CBS takes its soccer coverage to a new level with the UEFA Champions League and Concacaf Nations League
The network will be bumping golf off its flagship broadcast channel Saturday and giving both events the kind of production it does for NFL playoff games.
On most spring Saturdays, sports fans who turn on CBS at 3 p.m. want to watch golf. This Saturday, they won’t be able to.
Instead, the longtime home of the Masters, the Super Bowl, and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will televise the UEFA men’s Champions League final for the first time. A four-hour programming block starts at 1:30 p.m., 90 minutes before Manchester City vs. Chelsea kicks off at 3. There will also be a half-hour postgame show.
If you’re looking for the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge, Phil Mickelson’s first tournament since winning the PGA Championship, you’ll have to go elsewhere — or watch soccer until at least 5:30 p.m., when the golf broadcast is scheduled to start.
That’s a big statement about how committed CBS is to soccer.
“We’re all about big, marquee, prestigious events, and these soccer events certainly fall into that category,” CBS Sports’ longtime chairman Sean McManus said.
The scale of the production isn’t just shown by the hours given to it. CBS will have broadcast teams at its London studio (Kate Abdo, Jamie Carragher, Roberto Martínez, and Micah Richards) and at the Estádio do Dragao in Porto, Portugal, where the game will be played (Peter Schmeichel, Guillem Balagué, and reporters Nico Cantor and Jenny Chiu). Peter Drury and Rob Green will call the action.
At the helm behind the scenes will be lead producer Pete Radovich, Jr. He’s a lifelong soccer fan who worked on CBS’ other flagship sports for nearly 20 years, especially the NFL. So he is well-versed in the network’s high standards.
“We wanted to do what we do as CBS Sports: treat it as we would an NFL playoff game,” he said. “All the producers that do our Masters coverage, NFL coverage, Final Four coverage, that’s what we’re looking to.”
Radovich is joined in the production room by two soccer-mad colleagues with NFL experience, Jonathan Segal and Jelani Rooks. Segal is one of CBS’ top NFL producers — he did Greg Gumbel’s games last year — and Rooks has worked on Super Bowl broadcasts.
“Jonathan Segal’s a full-time producer on NFL games, calls me day one and says, ‘Whatever you need, I’m here. If I have a free minute, I’ll help you,’” Radovich said. “We had people in place that were doing the production at a super-high level and knew the sport coming in.”
Coming up next
After the weekend, Radovich, Segal, Abdo, Cantor, and Chiu will fly to Denver to debut the next big piece of CBS’ soccer portfolio: the Concacaf Nations League final four.
It will be the first time the network delivers a soccer production this big on American soil, after sharing NWSL production duties with crews hired by the league. And it will be the first time the U.S. team’s top squad plays together before World Cup qualifying starts this fall.
Andres Cordero and Maurice Edu will call the U.S.-Honduras semifinal at 6:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network), and Adrian Garcia Marquez and Marcelo Balboa will call Mexico-Costa Rica at 10 p.m. (Paramount+). Cantor and Chiu will be the sideline reporters. The third-place game and final are Sunday at 6:30 p.m. (Paramount+) and 9 p.m. (CBSSN) respectively.
(Yes, that’s three Union alumni on the broadcast team — Davies, Onyewu and Edu — for U.S. games that could feature up to four area natives: Downingtown’s Zack Steffen, Hershey’s Christian Pulisic, Medford’s Brenden Aaronson, and Bear, Del.,’s Mark McKenzie.)
But that’s just one piece of CBS’ soccer offering this summer. There are NWSL games on CBS Sports Network and Paramount+, the debut of Brazil’s league on Paramount+, and the return of Argentina’s league from a pandemic-enforced stoppage.
Later this year, Paramount+ will add Italy’s Serie A (with games on TV, too) and Coppa Italia; the Asian Football Confederation’s continental club and national team competitions, including World Cup qualifying; and the new UEFA Europa Conference League for men’s clubs.
There will also be the next stages of Concacaf men’s World Cup qualifying, including six U.S. national team road games.
From zero to 2,000
Add everything up, and CBS will broadcast more than 2,000 games across 16 competitions this year, using two TV channels and a subscription streaming platform.
“We’re using all of these platforms to promote, to program, and to showcase the world’s most popular game,” McManus said, a phrase that would have sent shockwaves around the industry in the past.
He knows it, too. Because the story here isn’t just how much soccer CBS has acquired. It’s that for decades the network did nothing with the sport.
When CBS’ flagship broadcast channel aired the first game of last summer’s NWSL Challenge Cup, it was the first outdoor soccer game there since the old North American Soccer League’s 1976 Soccer Bowl. Saturday’s game will be the ninth on the broadcast channel in 12 months. The only soccer on CBSSN before the NWSL arrived was a brief dalliance with the modern-day NASL in 2016.
“It’s one of the great accomplishments that I can remember at CBS Sports, the way we ramped up as quickly as we did,” McManus said. “It’s been a really, really satisfying journey for us.”
McManus has done his own share of ramping up. Long fluent in the ways of Augusta National and the NFL commissioner’s office, he has learned a lot about the world’s game.
“The soccer fan is among the most discerning fans in the overall sports landscape,” McManus said. “If you had asked me a year ago whether CBS Sports was going to be a major force in the world of international soccer, I probably would have said I’m not sure. But, in less than a year, we have become a must-have destination for both casual soccer fans and the hardcore fans who follow the sport every single day.”