Written by Hannah Boxerman
The magic of a CITY matchday doesn’t happen by accident.
If you’ve stepped foot in CITYPARK, you’ve felt it; the booming music, the swelling energy of the fans, the storytelling that turns every minute into an experience.
Before that first electric moment of kickoff, matchday magic has been in the works for hours –and planning, community outreach, and storytelling has been happening for months.
Crews ready the grounds; players arrive to get in the zone; staff sets up food and drink stands for hungry fans. Everything you see, hear, smell, and taste is brought to you by a devoted crew of behind-the-scenes architects of what makes this stadium the greatest in the MLS.
Much of the in-stadium action occurs in the Control Room, where the matchday production team orchestrates the entire flow of festivities: music, monitors, broadcasts. Four floors up, the Video Press Room boasts sweeping pitch views and houses the people behind all the audio fans hear while in the venue.
In the Control Room, a bustling symphony of monitors and headsets, the team is tied into the action from the pre-game until the final fan leaves CITYPARK. They’re dialed in – laying audio tracks and graphics, zooming in on pre-match features, showing off dancing fans – all in real time. Behind them, more teammates wait to facilitate replay footage at the push of a button. Even more camera operators are out in the fray, stationed throughout CITYPARK and roaming through stands to capture action both on and off the pitch.
“It’s very detail oriented,” says Matt Sebek, CITY’s Chief Experience Officer. “Because we’re new, we’ve put fan experience at the center of what we do. We think about the details and want the CITY experience to feel consistent from following us on social media to entering the stadium. It’s a way for us to say that every fan experience is a touchpoint; all things connect to each other, from social to retail to the app to the stadium. My team oversees that entire fan journey.”
On matchday, that starts with the pregame show. Sebek’s team and other CITY staff arrive early, test the tech, work with talent, and rehearse the full show from on-field interview to the national anthem – then open the gate to waiting fans 90 minutes before kickoff.
David Vedder, who Sebek describes as the “quarterback of the show,” serves as the club’s Director of Live Experience. And that experience, he says, is all about storytelling.
“Essentially, it’s about working with every department within our club to put together a story from the second the gates open until the second the gates close, and how we set the tone,” Vedder said. “The way we look at our run-of-show is as a way to tell the St. Louis story by highlighting certain community features.”
“Storytelling makes the experience richer for fans and the team,” Vedder said. Months before game day, the Live Experience team has developed a cohesive message for each match; that can range from sustainability to Pride to rivalries to Juneteenth to celebrating St. Louis. The team then selects a Music, Food, Art, and Exceptional Neighbor representative to be featured in stadium during the game.
“Our pre-game show is about as hard as you can do a pregame show; it’s not a bunch of PA reads and pre-recorded video,” Sebek said. “We’re doing live interviews with players, food partners, national anthem singers, and talent in town. Bringing so many local makers and doers into our show is really a unique aspect of who we are. For 90 minutes, all the focus is on soccer, so the pre-game show is really our platform to tell St. Louis about all the other great things going on in the region.”
At the August 20 match, in which CITY triumphed over Austin FC 6-4, pregame features included a conversation with the night’s featured music talent, a peek at the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop exhibit running at the St. Louis Art Museum, a spotlight on in-stadium vendor Balkan Treat Box, and an interview with the match’s Player to Watch – all hosted by Live Experience Manager and Matchday Correspondent Kristen Carver. The production room team kept the show running smoothly, including making sure to zoom in on fan favorite from the St. Louis Blues Oscar Sundqvist as he delivered the evening’s match ball.
There are more than 35 members of the Live Experience team who quarterback the matchday experience for fans from pregame festivities until the last CITY supporter has left the stands. As Chief Experience Officer, Sebek doesn’t just lead the team from the top – he’s adding ideas in production meetings, hopping on the headset, checking in with partners, escorting talent where they need to be. He’s an example, Vedder says, of “the passion that the CITY team brings to every match.”
“The man works 24/7 to make this happen,” Vedder said. “When we say the entire team is all in on this, we mean it – he is there every step of the way.”
And that’s the role of the CITY Live Experience team: going all in on a story that’s about more than the match.
“The best way to describe our role is that we tell the all-encompassing story, focusing on both the field but also lifting up the St. Louis community – locally, regionally, and ultimately nationally and internationally,” Vedder said. “We’re passionate about the soccer side, but also the community side. We understand that without the community, there would be no soccer. We can’t control the results on the field; our goal is to create a memorable experience, so that no matter what happens in the game, you leave having enjoyed it.”
The production team also places a special emphasis on making the experience fun for kids, who are a big part of CITYPARK. Alex Smith, who works in matchday production for all of St. Louis’ professional sports teams, says that’s one of the best parts of the job.
“One thing I love about what we do is that we can make someone’s night just by putting them on the video board, especially kids,” Smith said. “They get so excited to see themselves. Tomorrow they may not even remember the final score, but they’re going to tell all their friends that they were on the video board at the game. Helping make those special memories is a cool thing.”
During the game, the production team picks from multiple cameras to show off the best angles of the game, the crowd, and the players – minus a few memorable distractions, like four-legged fans in the Purina Club. They catch fans dancing. Singing. Waving flags. Eating. But the response is always the same; when they see themselves on the big screen, it’s nothing but joy and excitement.
“It’s just nonstop energy,” Smith said. “When I run camera, I’m constantly scanning the crowd, and there’s always someone doing something exciting. They stand the entire time; they play the drums. The crowd is super pumped up every game. And it’s our job to keep the energy up in the stadium as much as possible because the team can feed off that.”
While it’s been a season of growth and domination on the pitch, the team says this inaugural era has also been about establishing exactly what CITY stands for, especially against the backdrop of St. Louis’ longstanding soccer legacy.
“It’s an anomaly to say you’re a professional sports team but also a startup at the same time,” Vedder said. “On the field, we’ll pick up where the guys left off. We’re very proud of everything they’ve done to this point. It’s important for people to understand that soccer in St. Louis has had such a storied past. We’re doing this to tell our story, to be proud of who we are, to rep where we’ve been and where we’re going. We have high goals and aspirations, and the only way we’re going to be able to do that is to continue to beat our own drum and make sure people know we’re doing it out of respect for the game.”
So next time you’re at CITYPARK, show up early. Take it all in. Be a part of the pre-game show. See if you can’t spot a camera operator on their mission to fire up the crowd. There’s a story being told, and it’s not just about sports.
It’s about St. Louis.
“The mission of the ownership group, also born and raised in St. Louis, is to make it about more than soccer,” Sebek said. “It’s highly competitive on the pitch, but soccer is international and communal; it’s also about people getting together and enjoying that time. We think there’s something amazing going on in St. Louis, so making CITYPARK – and every game here – about pride in the region sets us apart. It’s about food, music, art, architecture. It’s about all those things, so that when it comes together as a sporting event, it feels prideful.”
And so far, the team says, it’s working.
As Vedder says, “This is the first job I’ve had where the storyline off the field – what we’re doing with the community – is as good as the story on the field.”