In three short years, CBS Sports has established itself as willing to push the envelope with its studio coverage of its various soccer properties. CBS has the UEFA Champions League, NWSL, CONCACAF internationals, and Serie A. Arguably, the broadcaster is on the cutting edge of creating content that generates conversations. 

In exclusive interviews, World Soccer Talksat down with several different CBS Sports executives as well as on-air talent to delve deeper into their production of soccer. 

The most obvious takeaway from our conversations is that CBS is willing to take chances in presenting the sport. CBS pushes the envelope and isn’t afraid of making mistakes or pivoting along the way. The goal is an organic presentation that stays authentic and honest. 

But, how do they do it?

The role of CBS Sports’ Pete Radovich

CBS Sports Senior Creative Director and Executive Producer of CBS UEFA Champions League and Serie A coverage Pete Radovich has been instrumental in setting the tone for how the broadcaster presents its soccer coverage. Radovich spoke about the challenge of acquiring and capturing that relationship on the screen.

“To get that chemistry, to get that thing, it’s not going to be clean. There is an obsession in sports television about clean shows. It never made sense to me. No mistakes and making sure everything is perfect. But it’s live television. The fans at home want to be entertained.

“So we embrace the occasional mistakes and train wrecks. We know the only people who are going to be offended by it are inside TV people. We care about the audience. If it’s not perfect, so be it. The audience does not care. They just want to be entertained.“

A personable Champions League crew

This approach was exemplified in the manner in which Micah Richards’ style evolved. Richards has been an integral part of the CBS Sports studio presentation of UEFA Champions League coverage since its inception. 

“Certain shows on BBC and Sky have been the same way for a long time. You come into that and fit in a (defined) role,” Richards said. “Coming to CBS, [producer] Pete Radovich said, ‘I’ve seen a couple of your films, I think you’re good but you’re too tense. You can loosen up a bit.’

“That was mad, hearing it from a producer! Hearing you have the license to be yourself. Express yourself. That was the day I knew broadcasting was for me when you have the backing of the producers. We want to see this Micah. It was that moment I knew I could be myself.“

The talent including Richards has the license to go where they feel they need to go, Matt Curtis, CBS Live Producer for UEFA Champions League content, explained. 

“They played the game at a high level, and we do plan for the next matchday maybe a week out. But, very rarely when we do pre-production, about three hours before a telecast do we have the same rundown that ends up on air. Debates start (in the meeting), conversations happen, and we realize we need to do this on the air, [to] capture the same feeling on camera.”

In other words, CBS Sports production team does not script their on-air debates and banter between hosts. In fact, they embrace the talent going where it is they feel they should go on-air. 

CBS soccer production continues to pull in praise

Since CBS Sports seeks to push the boundaries of what has previously been the standard for sports broadcasting, they’ve received rave reviews not only here in the United States but in Europe as well. 

“Thankfully, we’re very much in tune about enjoying ourselves and taking chances,” Curtis told us. “I had been producing sports in the UK for 10 or 12 years when I came to CBS. If I am being brutally honest, British TV was too regimented. It had gotten stale. And the desire came very, very quickly in talking to Pete (Radovich) we’re going to do this differently.” 

Sky Sports broadcasts the majority of Premier League matches in the UK. It has taken note of how CBS operates. Some of this is, of course, down to shared talent in Richards, Jamie Carragher, and Thierry Henry. 

“We take great pride in it (Sky emulating us),” said Radovich. “I hear from talent who work at Sky have been in meetings and they discuss ‘how can we be more like CBS?’” 

In fact, Radovich has encountered fans of CBS Champions League coverage all over Europe. This is partly down to the way social media drives conversations. Clips from CBS’ coverage regularly circulate on social media, allowing global fans to see the cast in action.

The effect of using clips and social media in CBS’ production of soccer

“I was at a game in Croatia, and I had a teenage guy who followed me and wanted to introduce himself. He follows me on Twitter, and he’s getting all the clips on social media. I was at FK Crvena Zvezda and the club came over and told me, ‘You guys are like the most popular thing in Serbia.’ Those moments are surreal for me,” Radovich told us. 

The social media strategy is paying off by design.

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“We’re doing an international program,” Curtis said. “We have an unashamed commitment to social media. Some people are cynical about that. Why wouldn’t you want to open it up? We now have an awareness that we’re talking to the world. If we go across Europe and we’re talking to clubs, everyone tells us they love the show. We can be in France; we can be in Spain or in Manchester and we get accolades everywhere. The respect that we seem to have developed from our peers and supporters puts pride at the forefront.”

“If you’re a sports television producer in 2023 and your intention is to produce just for television and not social media, you don’t get it. You’re not doing your job. It’s not the future anymore, it’s here,“ Radovich said. 

Individual properties with individual character

CBS has also been successful in understanding how the soccer audience is segmented in this country. The World Soccer Talk Podcast goes into detail about CBS presenting each soccer league differently. CBS wants to cater to different audiences and their preferences for each property. 

Jeff Gerttula, the Executive Vice President, Digital, CBS Sports and CBS News and Stations, talked about the differences in presentation. “A lot of it is trial and error. We have an idea and try to be authentic to the voice of the sport and the specific properties of fans of the sport and spend a lot of time scouring social media to get a sense of reaction and dynamics. To get the right voice for the specific audience because we treat each soccer property as its own fan base.

“In time things might come together more, but we’re at an incubation standpoint right now because the culture is different, the stories are different and the fan base is different so we have to take all of that into account.”

Echoing Gertulla’s sentiment, Radovich told us, “Every show has a different personality, and it organically develops. Producers tend to overproduce and then talent becomes robotic. We were very intentional to give the talent the runaway to be themselves. When we acquired Serie A, we took the same philosophy to give the talent some guidance but let them go.” 

‘Sports is entertainment’

The studio shows matter for CBS perhaps more than they matter to other broadcasters. Some networks do little with pre-game and post-match coverage. We’ve seen this for example with Turner Sports coverage of the US men’s and women’s national teams. 

“Sports is entertainment, and we care if our team wins or loses but we’re here to entertain. Pete said to me that hour before the game can never be white noise, it can never be just on in the background. That’s an hour-long TV show that we need to make it stand out,” said Curtis.

The chemistry between pundits is what makes CBS Sports studio programs so unique and lively. Radovich feels the less tinkering and more empowerment you give to the talent, the more entertaining and organic the production becomes. 

The proof is in the pudding. Whether you like the style of CBS Sports soccer studio programs or not, it is without question that they have driven the conversation about the sport. CBS is moving the needle in terms of how soccer is presented on television. With six more seasons of UEFA rights after the current competitions end, we can expect more edgy content and innovation from the broadcaster. 

PHOTOS: IMAGO and Mary Kouw/CBS.

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