'They want an element of what we have on CBS in England': Europe takes notice of U.S. Champions League coverage

During a conference call with media ahead of CBS Sports’ broadcast of Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, Pete Radovich, the show’s coordinating producer, was asked how the presence of Manchester City and Inter Milan in the showcase match might affect ratings compared to last year’s superclubs Real Madrid and Liverpool, which set a new U.S. average record of 2.76 million viewers.

And, the reporter added, how confident are you that CBS can beat Spanish-language counterpart Univision’s numbers again, as it did in 2022?

“Well, I don't produce for numbers, we produce for just a good show,” said Radovich after a pregnant pause, seemingly taking some measure of umbrage at the question, though he provided an in-depth response nonetheless. It was an uncharacteristic moment of awkwardness.

And true to form, it did not last long with analysts Thierry HenryMicah Richards and Jamie Carragher, a crew known for their on-air levity, and host Kate Abdo, who flanked Radovich.

“Will you be watching? Will you be watching CBS?” interjected Richards to the reporter.

Absolutely, he responded.

“Exactly,” said Richards, a former Premier League and Serie A standout with City, Aston Villa and Fiorentina. “So what do you think about the numbers? Let me turn it back to you, because we've done our job. I mean, we started from the ground all the way up. We must be one of the most talked-about shows in the world – Pete’s being very modest there.”

“Preach Micah, preach! Preach!” joked Radovich.

“We’ve been doing our thing and more,” added Richards with a wide grin, “so when you talk about numbers, we’re only going one way, baby!”

Even with nary a television camera in sight, it was a vivid encapsulation of what’s made CBS’s Champions League broadcasts such a success since the network acquired the U.S. rights three years ago.

Gathering luminary ex-players with polished analytical chops, giving them the freedom to riff, emote and cut up while the accomplished Abdo keeps the proceedings on schedule: UEFA Champions League Today has connected with U.S. audiences already widely enamored with Inside the NBA, the freewheeling basketball program that’s set the contemporary standard for studio sports shows.

“To me, working on the show with Pete in front of an American audience and almost catering for them in a way, it is different from what I've been used to in the UK. It's a lot more lighthearted,” said Carragher. “[It’s] a lot more serious [when] I’ve worked for Sky.

“The feedback I get, even from people working in television, not just supporters or viewers, is that they want an element of what we have on CBS in England a lot more now. I think there is a push to do that, I think to make things maybe not as serious, not as sort of black and white about big, strong opinions. I think that’s needed, we have that on the CBS show as well, but we also enjoy ourselves.”

Henry stressed the importance of balance.

“I like to laugh, as you guys know,” said the French legend. “But when we can also address proper subjects and also touch people with it, and talk about it, and show the human side of a player or be vulnerable sometimes, even on air, whether it's about laughing or about being serious, I think that's just so important. Because at the end of the day, we're also there to educate people, and make them understand the game. And I'm not saying that because I'm talking about the U.S. audience, also – wherever in the world, that's what you're trying to do.”

The presentation and consumption of the world’s game in the United States has all too often been viewed with mild curiosity or outright mirth in Europe. As the likes of Bob BradleyJesse Marsch and, yes, the fictitious Ted Lasso have learned, the way Americans watch, think and talk about soccer tends to be a subject for comedians, not media executives or producers, across the Atlantic.

That appears to be changing with UEFA Champions League Today, thanks to the success of CBS Sports in pushing out particularly poignant or hilarious moments from the show on social media available for viewing around the world.

“People are very aware of our show outside of America,” said Radovich. “That's been the most jarring thing for me, as an American living in America. Of course, I'm in England a lot, in London for the studio, but being in Italy, and seeing people aware and seeing people come up to these guys … seeing Italians – like, Italian journalists – actually coming up to these guys and saying they want to take a picture, they love CBS Golazo, is wild.”

Speaking to Awful Announcing in April, Abdo alluded to “a dryness to the European model” and admitted that “in the UK particularly, we’re extremely snobby about soccer and especially about Americans in soccer.” Perhaps it’s key, then, that CBS has lined up such an all-star cast of distinguished European figures to headline their coverage.

“Sky actually could have had all of us at some stage,” said Richards. “So for Pete to bring us all together – and the credibility of, ‘Look, Jamie and Thierry won Champions League, Thierry’s one of the greatest players to ever play football.’ So people are always intrigued, that's the first thing. 

“People go like, ‘What's it like working with Jamie Carragher, he looks like he's having a lot more fun on your show? Or Kate Abdo, she speaks five languages, she's so brilliant, isn't she – but she needs to stop taking the mick out of you!’ That's what I get a lot. ‘Thierry Henry, I love his analysis, and I like the fact that he bounces off Jamie when they're on the big screen.’

“When we're doing punditry, it's like we're allowed to express ourselves in every way. So if it's serious stuff, whether it's racism stuff, or sexist stuff, we go really hard on that. If it's fun, we go all the way. But we can go between the both, and I think that's why it's been received so well.”

It may seem improbable to anyone who marveled at his artful exploits on the pitch with France, Arsenal, FC Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls. But Henry alleges that he now gets more comments from strangers on his CBS work than the goals he scored as a player.

“Above all, I love the fact that everyone, everyone sees the show,” said the retired striker, “because everyone who now stops me in the street, they don't want to talk about my career – which I may be sad about, but they talk about the show. That speaks volumes for me, because I used to get, ‘oh my god, that goal,’ now they talk about the show. So that tells you a lot about how the situation is.”

CBS’s crew are broadcasting from on site at Ataturk Olympic Stadium on Saturday, and the network is clearly excited to have procured field-side placement in Istanbul this year. A 90-minute pregame show, once practically unthinkable for any soccer product on U.S. network television, should give their personalities ample bandwidth for banter and insight alike.

“The biggest learning thing for me has been that the closer we can be to the players, closer we can be to the pitch, the more interactive the viewing experience is going to be. So the thing I’m most excited about is having these guys pitch-side on Saturday,” said Radovich. “That’s what people are tuning in for; they want to be part of the action. And through our talent, I feel like through our people on camera, they're going to feel close to the action.”

Noted Henry: “Pete said, if you can educate and entertain, you win. And that's damn right.”

9 comments about "'They want an element of what we have on CBS in England': Europe takes notice of U.S. Champions League coverage".
  1. R2 Dad, June 9, 2023 at 7:26 p.m.

    Sky is stuck with those two cut-ups Souness and Keane--a laugh a minute those two are. The Brits can keep all their "serious" football analysis blah blah. It's like watching paint dry. Am glad Henry et al can choose how and when to dig deeper. Abdo is the glue--too bad we don't get her for US WC coverage this summer.

  2. Ben Myers, June 10, 2023 at 12:16 p.m.

    The quality of Fox soccer commentators pales in contrast to this crew.

  3. humble 1, June 10, 2023 at 12:22 p.m.

    Not a big fan of the Paramount/CBS show here.  Kate did the WC.  Was not a big fan of that either.

  4. Tom Petersen, June 10, 2023 at 12:48 p.m.

    I'm an Arsenal fan but don't enjoy Thierry's analysis. Michah is too much of a cut up and Kate makes too many mistakes. I turn on games when they start on CBS and off when they end. I'll watch NBC all day though. This being said, I love that we can watch as much soccer as we want these days so kudos to CBS for airing it. And for fans of this crew, glad you enjoy it so much.

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, June 12, 2023 at 10:36 a.m.

    I'm Mostly with you Tom; 
    But, it Beats "Nothing"
    Would like to see more "Video" analysis of what Teams are Doing/Going to be Doing during the Game.
    Less Narcisistic Blah, Blah,... 
    I don't see why we Couldn't get a USA Female to Lead the Group..???

  6. John Bauman, June 10, 2023 at 1:33 p.m.

    Yes maybe, but-  the US should learn how to video the MLS matches  by watching how the English PL does it!  Oue vidros are deplorable.  Lacking in many wYA.

  7. R2 Dad replied, June 14, 2023 at 12:35 p.m.

    Is this what we get when MLS hire NFL producers for MLS telecasts? It's all head shots and nonsense in the stands and sidelines/duggout, instead of panning the field ahead of and behind play to catch what is happening.

  8. Ian Plenderleith, June 16, 2023 at 3:52 a.m.

    I've caught a fair bit of the CBS Champions League coverage this year, and contrasting it with German/UK TV coverage... well, you people are very lucky. I love the fact that everyone seems to be having a good time, while watching sport - just imagine! It actually lifts my mood watching this crew. Some German coverage is moving in the right direction, though, with Christoph Kramer and Almuth Schult both a bresh of fresh air - intelligent, opinionated without being jerks, and also very sharp and funny.

  9. Santiago 1314 replied, June 16, 2023 at 11:46 a.m.

    Careful Ian,

    Your probably Breaking some Kind of EU Law by watching CBS in Europe... ^_~

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