First impressions of Champions League coverage on TNT and Univision Deportes

With the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League Group Stage kicking off this week, most soccer fans in the United States had their first taste of soccer coverage from TNT. Dominant Spanish-language TV broadcaster Univision Deportes also aired their first Champions League games including some of the more high-profile matches on the over-the-air Univision channel.

But how did both broadcasters do during a week that we’ve been anticipating since we first broke the news that Turner Sports and Univision had acquired the rights?

Let’s go through the highs and lows of week one:

HIGHS

1. Univision’s excitement levels. Univision’s commentary for the Barcelona-PSV Eindhoven game, just as one example, was in stark contrast to TNT. While TNT used the English-language world feed featuring the soft-spoken but highly qualified Simon Brotherton, Univision featured commentators Luis Omar Tapia, Hristo Stoichkov and Diego Balado who were more passionate and energetic with a style that was far more synonymous with the exciting brand of football that Barcelona delivered.

With TNT electing to feature Barcelona-PSV and Real Madrid-Roma as their two most high-profile games across Tuesday and Wednesday, that gave the edge to Univision Deportes who have commentators that can tap into the high energy levels that the soccer fans expect for such exciting teams as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

At the same time, the better English-language commentators were calling other games this week. Tuesday, it was Clive Tyldesley and Clive Allen for Inter Milan-Spurs. And on Wednesday, Martin Tyler and Danny Higginbotham called the Young Boys-Manchester United match.

In previous seasons, this wasn’t a problem because most of the Champions League matches featuring the best commentators were featured on broadcasts that included Premier League teams playing European opposition on FS1 and FS2. This week, both Inter-Spurs and Young Boys-United weren’t on English-language TV but were relegated to B/R Live instead meaning that most of us missed the better announcers.

While the games on TNT were entertaining, they didn’t feel as exciting as the Univision broadcasts. The fact that the world-feed included solo commentators didn’t help either (Brotherton for Barca-PSV and Kevin Keatings for Real Madrid-Roma).

 

LOWS

1. What happened to TNT? During the first few weeks of their UEFA broadcasts, the analysis from the TNT studio talent was a breath of fresh air and tight. But on this week’s matches, they seemed to be all over the place. Perhaps it’s the change of dealing with so many huge matches being played at the same time across two windows where there’s so much to talk about with so little time due to the incessant commercials. But, at the same time, the chemistry wasn’t as good this week. There were awkward pauses. And just like their predecessor FOX Sports, there weren’t any memorable points they raised. TNT’s level of analysis was pedestrian at best.

For example, in one segment, the panelists debated the rankings for the top 5 clubs in Europe right now. The whole idea of debating such a topic is preposterous (and just filler) anyway, but the analysts persevered and shared their opinions. But then one of the pundits who disagreed with the rankings asked how they were compiled, to which Kate Abdo replied she had no idea except that it was based on “criteria.” Nash laughed at the rankings and jokingly called it out as clickbait, which is exactly what it was, but it was quite an inappropriate remark given that’s what Bleacher Report is best known for in their short history.

When watching the Champions League on TNT, the feeling I’m getting is that I’m missing out on all of the major storylines and goals from the other games. Part of the reason is that when the televised game has ended and it returns to the studio, the scores for all of the games are displayed in a graphic on-screen. But then the show descends into the pedestrian analysis and it takes too long to get to the highlights of what we want to see for the other games. And even then, not all of the highlights are shown.

Part of the issue is that we’ve been accustomed to FOX’s style of banging through the goal highlights of the other games immediately after the final whistle. But at the same time, we’re almost missing out on FOX’s MultiMatch 90 broadcast which was a godsend during the Group Stages and is sorely missed.

2. Production flubs. No one likes to make mistakes especially when a network is trying to establish credibility as a relevant soccer broadcaster. But after gameweek one, there have been a couple of embarrassing mistakes. First up was on Tuesday where an on-screen graphic identified analyst Oguchi Onyewu as Carlos Bocanegra.

Second, even worse, was following a fantastic interview with Pep Guardiola when the on-screen graphic for the upcoming game mentioned “Manchester United vs. Lyon” (see below). All of the soccer fans know however that it should have read “Manchester City vs. Lyon.” That’s a juvenile mistake that even FOX Sports wouldn’t have made, which says a lot and should send a warning sign to the TNT producer that mistakes like that cannot happen. Hopefully these are mistakes that can be easily prevented in the future.

3. Lack of energy from TNT. Out of several huge moments this week, arguably the two biggest ones were Liverpool’s late win against PSG on Tuesday followed by the rare red card for Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday. But in both instances, the first reactions from the studio talent to these two incidents were very flat. After the thrilling Liverpool 3-2 PSG game, you would expect to hear the voices of the talent filled with excitement when the game switched immediately back to the studio. But it was rather humdrum.

A similar reaction happened on Wednesday during halftime when Kate Abdo and the studio talent revealed that Cristiano Ronaldo had been sent off. The reaction should have been complete astonishment and incredulity. Instead, the lack of urgency in the voices of the talent was plain to hear. It wasn’t until the post-match that the studio team got really into the consequences of the sending off.

In particular, the one person who has the least amount of energy in his voice is Carlos Bocanegra. There’s no passion in what he talks about, and his delivery sounds so monotone.

On the other hand, the one person who has the most energy is Stu Holden, but then his time is sometimes limited particularly during halftime analysis where the flow of the show is interrupted by one segment that’s from Atlanta (with Kate Abdo hosting) and then the next segment with Holden from Los Angeles, but the time for deep analysis is too short.

Based on what we saw this week, Turner Sports has a lot of work cut out for them. Having the two hosts for the broadcast of the UEFA Super Cup worked fine, but it now appears to be a little overwhelming for the viewer when the broadcast is trying to cover eight games per day via a combination of two hosts, three analysts and tons of commercials. On top of that, the broadcast is trying to be too jokey as well as trying to force in social media posts. At the end of the day, it might be that Turner Sports is trying too hard, and just needs to take a deep breath and focus on the basics — good analysis, keeping the viewer updated on the important storylines and giving us the goal highlights of the other matches. After all, it’s not rocket science.

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