnstiles.
"As a league we must continue to find ways to lure our base to physical games," Beckham said. "We can't solely rely on out outbound stream revenue, and we definitely don't want to completely lose the energy of the stands."