UEFA Champions League action returned this past week. TUDN, as expected, gave crisp coverage. And in between its catalog of networks, it televised every match on linear television. Additionally, TUDN brought us the UEFA Matchday highlights show on Thursday and multiple Europa League matches. The UEFA coverage being presented on Univision’s networks is the best we have ever seen in the USA on a Spanish language channel. ESPN Deportes provided some shoulder shows as did FOX Deportes but nothing like what Univision does with its superior TUDN production levels and analysis provided.
On the English side, however, things weren’t as smooth. First off, Borussia Dortmund versus PSG and Atalanta-Valencia were behind the B/R Live paywall. Considering that in terms of open and entertaining attacking football, Dortmund and Atalanta might be the two best sides in Europe, this forced consumers who wanted to watch the matches in English to throw down $2.99 per match. If someone bought both matches, that would equal a monthly bill for ESPN+, which brings you every league game from Atalanta and every Serie A match not on linear TV, in addition to so much more soccer content.
Those watching Univision might have missed the Turner studio shows which once again were a lively topic of discussion among soccer fans this week. Kate Abdo, who directs traffic fairly well on FOX’s Bundesliga coverage seems a completely different person on TNT’s UEFA Champions League studio show. Whether or not she’s tired, unprepared or simply trying to be funny, it’s not coming off very well from where I sit. Tuesday’s prematch show was a bit of a disaster.
On Wednesday, Stu Holden took over hosting duties which unfortunately takes away from him doing what he is best at – analyzing the competition. Holden did alright in the role, and Tim Howard seems to always rise to the occasion with some good critical analysis. But in general, TNT’s week was forgettable.
Still, we must remind ourselves that TNT’s distribution and mainstream status among US cable channels has increased the value of the UEFA Champions League’s scope in the English language. Ratings are generally much higher than what they were on FOX. Turner Sports have paid the price as CBS surprisingly swooped in and took the rights away starting in August 2021, but fans, despite the clunkiness of broadcasts, should be thankful Turner made this investment.
NBC Press Pass deja vu
NBCSN’s midweek studio shows before and after Manchester City-West Ham United were a throwback to the days of the ESPN Press Pass program which preceded ESPN FC as the network’s soccer news offering. Derek Rae, the long-time host of Press Pass, was flanked by Robbie Mustoe who spent several years as an analyst on the program. The show was heavy with discussion of Manchester City’s UEFA club competition ban for violating Financial Fair Play (FFP). And Mustoe had the opportunity to lay out several scenarios in terms of how FFP could impact Manchester City and continental football as a whole.
FOX elevating Bundesliga coverage after losing out on rights
Saturday’s FS1 coverage of Werder Bremen versus Borussia Dortmund might have been the best FOX has provided us in their five years of coverage. A full pregame show discussing Erling Braut Håland, Gio Reyna, Josh Sargent and Werder Bremen’s relegation woes was followed by an outstanding commentating of the match featuring Keith Costigan and Warren Barton.
Ian Joy hosted the FOX Sports studio. And at halftime, the former FC St Pauli player was able to guide the audience through the highlights of the Hamburg Derby. Very few matches played at a second division level will have 57,000 fans in attendance, making the atmosphere electric. It should be noted that FC St Pauli has developed an underground supporters base in the United States due to the club’s image as a hipster, progressive outlet.
Barton had an important piece of analysis regarding Haaland that he “scores all sorts of goals, worldies, tight angles, tap ins.” Barton also correctly detected Bremen’s body language early the second half, indicating that they were quitting on the match as they fell further into a relegation mire.
FS1 provided a stunning switch of games at full time of Bremen-Dortmund. This flip to Gladbach-Hoffenheim was just in time for Lucas Ribeiro’s equalizer for Hoffenheim. It’s a shame FOX hasn’t done this more often in the past, but with such an exciting title race ongoing this season, they’re getting it right. Better late than never.
CBS needs to make a positive first impression with NWSL coverage
According to my sources, production company Vista Worldlink based in Fort Lauderdale will continue to play host to NWSL Productions as it does with USL Productions. With new NWSL rights holder CBS having a CBS Interactive complex including studios right down the street, synergies in coverage previously unavailable with Lifetime and CBS might be possible.
CBS’ reported coverage plans are exciting and will place the first soccer telecasts on the broadcast network’s over-the-air channel since the 1970’s. CBS Sports Network has experience in broadcasting soccer having shown NASL matches in 2016 and regularly airing some college soccer matches, but never has a league with as much of a following and regular media coverage aired on CBS.
For some, NWSL will be seen as a building-block and a laboratory for how CBS will cover the UEFA Champions League and Europa League once they take over the rights in August 2021. However, it can be argued that the network will need to get the broadcasts right from the get-go considering the type of critical analysis those who cover women’s soccer in this country have historically provided regarding television coverage.
Serie A on ESPN handling Coronavirus
Serie A postponed a number of matches this weekend due to the Coronavirus. This limited number of matches meant that Mark Donaldson and Matteo Bonetti could show highlights at halftime of Sunday’s ESPN2 broadcast of Genoa-Lazio. Therefore, the network pre-taped a segment about Napoli and Juventus’ upcoming UEFA Champions League ties with Dan Thomas, Steve Nicol and Craig Burley.
ESPN’s versatility and ability to throw the ESPN FC studio team into any situation is a great asset. It would be useful if the network began using the ESPN FC team more on ESPN+ as they did with the recent Milan and Manchester derbies that the OTT service aired.