The all-too-brief era of Turner Sports broadcasting the UEFA Champions League appears to be over.
According to Sports Business Journal, Turner has made the decision to opt out of their Champions League deal, which ran through the 2020-21 campaign. Turner reportedly had a clause in their contract to opt out of the deal, and they exercised that opt-out last week.
Notably, this isn’t just for the 2020-21 season – Turner’s opt-out will also affect the remainder of the paused 2019-20 campaign, which still includes the second legs of four Round of 16 matches, the quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final. The quarters and semis have been cut from two legs to one, with those six matches and the final all set to be held at a neutral ground in Portugal in August. However, UEFA could still ask Turner to air the rest of this year’s tournament.
As for the 2020-21 season, and (potentially) the rest of 2019-20, there are several possible suitors. CBS Sports will take over the Champions League starting in the fall of 2021, and could conceivably jump on board a year early. NBC is a natural fit, given their Premier League commitment. ESPN is also a fit through ESPN+, which is cornering the market on international soccer rights. DAZN and Amazon could also be options. Fox, the prior home of the Champions League in the US, has also been mentioned, but given the layoffs that hit the company’s soccer staff this week, I’d think that might be somewhat unlikely.
The first year of Turner’s Champions League coverage did not receive the most positive feedback. Right off the bat, fans were rubbed the wrong way when Turner dumped the entire UEFA Europa League (aside from the final) behind the B/R Live paywall, along with a majority of the group stage matches. They hired Steve Nash (yes, the basketball player) as an analyst, and he did not receive great acclaim for his work (especially when Turner let him and Stu Holden call a Tottenham-Barcelona match). There was less criticism over this season of Turner’s Champions League coverage, but that’s mainly because it was dialed back and less over the top rather than actively better.
All in all, I think soccer broadcasters can learn a lot from what Turner did with the Champions League. Namely, broadcasters shouldn’t paywall more matches than they’re making available on traditional cable, they shouldn’t hire soccer fans as analysts instead of hiring soccer analysts, and they shouldn’t completely ignore one of the two major UEFA club tournaments that they’re paying for. Unfortunately, CBS plans on paywalling most of their Champions League matches next fall on CBS All-Access, ESPN would likely paywall most matches on ESPN+ if they win the 2020-21 rights, NBC would probably do the same with NBC Sports Gold and/or Peacock, and DAZN and Amazon don’t have cable channels to throw matches on. Nothing is perfect, but hopefully they at least learn from Turner’s presentation and don’t make the same mistakes.