Never Miss a Moment: How Tech & Automation Changed the USL’s Game

How do you keep track of 120 soccer clubs?

The United Soccer League (USL) currently has three different leagues — two of them professional and the third developmental — comprised of 120 clubs.

And it’s continuing to grow:

The top tier league, the USL Championship, has 36 teams. The recently-established League 1 has ten teams and League 2, the developmental league, has 74 clubs in the United States and Canada. A lot of their focus is geared towards the pro leagues, and within the next four to five years, there will be 80 professional clubs playing in USL leagues, says Lizzie Seedhouse, Senior VP of Digital and Content.

More clubs means more matches, more matches means more content, and more content means more work.

Seedhouse says she has a great staff of “about 22 people on the digital and content and communications side that make it all happen.”

Seedhouse’s staff makes up a third of the entire company, but you need more than a large staff to keep up. “We had to start leveraging tools and systems to make things scalable,” she says. During the 2019 season, on their busiest day of the week — Saturday — the league produced about 50 highlights. USL clubs that use WSC Sports’ platform added another approximately 350 videos, for a grand total of 400 highlight videos in a single day.

But this wasn’t always the case. Just a few years ago, in 2016 when Seedhouse first joined the league and there were only 30 clubs, the USL’s digital and content team wasn’t able to produce highlights of their games. There were 500 games but only two video editors on staff. In 2017 they began paying college soccer players to watch games and manually tag all key events in an Excel spreadsheet, that way their video editors could find those events and create highlights. Still, it would take 2–3 hours to produce a single highlight of a game after the final whistle. If a game ended late at night, the highlights wouldn’t be ready until the following morning.

These days, the USL is able to produce highlights within minutes while also increasing the number of highlights produced. During the 2018 season, they produced 26,000 videos across approximately 20 clubs and the league.

What changed? Technology and automation stepped in.

Automation gives the USL the ability to “own our content,” she says, and is especially valuable when looking ahead to expansions in the coming seasons. Her team will be covering 1,400 games within the next few years, and if she wants to stick to her philosophy to “show don’t tell,” technology is key.

“WSC, honestly I can’t imagine living without it now,” Seedhouse says. “Again going back to that 2017 way of manually doing this and it being on a four-hour delay is just not efficient, but not suitable for our fans anymore. Fans are used to the kind of ‘Amazon Effect’ where you get things immediately, you get to choose what you want, and you have good customer service, and so every digital property is kind of held to that standard as well.

“So for us, it would be a big step backward to not have WSC and be able to scale out what we can do, it’s been a tremendous game-changer both for us and our clubs.”

Everyone on Seedhouse’s team has access to the platform, so everyone can “show” instead of telling: the social media team uses it for quick hits, communication staff for feature play, and the video team uses the platform for pre-planned content such as “Goal of the Week.” They’re even able to work from home on game day, meaning they can be with their family while producing content and save themselves the late-night drive home.

When it comes to the content itself, Seedhouse and her team are always looking to capitalize on the “magical” moments in the game.

“The biggest emphasis is capturing a special moment,” she explains, whether it’s a great play or the ball girl doing something silly behind the net.”

It’s those special moments that she says “might not be the ‘be all and end all’ to the game but they mean something and they show some emotion. Whether it’s about the experience of the game or just what it means to be around and a part of these teams.”

These plays can appeal to a large audience, and the USL has a very diverse group of fans.

“We’re in 50 markets but they’re all very different,” says Seedhouse. The league puts an emphasis on listening to the fans and responding to their reactions, whether it be with user generated content or polls to get them engaged. They’ve joined TikTok and are always looking for new and different platforms. They also rely on their players and clubs to share content — their roles as influencers have a huge impact, and the ability to send them highlights right after a game using WSC’s platforms is a big help.

Just as the USL is continuing to expand, the love for soccer in the United States is growing as well. Seedhouse, who was raised in England, says she is seeing a maturation in the sport, which she says is a bit “immature” compared to other sports in the US that have been around for at least 100 years.

“The country, and the sport, and the soccer fan has matured to a point where they’re now having kids, and they’re wanting to take their kids to the game because they grew up with some form of soccer in their life,” she explains, adding that while what they are building is exciting, they’re still relatively at the beginning of the process.

“We’re 20 years into a 100 year journey, 150 year journey.”

And the future is definitely bright.