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Ship’s Log, March 30: The robots won’t replace us … yet

MLS Next Pro’s use of AI is likely to fail, again.

Last Updated
4 min read
Photo by Possessed Photography / Unsplash

Generative AI continues to grow – the best models are getting fingers correct and the eyes point in the same direction. Written-gen AI is basically indistinguishable from average writing on the subject, as long as an editor removes hallucinations.

Many large companies are finding ways to leverage AI. In marketing the most common valuable use-case is to change the tone of messaging, not the content. Tools like Grammarly can even be helpful.

It’s not a surprise that MLS Next Pro is experimenting with AI. Previously they’d used a single-camera presentation that had no operator with only the machine telling the camera where to focus. That was mostly abandoned because the action on the field was frequently missed.

Their next effort at AI is to do AI play-by-play in foreign languages.

There are a few reasons this is unlikely to go well.

A play-by-play voice (and ideally their commentator) is a tool for fans to connect to the teams. They interject stories and conversations they’ve had during the week. They are not rote repetitions of player name, number and positioning. That dry, boring technique creates hollow gaps in knowledge for a fanbase.

Additionally, the teams in this league frequently don’t provide quality pronunciation guides for the current batch of play-by-play voices. Frequently during prep, announcers are asking players themselves the correct way to say their names. How will the machine get a player’s name correct when the input data is wrong?

Finally, the league is trusting live foreign-language translation and naming conventions to an outside voice without any indication that it has been trained on the league itself. Live simultaneous translation is not merely about a direct translation of the words. It requires deep enough knowledge of the subject to convey meaning – an example locally would be translating Defiance to a word that means ‘defiance’ doesn’t convey the meaning of why Tacoma are called Defiance. While valid, it dismisses the intent of language. This will be true for team and player nicknames (which goes back to the first point).

AI play-by-play is likely good enough to convey meaning to a scout or analyst. They don’t need to have the fan connection to a team.

Maybe Next Pro using generative AI is another example of the league not knowing if it is supposed to be a fan experience (as Austin and some of the indies have done) or just an advanced version of the Academy without fans at all (as is the case in most markets).

– Dave Clark

Catching up on Sounder at Heart

Missed the weekend's Puget Sound soccer news? Here are our latest stories

Sounders | 0-2-2, -2 (last in the West)

Tonight's match | 7:30 p.m. on MLS Season Pass at Dignity Health Park in Carson, California

The rest

Reign | 1-2-0, -1 (9th)

Friday night's loss

The rest


Other Washington pro soccer matches


5:00 p.m. PDT - Tacoma Defiance visit Ventura County (Galaxy) on (free).
Defiance are undefeated and number 1 in the league. Faysal Bettache is the #2 scorer in Next Pro. Georgi Minoungou is tied for the lead in assists.

7:05 p.m. PDT - Tacoma Stars (indoor) host San Diego Soccers on Twitch
The Stars have clinched a playoff spot. They are on a 7-match winning streak.

Spokane are off this weekend. They are 2-2-0, -1 (3rd) after four matches played.

Purchasing the new jersey or planning to get MLS Season Pass? Use our affiliate links to toss some coin to your bloggers.

Looking back at the week's news

Everything else you need to know.

Longtime KING 5 Sports photojournalist Alan Reed passes away (KING5).
Reed was a regular at Sounders practices for nearly two decades. He was a videographer who asked excellent questions and a bright smile no matter the weather. Jayda Evans also wrote about Reed's legacy in the Seattle sports journalism community (Seattle Times). Mr. Reed, we'll miss you.

Lily Yohannes: Ajax's Lindsey Horan and Lauren James-inspired teenager who the USWNT are desperate to secure. (Goal)

2024 Generation adidas Cup Rising XI: Who could become an MLS star?. Seattle's Omar Hassan is one of the brightest wingers in the youth ranks.

The 2024 MLS anonymous executive survey, part 1: Coaches, teams and players. (The Athletic). Team execs think that MVP candidates and the reigning Coach of the Year are underrated. In the second part we learn that GMs want to be in the Open Cup and have some of the same complaints about Apple TV that you do.

Why Multi-Club Ownership doesn't (normally) work. (MRKT Insights) This study looks at international MCO like Michelle Kang's group, not at single city ownership as is about to happen in Seattle.

Wales boss Wilkinson lauds 'iconic' Fishlock. (BBC) The former Thorns boss gets to manage one of the all-time greats now.

USWNT's Korbin Albert apologizes for social media controversy after Megan Rapinoe's criticism. (The Athletic) Rapinoe called out the newcomer on Instagram.

Gordon Monson: Time for a Utah credit union and the Utah Royals to dump the ‘America First’ name and logo. (Salt Lake Tribune)

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