CBS Sports has grown its soccer content in variety and scope since re-entering the soccer space in the summer of 2020. At that time, it took over broadcasting of the UEFA Champions League after Turner Sports decided it didn’t want to continue televising the competition.
Since then, the programming decisions CBS makes in soccer have been driven largely by a desire to drive potential subscribers to Paramount+ and to incentivize those who sign up to stay with Paramount Global’s streaming service.
In an exclusive interview, World Soccer Talk sat down with Jeffrey Gerttula who serves as the Executive Vice President for Digital, CBS Sports and CBS News and Stations. In a wide-ranging discussion, we discussed CBS’ decisions regarding where to place soccer coverage in terms of streaming, cable, and network television as well as the overall strategies behind CBS Sports’ soccer coverage.
The launch of the CBS Sports Golazo Network
CBS Sports’ most notable soccer move in 2023 was the launch of a 24/7 streaming soccer platform, the CBS Sports Golazo Network. Gerttula was tasked with the responsibility of leading the launch of the Golazo channel in the spring of 2023. This launch came five years after he was the key individual in CBS’ launch of CBS Sports HQ. This similar concept catered to traditional American sports.
“Soccer rights have been acquired for multiple reasons but with one goal in mind,” Gerttula said. “We acquired the rights for Paramount+. We then use Golazo and the free streaming distribution of that network to expand the audience and broaden the engagement. But, still, at its core the idea is to build the relationship, so people subscribe to Paramount+.”
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The launch of The Golazo Network has been well-received by the public and has also satisfied CBS Sports executives. The launch was not without significant risk. An active marketing campaign included strategic spots and reads during CBS’ coverage of other sports. Two of its popular entities, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and The Masters, had ad reads of the program.
“We’re thrilled, we couldn’t be more excited with how Golazo is developing. But we are still in the very early stages of the build-out. We like Morning Footy and love what we do in the afternoons,” Gerttula told us.
Figuring out the potential of the platform
Gerttula is using the experience of programming the five-year-old CBS Sports HQ channel to inform decisions on Golazo. He concedes there is more trial and error in terms of learning what the soccer audience might want at certain times of the day or week.
“We’re still trying to figure out what we do with highlights and transitions between live games. There is a lot of learning to do. With CBS Sports HQ we already understood the rhythm of American sports when fans come in. On Saturdays, we knew it was about college football and basketball, on Sundays the NFL. During the week lots of evening games from NBA, NHL, MLB. So, our programming on that channel reflects something we knew.”
But for Gerttula and the CBS Sports programming team, the Golazo Network provides more potential questions.
“We’re now trying to understand that rhythm for the soccer fans. We are working to get a sense of how we transition from one match to another, what times of the day and week people want certain programming and reactions. What we want to have is soccer fans turning it on at a certain time and knowing that of course we’ll be talking about the big story or previewing the big match coming up. We’re still trying to figure out the nights and weekends but it’s a work in progress.”
The Golazo Network is complemented by a robust strategy of cable and broadcast telecasts. These programming decisions are not easy, outside of the weekday UEFA Champions League telecasts. This is because soccer outside of the Premier League and UEFA Champions League has not yet established itself as a ratings winner in the US English-language media.
But for CBS, as Gerttula articulated to us, it is a long-term bet to drive sign-ups and retention at Paramount+. Still, he conceded oftentimes the opportunity costs of putting a soccer match on linear television, particularly on CBS over-the-air channels are substantial.
“For cable and broadcast [TV], we try to pick our spots where it makes sense. For us, the opportunity costs of programming displacement are huge. So, we have to pick our spots so we are not costing the broader business more losses than they can tolerate. But it’s a great resource to get [a] broader reach. But for our business model the goal is still to drive subscribers to sign up for Paramount+,” Gerttula said.
NWSL and USL – Covering the domestic landscape
In recent years NWSL has provided CBS Sports Network with summertime programming as well as giving CBS over-the-air affiliates a lead-in to college football games on Saturdays.
CBS Sports just renewed its deal with NWSL. From 2024 to 2027 the network will broadcast a minimum of 21 games a season on linear television.
Furthering CBS’ penetration in the domestic soccer space was a recent deal with USL, where the network will broadcast 100 matches a year from USL’s Championship and League One divisions. Twenty-five of those matches will be on linear television including five on over-the-air CBS.
By broadcasting NWSL and USL on over-the-air CBS, the network is giving local affiliates content with domestic clubs, and in some cases local soccer clubs in those markets. This is a value add for CBS Sports, even though the focus remains on driving soccer fans toward Paramount+ subscriptions.
“We’re going to carefully pick our spots with USL (on linear television),” Gerttula told us.
This past season, CBS Sports was able to broadcast significant portions of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup competition, including the Final. Warner Bros. Discovery’s Turner Sports holds the rights through 2030. As of now, there is no word whether CBS will continue to air US Open Cup matches in 2024.
Documentaries and features
A unique aspect of CBS Sports’ commitment to soccer is the deepening documentary and special features library about the sport on Paramount+. Quite frankly this is a strategy that ESPN with its all-encompassing 30 for 30 sports documentary series missed.
ESPN has not released much in the way of soccer documentaries or feature content since 2014. Meanwhile, CBS continues to push the conversation forward on this front. Gerttula expressed excitement about the value these programs give Paramount+ to soccer fans. He indicated it’s been a big commitment from CBS to put together this type of programming.
On Dec. 11, Paramount+ will debut the Billion Dollar Goal. This three-part documentary series details Paul Caligiuri’s strike against Trinidad and Tobago in 1989. The goal had a massive impact on the business of soccer in the United States. It is a feature and story idea that needs a longer-form documentary. But surprisingly it’s CBS Sports and not ESPN that pursued the idea.
“In terms of documentaries like (Destination) European Nights and The Billion Dollar Goal, it comes down to whether we think there is a really interesting story that people will want to hear and subscribe to Paramount+ as a result. So, we are looking for the right story with the right draw and reach so soccer fans feel they have to subscribe to Paramount+,” Gerttula said.
These feature programs add to the incentive for soccer fans to stick with Paramount+.
“We want it to be a no-brainer if you are a serious soccer fan. Because we understand that it’s hard to get people to commit to taking their credit cards out to subscribe to us versus other streaming services. And we have to constantly reinforce that this is the place for soccer fans,” Gerttula said.
The Billion Dollar Goal has already created anticipation among US-based soccer fans for its release. Gerttula says the idea of making a film about the development of soccer in the United States jumped out at CBS.
“When we had documentary ideas, the billion-dollar goal popped up at the top pretty quickly. So, we then need to know if we can hit the right notes and tell it the right way. Once we determined that we could, it became the same as everything else. Let’s do it in a way that drives traffic to Paramount+ and reinforces our strength to soccer fans.”
CBS Sports’ portfolio of soccer rights in the United States is the largest for a US broadcaster. Each year, it continues to grow. This year’s launch of the Golazo Network as well as new documentary content has furthered CBS’ reach in this sport. The goal of the broadcaster is to make Paramount+ the streaming service soccer fans cannot live without. There is a highly competitive streaming landscape. Paramount+ represents the single most important service any soccer fan in the US can have.
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