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How CBS and Paramount+ need to better ESPN’s Serie A coverage

Last week, the news was confirmed that CBS Sports has won the rights for Serie A in the United States from the 2021-22 season to the 2023-24 season. The bulk of matches will air on ViacomCBS streaming platform Paramount+ with limited matches airing on CBS Sports Network. Included in the deal are the rights to Coppa Italia, which had been part of a separate rights package in the U.S. market previously, and the Supercoppa Italiana.

ESPN, which has aired both Serie A and the Coppa Italia competition the last three seasons, has made an effort to push the league on its linear platforms, showing over 30 Serie A matches a season on television in addition to occasional Coppa Italia ties. But it can be strongly argued that ESPN, like every other U.S. broadcaster that aired Serie A, has had other priorities in soccer from a marketing standpoint.

Prior to its three year run on ESPN, Serie A was on beIN Sports. Prior to that Serie A gravitated back-and-forth between FOX’s cable channels and GolTV.

The reality is that Serie A has been passed around U.S. broadcasters like a hot potato. The league remains prominent enough to consistently elicit interest from those who don’t have the rights, but apparently limited in its upside to convince broadcasters to go the extra mile to promote it and maintain rights at all costs.

So what does CBS need to do to make Serie A a more visible property in the landscape of broadcast sports in the U.S. and soccer in general in this country?

Maintain high standards set on UEFA and NWSL Coverage

CBS has largely wowed the U.S. audience with its extensive coverage of both European club competitions and NWSL. After years of not bothering with soccer, the broadcaster has dived head first into the sport, acquiring properties at a frenzied pace. But as we’ve seen in the past with other networks, saturation of properties can either lead to critical mass creating great overall coverage, or some properties being neglected in favor of others.

For Serie A on CBS Sports to be successful they must maintain the similar standards to what they have established for the UEFA Champions League. That won’t be easy and will require acquiring broadcast on-air talent with a specific expertise in Italian football.

Wraparound coverage

Like ESPN, CBS needs to have in-depth prematch shows for the biggest matches and some sort of halftime and post match production. Using the world feed for matches is fine but that should not substitute for bumper programming.

ESPN improved the bumper show coverage of Serie A. Previous rights-holder beIN SPORTS generally crammed Serie A matches in between shows that focused predominantly on La Liga. However, whether or not ESPN had dedicated pre and post match coverage as well as an active halftime studio were left to arbitrary decision making. Usually it required a big match and coupled with no other big soccer-related event being on ESPN’s family of networks the same day.

CBS can do better by dedicating itself to giving Serie A a dedicated studio program be it on CBS Sports HQ or directly on Paramount+ or CBS Sports Network around every league matchday.

CBS Sports will have to make a decision regarding where to locate its Serie A studio. A London studio, which has been used for UEFA club competitions, might be more attractive because of the large number of broadcast media talent that lives in and around the United Kingdom capital. But it should be noted CBS might have a difficult time securing some of the talent they use on Champions League matches as most have obligations with other broadcasters on the weekends.

Another option is to have the studio in the New York area using some of the talent already on display at CBS Sports HQ. This might give the broadcasts a more American feel, but also attract new talent from various points domestically.

My hunch is that CBS Sports will use London as its base for Serie A and all future European competitions the network airs. This will also put CBS in close proximity to the commentators that IMG uses on the international English language world feed for the league. It may give CBS the opportunity to use some of those commentators on days they are not calling matches for the world feed.

Promote across its platforms

CBS Sports has historically had a stronger web presence than FOX, beIN SPORTS and NBC Sports divisions. In addition, CBS Sports HQ‘s 24 hour news service has created a strong brand in discussing soccer in a similar vein as ESPN’s studio and sports news programming.

Paramount+ has a clunky interface, yet it’s been fairly easy to locate UEFA Champions League and Europa League matches since the new app launched in early March. Additionally, NWSL coverage is already prominently advertised within the app. Giving Serie A similar treatment will be of the essence.

Serie A fans in the United States tend to be very clannish in terms of how they consume coverage. They demand a dedicated coverage and promotion scheme. CBS has the bandwidth to deliver on this in ways most broadcasters cannot.

Use CBS Sports linear broadcast windows

While ESPN showed one Serie A match a week on linear television, often those matches were poorly promoted early morning Sunday showdowns, which only involved top teams about half of the time. So while ESPN may end up airing more matches on TV than CBS plans, it is very possible that CBS could improve Serie A’s visibility based on when they air games.

As of now, It appears that CBS has three major network sporting priorities in the following order: the NFL, golf and NCAA basketball.

Weekly PGA Tour events generally attract solid television viewership and as soccer fans are well aware, the one circumstance where Premier League matches have been consistently bumped from NBC’s over-the-air channel is when conflicts with golf occur.

So on the surface, it might appear that CBS over-the-air network will have little opportunity to show Serie A. But perhaps that is not the case. The ratings for regular season college basketball have been declining in recent years as the “one-and-done” rule and shoe scandal have taken a toll on interest outside the NCAA Tournament. So in January and February, CBS might be tempted to place a big Serie A matchup with title implications.

During the last several seasons, we have regularly seen Premier League matches on NBC in the 12:30PM ET time slot out-do CBS college basketball regular season games in terms of overall viewership numbers. The drift of college basketball to a niche sport based around the month of March has opened the door for European soccer to compete effectively with it head-to-head outside of March. This very much could weigh into CBS long-term thinking with Serie A and soccer in general.

SEE MORE: Schedule of Serie A games on US TV and streaming

While CBS shows golf regularly, there are also weekends where NBC shows the weekly PGA Tour stop. Therefore, if the timing is right, CBS could always air a matchup in April or May.

As for CBS Sports Network, programming is often light on weekend mornings, so showing Serie A in a more visible time slot than what has been the case on ESPN’s networks is possible.

Paramount+ improvements

It’s imperative that Paramount+ adds the promised functionality to pause and rewind live games, to improve the overall user experience. The sooner that happens, the better — especially with the 2021/22 Serie A season scheduled to begin in August 2021.

 

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Hassan Mohamed

    March 4, 2022 at 5:26 pm

    How much it per month for Italian Serie A?

    • Christopher Harris

      March 4, 2022 at 6:06 pm

      $4.99 per month

  2. Michelangelo

    July 27, 2021 at 3:05 pm

    We need the main at least 4 games per matchday on CBS or CBS Sports Network. This is a must due to the fact for your first year airing the Serie A you want to show your network what the Italian Serie A is all about. We also need Italian SAP broadcasting option for Native speakers and they need to work with Rai Italia to give the best broadcast possible. They also need to have the Goalazo show for the Serie A and show all the matches and all the goals on one channel for Serie A fans to really get that Sunday Italian experience. Bringing in Matteo Bonetti, Christian Vieri, and Alessandro Del Piero will really change the dynamic as well. A pre and post game is a must for the Italian Serie A to succeed on the Viacom Networks as well. They could also work with the NFL since some matches are aired on CBS as well. If they create a dynamic similar to NFL that could attract more American fans and more subscribers for Paramount as well. I know that NFL and Nickelodeon worked together and showed some playoff matches which were fantastic. They had a slime cam and some Nickelodeon characters on the field as well. It would be interesting to have some Serie A matches broadcasting like this to get some children viewers as well. Paramount Plus needs to do everything they can so they can get a steady viewership for one of the grandest leagues of all time. Grazie a tutti. Forza Napoli!!!!

  3. Ivan

    July 27, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Put marquee games on CBS proper, and not just 6 games/year.

    Otherwise, folk will, as always, find other ways to watch.

    Serie A is an attractive product, top 3 football league in the world. Italians are coming off of winning the European Championship. Show case it. If they greedy, they will lose…

  4. atttomole

    July 27, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    I am for post match shows. However, you need pundits that know their stuff.

  5. Karl

    April 2, 2021 at 11:57 am

    I think the only realistic windows you would ever see Serie A games on CBS are the 12pm ET weekend games as that’s the only time CBS has space except for – NFL, Golf, College basketball (the regular season ratings aren’t terribly important since it’s all about March Madness lead up), and the Sunday morning programming are all untouchable for CBS. I wouldn’t be shocked if there are one or two early season games at 12pm ET Saturday on CBS in this window if the matchup is right (likely would have to involve two of Juve/AC/Inter) as a way to push for Paramount+ subs early on in the Champions League group stage. I don’t expect it to happen, but would be interesting to see CBS have a Golazo Show on Serie A Matchday 38 as a marketing vehicle for both Paramount+ and the UEFA Champions League Final which is 6 days later.

  6. Efrain

    April 2, 2021 at 6:37 am

    They can improve streaming/picture quality. ESPN+ by far has the best PQ compared to Paramount/CBS, Peacock, BEIN.

  7. Chris Guardiano

    March 31, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    @Edward even though having Jim Nantz call Serie A games would sound cool, it is highly unlikely that would actually happen especially given the attempts by networks in the past to stick non soccer commentators into soccer just to get a boost in the ratings and how it backfires. Fox using Gus Johnson to call the FA Cup final in 2013 and the Champions League final in 2014 is a good example of that because even though it brought in casual sports fans, it turned off the hardcore soccer fan (especially ones that had teams in those finals) because they weren’t familiar with his style of commentary from college football and basketball and the fact that Fox used their 2nd major sports commentator behind Joe Buck (whose awful) instead of a well known soccer name like Martin Tyler. If CBS ever decided to use Jim Nantz for Serie A, I would hope they would give him some significant practice calling soccer by placing him on a couple of Champions League matches before giving him Serie A every week because that was the thing Fox failed to do with Gus Johnson. They simply told Gus he was calling soccer and call it as if it were a college football or basketball game (which it is not).

  8. Kenneth Newman

    March 31, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    Kartik,

    Are you still in Miami? I do miss my friends there, I do speak to them and email them all the time………Still trying to grow Soccer in Chicago, looking forward to this NEW team that Peter Wilt is trying to assemble…….

  9. Edward

    March 30, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    Jim Nantz gets to call the Milan Derby: “Hello friends. Take a seat during this ungodly hour early in the morning in the US to watch the God, Zlatan, battle the hulking, azelia scented Romelu Lukaku. It’s a tradition unlike any other. Welcome to the Milan Derby on CBS.”

  10. JP

    March 30, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    @Bob, 100% with you on the world feed. I hate the handful of times when ESPN used Donaldson and Matteo on ESPN+ streams instead of the world feed announcers. Usually a massive match when they do this too.

    Studio shows are highly overrated. What would be nice is an end of match day recap show for highlights/discussion of the day’s events. Similar to beIN’s show at 5PM following the final La Liga match of the day.

  11. Bob

    March 30, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    Count me as against studio shows and for using the world feeds. Studio shows and network announcers (understandably) lead to mostly marketing platforms for networks. World feed announcers only focus on the game and overall talk less than the Arlo White’s and John Strong’s who feel they need to talk all game. I also enjoy the pregame shows on world feeds that don’t have commercials and just provide a quick league/team update, show some warmup highlights with shots of the stadium (better when fans are in attendance though) and then roll into the walkouts. And then the world feed wrap-ups typically include highlights often with the live pbp calls – much better than the studio shows

  12. JP

    March 30, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    “It’s imperative that Paramount+ adds the promised functionality to pause and rewind live games, to improve the overall user experience”

    Well it’s good to know this is something in their radar at least! Would’ve thought they would make that update to coincide with the name change to Paramount+, maybe waiting for June when the new pricing goes into effect?

    As for CBS potentially bumping college basketball for Serie A, I doubt it. Agree on all points about one and done causing it to lose luster, but still don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  13. locofooty

    March 30, 2021 at 1:18 pm

    Worried about Spanish comm. ESPN finally stepped up offering spanish comm as well as promoting ESPN+ to spanish speakers. Will CBS look to sublicense, try to get some global feed in spanish, hire commentators as free lance for certain games?

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