CBS Sports Aims To Bring UEFA Champions League Coverage Onsite

Broadcaster will produce studio show pitch-side when the league allows it

In the midst of its first year as rightsholder for UEFA Champions League coverage in the U.S., CBS Sports is pleased with the effort so far.

Now, as the broadcaster prepares for the return of the world’s biggest soccer competition with the Round of 16 in February, viewers shouldn’t expect major changes to a package that has included the live streaming of all matches on CBS All Access and match-day whiparound coverage with The Golazo Show on CBS Sports Network. One major change, though, could be coming: bringing CBS’s studio coverage pitch-side in the months ahead.

CBS Sports anchors its UEFA Champions League studio coverage from a facility at IMG Studios near London. Pictured (from left) are host Kate Abdo and analysts Roberto Martinez, Jamie Carragher, and Micah Richards.

“The second we’re allowed to do it, we’re going to do it,” says Pete Radovich, creative director, CBS Sports/coordinating producer, UEFA Champions League coverage. “I’m asking UEFA every week, ‘What’s the rule? What’s the rule? Can we go yet? Can we go?’

“We’re hoping that by, obviously, the Finals, Semifinals, that’s the case,” he continues. “But, if we’re allowed to go even earlier, we will be there. To experience this product the proper way is to be in the stadium pitch-side with fans in the stands. That’s what I’m most looking forward to. For the viewers, the second we’re allowed in, we’re going to be there.”

Currently, studio programming for CBS Sports’ Champions League coverage originates from IMG Studios in the London suburb of Stockley Park, but it’s a global effort that supports the broadcaster’s international soccer programming. CBS Interactive’s Stamford, CT, facility handles transmission and encoding of the streams while much of the crew overseeing the project is still working remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Getting all this off the ground, though, takes a truly impressive effort.

2020 was a year of postponements, cancellations, and sports-television operations professionals’ reacting to last-second changes. One of the most dramatic examples of the launch of a new property in head-spinning fashion was CBS Sports’ taking over the UEFA Champions League.

This time last year, CBS Sports had already surprised some in the industry by scooping up the next round of U.S. broadcast rights for the biggest soccer competition in the world, and planning was under way. However, those plans were drawn up for when CBS would take over, in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world — and the industry — on its head, and then-rightsholder Turner Sports announced that it was leaving its contract. CBS Sports had only 28 days to get its Champions League coverage on the air.

“We had ambitious plans, and then the opportunity presented itself last summer, so all that stuff kind of went out the window,” says Jeff Gerttula, EVP/GM, CBS Sports Digital. “It was quite a ride.”

Gerttula, Radovich, and CBS brass needed to scramble to hire on-air talent, crew up match days in studio, and, actually, find a studio. Radovich notes that CBS Sports EVP, Operations and Engineering, Patty Power and her team played a huge role in leveraging some relationships to help get things up and running in London. Without those previous relationships, he says, CBS’s coverage would look very different and, likely, would be originating in the U.S., which would have severely limited the options for on-air talent.

As part of UEFA Champions League coverage, CBS Sports introduced a whiparound program called The Golazo Show, airing on CBSSN. The show is hosted by Nico Cantor (left) and Gus Poyet.

Also aiding the effort were a clear vision from Radovich and Gerttula and the well-defined brand of the UEFA Champions League. Both Radovich and Gerttula are fans of European soccer, and, when it came to deciding how to guide and gear CBS Sports’ coverage of the Champions League, it was pretty simple: this was going to be for those who knew the sport best.

“We’re going to do this for us, for hardcore fans,” says Radovich, who moved to London last year to oversee the launch and had lived in Europe in various parts of his childhood. “We’re not going to worry about the non-soccer fans. Let’s do it for the hardcore fans like us. From then, it got easier because you weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. We were just kind of figuring who do we want to hear from? What games do we want to watch? How are we going to watch them? It was just using our instincts and our own life experiences of watching hundreds and hundreds of hours of European football through our lives that helped us shape this.”

On-screen branding, Radovich notes, didn’t take much. Anyone who has watched the UEFA Champions League knows that the competition has a well-defined brand, one that includes a distinct logo and graphics, as well as a memorable anthem. CBS was going to have to do little alteration to that.

“This is a brand that works,” he explains. “The look works, the graphics look, everyone loves the anthem. We embraced it. We built our studio look around the look of Champions League. There’s that familiarity. Everything we did was leaning right into what the brand was. For a creative director, that is a huge advantage because that’s one thing that we didn’t have to deal with. People love the brand, and that familiarity is part of the strength of Champions League. We weren’t going to change any of that.”

The UEFA Champions League returns Feb. 16 with the first leg of the Round of 16. CBS Sports will provide coverage of the UEFA Champions League Final on Saturday, May 29 from Istanbul.

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