Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final (Manchester City vs. Inter Milan, kickoff at 3 p.m. ET) will see a lot of coverage from CBS across various platforms. On CBS Sports Golazo, they’ll start with Morning Footy at noon Eastern, while on broadcast CBS and Paramount+, they’ll have an edition of We Need To Talk with extra soccer coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET. At 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS’ main UEFA Champions League Today studio show will go on the air, and they’ll do prematch, halftime, and post-match coverage (with the pregame and match itself set for broadcast CBS and Paramount+, and the full hour of post-match set for CBS Sports Network and Paramount+).
It’s the second year that Champions League Today will be live at the final. Before last year’s final in Paris, CBS Sports VP of production, senior creative director, and coordinating producer of soccer Pete Radovich said the ability to do a show live from the final “is something you dream of.” On a media Zoom call this week, Radovich said last year was a great experience, but they’re making one notable change based on how that went. That would be moving the show (featuring host Kate Abdo, analysts Thierry Henry, Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards, and pitchside reports from Guillem Balagué and Peter Schmeichel) from high in the stadium to down on the pitch.
“We’ve already done one thing, we moved from the stands to pitchside,” Radovich said. “We had more area to work with up higher, but it felt a little distant. From that standpoint, we’re going to have Kate and the guys on pitch, even closer.”
Radovich said part of that decision is about seeing the way players interact with their show.
“We’ve learned, beyond just from Paris but from the past few weeks, that people are very aware of our show outside of America. That’s 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 Italian journalists come up to these guys and say they want a picture, they love CBS Sports Golazo, is wild. And to see the players come over and talk about the clips.”
He said getting closer to the field also brings the viewing audience in more.
“Paris was great, but the biggest learning thing for me has been the closer that we can be to the players, the closer we can be to the pitch, the more interactive the viewing experience can be. So the thing I’m most excited about is having these guys pitchside. That, to me, is the biggest thing; the closer we can be to the action, the closer we can be to the players, that to me was the biggest learning experience from last year. Last year looked nice from up top, it let you see more of the stadium visually, but at the end of the day, that’s not what people are tuning in for. They want to be part of the action, and I feel like through our people on camera, they’re going to feel close to the action.”
Beyond that, Radovich said the show’s going to largely bring the same balance of serious analysis and levity they often do, which has brought them a lot of positive reviews.
“It’s a little longer than we normally go, but it’s not going to change much more. The setting will be different, we’ll be pitchside as opposed to in the studio in London, but as far as the content and the vibe and sort of the flow of everything we’re doing, it will be the same. If people enjoyed it last year, if people have enjoyed it throughout the year, they’re going to enjoy this one. We’ve got a couple more little things that we’re adding that I don’t want to jinx because they haven’t happened yet, interviews and such, very high-profile interviews.”
There have been some funny moments that weren’t intentional, too, including Abdo misidentifying their network as Fox (a network she also works for) and Carragher’s attempt to pronounce Inter Milan’s full name of “Internazionale”:
Radovich said that latter one was the funniest thing he’s seen on the show.
“It was Internazionale, I just remembered. That was the only time I was in tears in the control room. The Fox thing didn’t bother me, that was funny. The Internazionale thing with the accent and everything, that was just you-had-to-gather-yourself funny. So that was definitely my moment.”
On Carragher’s Scouse accent, Radovich had a great story on that as part of a discussion of how they put this panel together, saying that Carragher only got the job after two of three CBS executives’ wives were able to understand him.
“When we first started, less than three years ago, I think I’ve said this publicly, but this is true. When I first heard that we had a chance of getting this, the next sentence out of my mouth was ‘We need to go get Kate Abdo.’ So Kate was quite literally Day 1 in the plans. After that, because of COVID, we knew we had to do it in Europe because everything was shut down in the summer of 2020 in the U.S., so we knew we had to do it in London. So we started making phone calls, watching tape. We knew we needed people fast, and Roberto Martinez was available, and he brought a lot of what we needed. After that, we needed a bit more on the other side of the entertainment, and Jamie came our way.”
“And Jamie knows the story that basically with his accent, there was a decision to be made for American audiences. So Jeff Gerttula [EVP, digital, CBS Sports and CBS News and Stations], Ben Stauber [senior director of on-air talent, CBS Sports] and I decided that we were going to let our wives decide. So we showed tape of Jamie to our wives that night and asked straight up ‘Do you understand what this man is saying?’ And he got yes to no, on a two to one vote, he made it.”
Radovich said Richards got his role after he saw tape of him on a podcast.
“Micah, we saw some traditional tape of him in a studio, and I told Micah this, he was still relatively new, green, and then just in doing our research, we saw him on a podcast, and he was a completely different person. So I visited with Micah, and said ‘Can we set up a Zoom?’, and basically the first question was ‘We’ve seen you in studio, we’ve seen you on a podcast, can I get the Micah that was on the podcast?’ Because that’s what I wanted. So that was a quick yes. ”
And he said Henry came on board after Martinez left to return to managing, and that actually came as part of the impact of the show.
“When Roberto stepped out and Kate said to me that she ran into Thierry Henry at the Champions League final and he mentioned he loved what we were doing, when Kate tells you that Thierry Henry’s aware of what we’re doing and likes it, of course that’s the next phone call,” Radovich said. “Roberto sort of served as the adult in the room, so with Roberto not there, we needed another adult in the room, so we reached out to Thierry. And it was nice to have a striker, too, because we were very defensive, between Peter [a former keeper] and all of our defenders. We needed someone who was going to score a couple goals. And that’s how it all came together.”
In terms of the actual match coverage Saturday, famed English commentator Clive Tyldesley will provide play-by-play alongside analyst Rob Green, with rules analyst Christina Unkel also contributing as needed. Radovich said Tyldesley has been a perfect fit for CBS’ coverage.
“He’ll be on site, and Clive’s been amazing. He’s amazing to work with, he’s obviously an institution himself. …Having him as part of this crew, I think when you’re putting together the elite talent that we have on this Zoom, you have to stay on that same level. And in the booth, with Clive there, I think we’ve got everything covered. And then you throw in Guillem and Peter Schmeichel. But as far as Clive’s concerned, I don’t want to speak to what this would mean to him, but I just know for us, we’re very excited to have him up there. Given his history and what he’s done in the past, this is pretty cool. If anyone’s ready for a historic moment, it would be him.”
More details on CBS’ UEFA Champions League Final coverage can be found here.