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Behind the scenes of the process helping USL create instant highlights

The “super powers” unleashed by WSC Sports’ software.

MLS: IFAB Workshop Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Suppose you’re watching a Sacramento Republic FC away game. The full-time whistle blows, the stream takes a brief break and within a few minutes, the broadcast crew goes over the highlights.

Think about that for a moment — the match highlights are done and broadcast mere minutes after the end of the game.

It’s probably something you take for granted, or haven’t thought about before. But how are the highlights produced so quickly?

It turns out, USL has an ace up their sleeve, in the software developed by WSC Sports.

The Israel-based company, dating back to 2011, have become a major player in the world of digital sports content.

“We developed a technology that enables any rights holder to automate the creation of content, to do it at scale, to target different markets, different digital platforms, different fan preferences and all that, without compromise on quality,” explains Shaka Arnon, general manager of WSC Sports North America, in an exclusive interview with Indomitable City Soccer last week.

What exactly does that mean?

The video program developed by WSC Sports takes game footage, game data from a provider like Opta, and different broadcast feeds and calls, and continuously clips plays during games, with plays tagged with metadata to search easily, and ranked, from five-star plays to one-star plays.

“Imagine that all this is happening in real time, right, on every play,” explains Arnon. “So you have hundreds of plays that are populating in real time, and hundreds of clips, and those clips are associated with the metadata so we know who was the player that did it. What was the time. Was it a drive or a long shot or was [it] a volley kick...any play you can imagine in all these sports that we cover. And we also give a rating to each play between one and five stars, and all that is in real time, so five stars is that amazing highlight you never want to miss, our system does that rate stat automatically.”

The power of the technology wasn’t lost on USL, as they looked to find a more efficient way to produce video content with a growing number of teams and limited staff.

“When I first joined the USL in 2016, we didn’t do any highlights, and the reason was that we had one video editor on staff,” said Lizzie Seedhouse, USL senior vice president of digital, emerging technology and strategy in an interview with Indomitable City Soccer. “So there’s just no way to manage at scale with the production stuff that we had.”

Before learning about WSC Sports’ technology from MLS at a sports summit, Seedhouse says USL experimented with a more labor-intensive strategy.

“In 2017 we kind of hacked together this second method of creating highlights, which was we would have college athletes watch soccer games and they would tag in a spreadsheet every key moment we want to identify that could be in a highlight clip. And then our video staff would go back through that list on every game and then they would go back into the feed and clip everything out. So now we would turning around highlights, which was great, but it was still like a two hour turnaround for some games just depending on when the final whistle blew on a Saturday night. And even then, like Sacramento the highlights might not get out till 8:00 the next morning. It just was really inefficient,” she explained.

Arnon noted that WSC Sports’ work is not intended to replace video editors or even to save companies money. Instead, he said the program they developed was intended to give video editors “super powers,” capable of producing far more quality content in far less time.

And that brings us back to the highlights you see at the end of USL Championship broadcasts. Seedhouse walked through the process for creating those packages right after the end of a game.

“What you can do in WSC is you preset different kinds of rules in advance. Part of their software is called AV Gen. And they pre-tag or they take the data and pair it with the video and then they put that into any length video that you want and you can add sponsors and everything. So what we did is we said at final whistle, create a three-minute HD video that includes all the best moments that are rated by stars. And it has to include goals, it has to include great saves, sometimes discipline and we would always review those. And then from there we would get it sent to us directly and we can automatically send it to our YouTube as well...So now we can do within three to five minutes of final whistle we get a three minute highlight clip for every game, so it gives us a ton of scale and flexibility for content.”

While Arnon and Seedhouse both explained humans are still involved in the process, from reviewing plays and making judgment calls about red cards or fights, for example, to decide what goes in a highlight video, Arnon said WSC Sports did not have an error rate — a lofty claim, but USL sounded pleased with the results to date.

“I think a lot of leagues typically will have the same burdens and problems but USL’s situation is very unique, with 47 pro clubs on a Saturday night, anywhere between 10 and 12 clubs kicking off between 7:00 and 9:00 eastern,” Seedhouse said. “There’s just no way we would ever be able to do it without WSC so we still only work with one video editor on game night rotation. We can knock out you those 20 highlight clips on Saturday night no problem.”

Highlights are just one way of making use of the software.

“You can easily find anything because you have all the metadata associated with the plays and also the ratings, so you can find every shot on goal by Messi...all of that is, click of a button away,” said Arnon. “You have a Google for your plays, a search engine for plays. And you can filter any way you would like. That’s only the first step. Because now we only have that Google for plays.

“...[A] highlight is one story but now you have stories that you never had the attention span to do. So a player highlight, or best dunks of the day, best steals of the day, or maybe best actions from players that are sponsored by Under Armour,” he said.

Being able to create videos, at various scales, in real time sounds rather futuristic. But in many ways, for leagues like USL, the future is already here.

“It’s only limited by your imagination and distribution everywhere, and really allows you to target and satisfy your fans with what they want,” said Arnon.

In part two of this feature, we’ll discuss how USL and WSC Sports teamed up on USL’s first foray into eSports during the coronavirus pandemic.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.