Turner Sports’ coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League won’t launch until August 2018, so the sports network has plenty of time to execute its plan to bring the world’s number one soccer club competition into the homes of viewers across the United States.
While FOX Sports certainly improved the quantity of UEFA Champions League coverage in the United States by making every game available between TV and streaming, Turner Sports now has the opportunity to raise the bar on the quality.
While we don’t know yet what Turner Sports’ vision is for how they’ll cover the Champions League and Europa League from the 2018/19 to 2020/21 seasons, they still have plenty of time to start drafting a short list of talent to interview and hire as soccer experts for their TV coverage.
If Turner Sports plays their cards right, the timing of Turner’s launch of the Champions League in August 2018 couldn’t be better… just weeks after the 2018 FIFA World Cup ends. Turner has the opportunity to ride the wave of increased soccer interest thanks to the World Cup and start weaving the storylines about many of those major World Cup stars playing in the UEFA Champions League.
Based on our extensive experience of watching soccer as well as understanding the interests of soccer fans in the United States, here are our suggestions on who Turner Sports should consider.
Two caveats before I dive into the list below. One, rather than suggesting an all-star list of all of the best hosts, presenters and commentators from around the world, most of whom would not be available, I’ve assembled a list of talent that could be more readily available and also a better fit for the US network. Two, the talent names suggested below are based on their level of expertise. Their accent has no bearing on my recommendations. The list compiles, in my opinion, the best talent that’s most likely to be available.
The person to lead Turner’s UEFA Champions League coverage will be the face of the soccer coverage. It’s incredibly vital that Turner Sports hires someone who is not only well versed in the sport, but has the charisma to hold the viewer’s attention as well as the intelligence to ask the studio analysts those tough questions. That person I suggest is John Dykes.
For viewers in the United States, many soccer fans will know him as the voice behind the successful Goal Rush program on the NBC Sports App. Plus, his career has provided him outstanding experience at Premier League Productions, ESPN Star Sport and Super Sport. Wherever he’s been in Asia or Africa, he’s been a big hit. From personal experience while traveling abroad, I’ve been very impressed by the way he carries himself on the Premier League Matchday Live broadcasts on weekends. For example, here’s one clip of his work:
At the same time, hosting both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League can be a taxing job especially when there are concurrent games happening. To alleviate the load slightly and to have someone available as a back-up when needed, I would suggest that Ian Joy from FOX Sports would be the perfect person to fill the role. On FOX Sports’ Bundesliga coverage, he commanded himself well under the spotlight as the host of the broadcasts. Plus, he’s versatile enough where he can also be used as a studio analyst and co-commentator when needed, too.
If Turner Sports is interested in acquiring other soccer rights, as we’ve heard through the grapevine that they are, having someone like Ian Joy available in addition to John Dykes would be a smart hire.
Lead commentator team
As we’ve seen from NBC Sports, having announcers at the stadium elevates the coverage to the next level. My suggestion would be for Turner Sports to use the world-feed commentaries for the vast majority of the Champions League and Europa League games, but to hire commentator Derek Rae and co-commentator Danny Higginbotham to call the standout matches where Turner Sports wants to have their own talent in the stadium.
With Rae and Higginbotham both living and working in Europe, it would be relatively easy to have them continue doing their weekend work for their respective broadcasters as well as tackling one midweek Champions League or Europa League game for Turner Sports.
Turner Sports needs to have a presence at these stadiums, and both Rae and Higginbotham are at the top of their professions as well as being scholars of the sport.
In FOX Sports’ coverage of the UEFA Champions League, their most consistent pitfall was (and continues to be) the way that their studio talent fails to elevate the conversation about the game. Currently, their level of analysis is on the same par with the tens of soccer podcasts and talk radio shows you can hear across the Internet. As a result, the viewer scarcely gets any clear insight that helps to move the conversation along. All you get is babble.
Part of the issue with that is the lack of thought-provoking questions from the host. But it’s also a mix of FOX Sports having too many talking heads on the set where none of them can get more than 20 seconds of opinions in before another one interjects.
I say all of this as background because it’ll help underline why I suggest the following soccer experts be hired for the UEFA Champions League studio analysis. They are Taylor Twellman, Janusz Michallik and Craig Burley. Not surprisingly, all of them have worked (or continue to work) at ESPN. But each of the analysts is an expert in European soccer and has strong opinions and analysis that will help create a much more valuable experience for the viewer at home.
If Twellman is unavailable due to his contract with ESPN (presumably until after Euro 2020), Turner Sports needs to consider hiring Eric Wynalda as a studio analyst. That is, however, with one caveat. Wynalda needs to be given a little more freedom to be himself and to share his honest opinions. Too many times on the FOX broadcasts of UEFA Champions League, Wynalda has been “held back” by his colleagues where he’s unable to give his vision as a soccer coach and player. When he’s forced into giving a soundbite, the broadcast misses out on the opinions and clarity that he sees that many other analysts miss.
Turner Sports has plenty of time to start executing its plan to hit the ground running with its UEFA Champions League coverage in August, 2018. Having said that, it’s never too early to start laying the groundwork for the talent and vision of how to make this prestigious soccer property a bigger and more valuable success.