CBS has made a positive first impression among American audiences with both its NWSL and UEFA club competition coverage. So positive, in fact, that CBS Sports plan to take the studio on the road to appear on-site in stadiums across Europe for select games in the future after the Group Stage begins in October.
“I do know that even our studio will hit the road, once we’re allowed on occasion for a big game,” said CBS Sports Senior Creative Director Pete Radovich. “That’s something I’m really looking forward to full stadiums, and we’re on the sidelines, doing it the way it’s meant to be.
“Once things normalize, we’ll do it the right way. We’ll have our commentators and reporters on-site, when we can. Of course, we won’t do it with every match. And we’ll also have our studio on-site when we can.”
Rewinding to earlier this summer, CBS Sports had a very short window between the time it acquired UEFA rights for the remainder of the period Turner was contracted to broadcast Champions and Europa League in the United States. Yet, somehow, CBS has made this work, setting a new standard for soccer broadcasting the US, and creating a remarkable amount of bumper programming around each match broadcast.
To underscore the network’s commitment to broadcasting UEFA club competitions in the most authentic way possible, Radovich relocated to London and quickly created a London-based studio and set of talent unmatched on American television that has garnered rave reviews from fans.
This week, World Soccer Talk spoke to Radovich, who revealed that CBS plans to continue use of the London studio to host broadcasts in the 2020-21 season, and that a decision about whether to relocate the studio to the US or continue with London for the 2021-2024 time period will be made at a later date. “For the near future the plan is to continue as we have been doing these past few weeks,” Radovich said. In fact, he indicated that we may see the studio team on-site for some matches next season.
CBS has had lots of experience airing American sports. In particular, CBS’ coverage of college basketball, SEC football, the NFL and golf has helped set the standard for televised sports broadcasts in the United States. The presentation of both the Champions League and Europa League feels European and a CBS broadcast all at the same time. “The biggest thing for us is that it looks and feels like CBS, it’s definitely not an accident that it does,” Radovich told us.
With only 28 days to create a full production and pull together a team of on-air talent, CBS was under-the-gun from the minute they agreed to assume the remainder of Turner’s commitment to UEFA. The network was ultimately able to not only create a top-tier production and great lineup of talent but was able to create an on-air dynamic many other experienced productions have lacked.
Radovich explained, “We made quick decisions on talent, scheduling and everything. We made some very good decisions and are happy with them. Before we went on the air, we did two full days of rehearsals and, for me, it was more about chemistry building.“
The roster of talent CBS has hired is both impressive and deep in its understanding of the European game. The studio hosted by Kate Abdo and featuring Belgium manager Roberto Martinez and former standout players Jamie Carragher, Micah Richards and Peter Schmeichel has wowed critics to this point and been very well-received by fans. This past week, Jermaine Jenas was added to CBS’ coverage of both the Champions League and Europa League, serving as both a co-commentator and a studio analyst. The addition of Jenas gives CBS another former player who has worked on-camera extensively for UK-based broadcasters in the past.
Match commentary, which originally was to have been left to the world feed, has seen CBS bring two of the definitive voices of English-language soccer broadcasts to an American network. Radovich indicated that both Clive Tyldesley — who will call the Champions League Final — and Peter Drury — who will call the Europa League final — were excited to get the call to work for CBS and that the broadcaster was already a known commodity in British media circles.
Factors that helped CBS Sports hire many of the top names in the business, both for the studio and commentary, included the travel restrictions of UK talent, who were unable to take their usual summer holiday due to the Coronavirus travel restrictions. Additionally, the desire for Drury and Tyldesley to be on-air in the United States was an additional bonus.
Thus far, astandout from the coverage has been Rafa Honigstein. The Athletic writer is no stranger to American audiences. The London-based German journalist had appeared for years on The Guardian’s popular Football Weekly podcast as well as the ESPN FC studio show, hosted by Dan Thomas. But in those roles, Honigstein was more of a reporter who gave some insight on personalities than an analyst of the action on the pitch.
Honigstein has proven to be an outstanding studio analyst, and has emerged as a versatile performer for CBS Sports, whether it has been as an on-site reporter for Bayern versus Chelsea, a studio analyst for Europa League or an additional voice for CBS’ talent-laden Champions League pre- and post- match shows. Radovich has been pleased by what a good hire Honigstein has been, and revealed he will be on-site for the Europa League Final, Friday in Cologne.
The Europa League has never had much coverage in the United States, but CBS has chosen to not only create a full studio wraparound for the matches on CBS All Access but to also replay the matches on CBS Sports Network, usually within hours of completion. The new found television love for UEFA’s second-tier competition comes partly from Radovich’s experience growing up in Croatia. For smaller nations, the Europa League has been a big competition, particularly for those in Eastern Europe. Having a special place in his heart for the Europa League gave Radovich and CBS Sports the impetus to give the competition the sort of attention it has rarely, if ever, gotten from an American broadcaster.
From the conversation with Radovich, two things were abundantly clear. First, while CBS had some lucky breaks in assembling their coverage team, most of the success has been down to quick, yet intelligent, planning and a clear understanding of the audience preferences of English-language dominant American viewers in terms of what they want to see in a soccer broadcast. Second, CBS will continue with this formula for as long as it makes sense, and will continue to build upon their strong start covering UEFA competitions.
For soccer fans in the United States, these are — no doubt — welcome developments.
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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