Last week, when CBS announced the names of their star soccer talent that would be covering the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, it was assumed that the A-list of analysts, commentators and presenters would be part of a world feed that CBS would be utilizing.
After all, CBS Sports had very little turnaround time to assemble a crew after Turner Sports decided in June not to broadcast soccer anymore and returned the Champions League rights back to UEFA.
Before Turner’s shocking decision, CBS Sports had been working on launching their Champions League coverage in August 2021 for their three-year deal with UEFA. But when Turner Sports bailed earlier this summer, and with CBS Sports picking up the rights one year ahead of time, CBS Sports went into overdrive.
In an interview with World Soccer Talk on Monday, executives from CBS Sports revealed that the talent (whose last names are synonymous with soccer excellence — Gullit, Schmeichel, Drury, Tyldesley and Carragher, just to name a few) won’t be part of the world-feed as originally thought. Instead, they’ll cover the Champions League and Europa League for CBS for the conclusion of the 2019/20 season and hopefully beyond. (The 2020/21 season begins in quick succession; the Group Stage kicks off October 20).
That means talent such as Roberto Martinez, Jamie Carragher, Peter Schmeichel, Ruud Gullit, Peter Drury, Alex Scott, Micah Richards, Kate Abdo and Clive Tyldesley will grace U.S. television and streaming. With the combination of several of the sharpest minds and best-in-class commentators, CBS Sports has assembled a who’s who of soccer coverage unlike anything the UEFA Champions League has seen before in the United States of America.
Instead of going on and on with endless paragraphs of praise for the likeability and thought-provoking analysis that Roberto Martinez offers, as well as our praise for the other talent, we’ll get straight to the point about how enthused we are with CBS’s decision to hire a diverse and cosmopolitan set of talent. These are really smart moves by a broadcaster who is serious about making an impact in the soccer landscape as well as making a massive push to endear sports fans to CBS All Access.
“I don’t think anybody saw us coming,” explained Chairman of CBS Sports Sean McManus. “I think it was a surprise to everybody that CBS was in the soccer business in a huge way almost overnight. We look at each one of these deals independently and separately, and this soccer deal made a lot of sense for CBS. And I think it makes a lot of sense for UEFA also.
“We’ve been looking at [soccer, in the past]. It just hasn’t fit into our programming schedule. On the network, we’re pretty much programmed twelve months a year with all of our major sports — whether it’s NFL football, college football, golf or basketball. There wasn’t a lot of room on our broadcast network [for soccer]. And from a CBS Sports Network cable standpoint, the economics just didn’t seem to work for us all that well.
“We looked at soccer, but nothing really made sense until this UEFA package came along for CBS All Access. And it made really, really good financial and programming sense to acquire it.”
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While McManus is bullish on CBS All Access, as he should be, having the talent working directly from England is a very unique take for an American broadcaster.
CBS Sports will be using IMG Studios near London, which has the benefit of being near some of the biggest names in the business when it comes to analyzing and commentating on the sport.
“This will definitely have a CBS Sports ‘stamp’ on it,” said CBS Sports Senior Creative Director Pete Radovich Jr.
McManus added, “The ultimate stamp is who your talent is. Pete and his team selected the talent, and we did all of the deals with them in record time. That’s as big a stamp as you can put on your production and coverage.”
With CBS Sports driving the production and editorial coverage of the UEFA Champions League, the coverage comes with the added bonus of Peter Drury and Clive Tyldesley taking turns to commentate the games exclusively for CBS Sports and viewers across America.
Asked whether the talent would be continuing for the 2020/21 season and beyond, Radovich Jr. confirmed that Kate Abdo will continue and added, positively, “let’s get through August, and see how things go” for the other talent.
When asked how many Champions League games we can expect to see on the CBS over-the-air network in the future, McManus said “When our primary deal kicks in, the original deal (for 2021/22 through 2023/24), there’ll be more Champions League games on broadcast television than ever before, including the final.
“For the 2020/21 season, we’re still working it out with our stations and affiliates. We’re going to try to get some good broadcast exposure but it’s pretty close schedule-wise for schedules that have been put in place for a long time, and we’ve got a lot of other sports conflicts whether it’s golf or other things.”
While the excitement level will be at a fever pitch later this week for the return of the UEFA Champions League especially considering some of the matchups (including Man City-Real Madrid, Barcelona-Napoli, Bayern Munich-Chelsea), the pre-qualification for next season’s Europa League will already be taking place throughout August.
In previous years, select games have aired on different television and streaming platforms, but the availability and broadcasting of these games has been very random. (The rights to the qualifying games are not in the same UEFA package for the Champions League and Europa League). However, CBS Sports revealed to World Soccer Talk that the broadcaster is trying to obtain the rights.
“We feel that it’s something that has been overlooked in the past,” shared Radovich Jr., “but I think it’s something that we’re definitely going to put a focus on [to try to acquire].”
CBS’ live coverage of the UEFA club competitions begins Wednesday. Every single Europa League and Champions League game will be streamed via CBS All Access, while select games will be available on television.
Watch live coverage of every round, including every game of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League on CBS All Access. New to CBS All Access? Get your 7-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
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