CBS' UEFA Champions League Final coverage.

Saturday will see the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool, and CBS’ studio show UEFA Champions League Today will be on site in Paris for pre-match (beginning at 1:30 p.m. Eastern ahead of a 3 p.m. Eastern kickoff), halftime, and post-match coverage on the CBS network (also streaming on Paramount+). On a media preview call this week, CBS Sports’ coordinating producer of soccer Pete Radovich said this kind of full on-site studio presence for a full-stadium Champions League Final is something they’ve been dreaming of since they took over the competition rights ahead of the 2019-20 season’s summer restart, but pandemic restrictions have made it difficult to do something on this level until now.

“That live feel is something we’ve said from day one, the second they allow us to do it, we’re going to do it. So having this game in Paris, and having Thierry Henry on our desk, to have Liverpool in the game and have Jamie Carragher on our desk, to almost have Manchester City in the game and to have Micah Richards on our desk, obviously it’s something that you dream of when you work in this industry and work in this sport, to be at a Champions League final.”

“And for it to be in Paris, it was just an absolute no-brainer. Once it was announced and moved to Paris, we put all the wheels in motion. And we’ve been waiting for this since day one, which was almost two years ago. This is best-case scenario for us, so we’re over-the-moon excited about this.”

UEFA Champions League Today host Kate Abdo said bringing soccer studio shows to events allows them to relay and key off the on-site energy, something she saw hosting the CONCACAF Nations League finals in Denver last year.

“I think one of the best broadcasts we’ve done as a soccer family at CBS was probably the CONCACAF Nations League finals in Denver, and that was just because we were in the middle of the stadium. We had an incredible position, and the energy was huge, because it was Mexico-United States and those fanbases were both there. So I think that’s going to be really exciting. As a Champions League team, we only got to do it once where we took the main studio out there, where Jamie, Peter and I went to the Atalanta game, and I just think as a live broadcast you always feed off that energy differently, so I’m super excited.”

“There’s nothing you can do that will really transmit that live energy the same way as being there, being on a ground, and I think as a viewer that’s what you always want to feel part of; ‘What is the energy in the stadium, what am I missing out on?’ And the way that we’re able to share that with people is by being at the grounds and bringing it to them in that way.”

The Champions League coverage is part of CBS’ larger soccer portfolio, which now also includes Serie A (beginning this past season). Radovich said he thinks the UEFA Champions League Today team is set now and only focused on improving against themselves, while the new Serie A Calcio E Cappucino studio show is using the Champions League show as a goal to chase.

“For Champions League, I feel like we’ve finally found our group. The team is in place, we’re really happy with the chemistry, and I’d put this show up against any show on sports television in America. …I would put our talent, our announcers, our group, up against anything that’s out there. This crew I feel like is established now, but the bar’s going to just keep getting higher and higher for us, and we’re just going to keep getting better and better. On Serie A, for our first year, going into a league that we’re covering for the first time and starting from scratch, trying to develop chemistry, trying to develop a crew, I’m really pleased with where we landed towards the end of the season. But I think the ceiling is way higher on that show [compared to where it is], and I think going into Year Two, there’s going to be a lot of improvement.”

“For them, the bar is this show, for the Serie A guys, I remind them of how good the Champions League show is, and that’s what they’re chasing. I think this [Champions League] show is chasing itself to try and get better and better, and the Serie A show is chasing this crew. But overall, given the starting of all of this in the middle of a pandemic, starting this when we were basically hands tied behind our back to start…given the circumstances of when we had to start and how we had to start, I’m very pleased, but again, I know that we’re going to get better.”

Abdo said UEFA Champions League Today is some of the best coverage she’s been involved with in her long career across networks, and she thinks it holds up well in comparison to what others are doing. She said it’s also some of the coverage she’s enjoyed working on most.

“I think for a long time in America NBC was seen as the gold standard of what soccer television should look like, and I think that we came in and I feel like we set a different bar. We managed to combine what they do really well, which is a polished, educational, classy broadcast, but also combine that with a sense of humour and just a sense of character that I personally don’t always think is present in those NBC shows. So for me, we set the bar coming into the game pretty quickly. I think that now, if you look at social media reactions or just speak to people in the country, I think a lot of people compare every other broadcast to our broadcast.”

“Considering what a baby we are in the longer scale of things, when you look at the amount of time other networks have been involved in soccer in the United States, I personally feel really proud to have been part of any of this coverage, obviously mostly the CONCACAF coverage and the Champions League coverage, I did a couple of games on Serie A, but not majorly. But for the first time in a long time, I feel really proud of the coverage I’m a part of, because it’s something that I as a fan would want to watch.”

Radovich said he’s pleased with where the show has gotten to, and the goal for them now is just finding ways to top that.

“We’ve set the bar for ourselves, I don’t really compare us to anybody else, I don’t really look at anybody else. But for us, we’ve set the bar to a position where I’m comfortable that we’re doing a good job. Can we get better? It’s like an athlete, you can win a championship, but you don’t take the offseason off because you’ve won. Not that we’ve won anything, but I feel like for a crew that’s done three seasons, two and a half seasons, we’ve set a bar pretty high for ourselves.”

He said one particular thing they’re proud of is the “In The Mixer” segment (which will be featured during Saturday’s coverage), but they’re always looking to find other innovative segments.

“The challenge is how do we make people entertained without going back to the same thing over and over again? ‘In the Mixer’ works really well, it’s a segment that we do really well and we enjoy it, but we’re not going to roll it out every single show. So what other things can we bring into the mix to be informative and entertaining? …But I’m also proud of the fact that a simple segment like ‘In The Mixer’ can do so well and be so well received, when all it is is asking these guys questions. Finding those next two, three segment ideas that really work well and resonate with the audience, that’s the challenge, that’s the bar. I’m never really ever satisfied, so that’s going to be the burning question for me all summer long.”

Radovich said more frequent road trips for the studio show are also something they’re looking at.

“I think if anything the biggest thing is going to be figuring out a way to get on the road more often; for me, that’s kind of the new frontier, because we have been battling COVID. And now, with the final in a full stadium; remember, last year, we did the final, and it wasn’t a full stadium, and we weren’t there, we were in London because of restrictions. Now, knock on wood, it seems like the doors are open to full stadiums and full coverage. I think the next frontier for us is going to be doing road games, taking the studio on the road; go to Germany, go to Barcelona, go to Italy. That, to me, is kind of what the next thing is.”

Radovich said something else that’s helped them is the work of Matt Curtis, a London-based producer he works with on this studio show.

“And I do this show in a coordinating producer role. Matt Curtis is a producer I work with that’s London-based, English-born, English-raised, has worked in English television his whole career. The combination of Matt with his English television background and me with my American television background, us working together, it’s worked really well. Matt keeps us honest on the Xs and Os and the basics and I bring in kind of the American side of things. And we’ve had a great marriage to this point. And now the offseason is ‘How do we get better?’”

He also said a big key to UEFA Champions League Today‘s success to date is the chemistry, which he attributes to the willingness of Abdo and the panelists to not only dish out jokes, but take them.

“I think it’s that no one takes themselves too seriously and everyone can take a little stick. That’s what I find with these shows. I’ve produced other shows, I produced Inside The NFL for over 10 years, I’ve worked with talent on different sports, different types of shows, and the challenge is if you go down this road of having some fun at the expense of one another, [even if] it’s not over the line and personal, not everyone can do that.”

“It’s not for everyone. You have to have a certain confidence and a certain personality, to be made fun of for lack of a better term, on the air, on live television, in front of millions of people. Not everybody’s open to that. This group is. It’s done in a respectful way, it’s done in a fun way, and at the end of the day, everyone here likes each other and respects one another. That’s the biggest thing as far as chemistry goes.”

“It’s like hanging out with your friends, you know which ones you can tweak and which ones you can’t. We have a group of friends that I think you can tweak anybody and you don’t have to worry. I think that’s the key to success: everyone knows we like each other, we all respect one another, but we’re not saving lives here, we’re not doctors, we can have fun at work.”

CBS’ pre-match coverage will start at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday, with kickoff at 3 p.m. Eastern.

[ViacomCBS Press Express]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.