Taking a Look at Canadian Champions League Coverage

Another season of Europe’s top club football competition, the UEFA Champions League, is almost done. Only the final (Manchester United vs. Barcelona, May 28 @ 2:30pm ET on Fox) remains. This year brought changes to Champions League coverage in Canada as TSN took over for Sportsnet as the main carrier of games on Tuesday. So, now the question is, did Canadians get a good deal out of Sportsnet selling some matches to TSN and TSN2?

At first thought my answer to that question is no. There have been a few times this year where UEFA Champions League matches have been pushed from TSN to TSN2 because TSN has had curling commitments. While I have no problem with TSN moving soccer to TSN2 in favour of curling, more Canadians had access to these games last year when they aired on Rogers Sportsnet. For much of the season TSN’s studio crew of Vic Rauter and Noel Butler was abysmal at best. Sportsnet’s Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest aren’t much better, but at least they offer some good analysis. TSN’s studio program improved greatly by April when MLS on TSN’s Luke Wileman and Jason deVos were added to the show, joining Butler. Wileman has a great knowledge of European football and deVos is the best analyst in Canada. So, all in all, I’d say I now enjoy TSN’s broadcasts more than Sportsnet’s.

Commentary wasn’t an issue for any of the three networks really. TSN and Sportsnet always picked up the Sky commentary, featuring commentators such as Martin Tyler, Alan Parry, Rob Hawthorne and Bill Leslie. Setanta went with a smattering of different commentary teams depending on the match. For some matches we got a full broadcast from Setanta Ireland, including their single-man commentary crew. For others we got the ITV broadcast, with the likes of Clyve Tyldesley and Peter Drury calling the matches. For others they had the UEFA international commentary feed, which is a few notches below Sky and ITV. Based on this year’s Champions League alone, I’d rate the commentators I heard like this

1. Martin Tyler (Sky Sports)
2. Clyve Tyldesley (ITV)
3. Alan Parry (Sky Sports)
4. Rob Palmer (Sky Sports)
5. Rob Hawthorne (Sky Sports)

I’m very tempted to put Tyldesley ahead of Tyler based on recent calls. Tyler is still the best, but I find he hasn’t been as good since losing his regular co-commentator Andy Gray after Christmas. Meanwhile Tyldesley and his usual co-commentator, Andy Townsend, make up what might be the best broadcast crew in football since Sky’s dismissal of Gray. Sky’s replacements, mostly Ray Wilkins and Alan Smith, just haven’t been anywhere near as good. Wilkins has been hit and miss according to pundits in the United Kingdom. I’ve found him to be mostly miss on the games I’ve heard him. Smith is solid, but he doesn’t seem to be a #1. The underused David Provan continues to be the best Sky co-commentator in my opinion. Graeme Souness, who was pressed into action at the last minute for the first leg of the Schalke-Manchester United match, impressed me a lot.

Overall, I think TSN has the best coverage. Both Setanta and Sportsnet could have great coverage with a few improvements for next season. I’d like to see Setanta use Setanta Ireland or ITV commentary for every match they cover in the future. This could eventually be accomplished by giving them second pick on Tuesday and first pick on Wednesday every week. This won’t work as long as both TSN and Sportsnet are also involved. Setanta also needs to create their own halftime show for when they don’t use the Setanta Ireland feed. At the very least they should try to get a Sky or ITV halftime show. Considering it costs $15 a month to subscribe to Setanta, their coverage should be held to a higher standard than TSN and Sportsnet. The biggest change that Sportsnet needs to make is to use a smaller scorebug. There is no reason for a full-screen banner for a soccer broadcast.


7 thoughts on “Taking a Look at Canadian Champions League Coverage

  1. I agree, although I didn’t like games getting bumped in favor of curling (personal opinion… not the biggest curling fan) the move from Vic Rauter to Luke Wileman and Jason deVos was much needed very smart on the part of TSN (must have listened to the many complaints myself and others made… LOL!!).

    I don’t know if Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen do Champions League coverage but it would be cool to hear them as well, no a necessity but would be interesting.

    • No Phil and Ray don’t do Champions League. I’m not the biggest fan of them to be honest. Phil is probably the best Amercian soccer play-by-play. He would be great on MLS, but I’m not the biggest fan of him on European broadcasts. Hudson is an okay analyst, but his metaphors get a little old after a while.

  2. The best thing would be if TSN/TSN2 only showed the knockout stages of the Champions League, with Setanta also showing the other games during the busy first 6 matchdays. Sportsnet is a second rate channel and always just seems bush league to me for some reason. You are right in that Setanta needs to put on a half time show and the channel is now worth $16.99 which is absolutely ridiculous.

    • I actually would like to see The Score pick up Champions League games, with Setanta acting as a secondary carrier. The only problem would be that TSN has two channels, and The Score only has one. Actually a TSN/Score split where they each get one game each day would be great. It could work something like this
      Tuesday – TSN gets 1st pick, The Score gets 2nd, TSN2 gets 3rd and Setanta gets 4th
      Wednesday – The Score gets 1st pick, TSN gets 2nd, TSN2 gets 3rd and Setanta gets 4th

      They could take turns showing the final, or even better, put it on CTV (although I doubt that would happen). I think The Score would do the best coverage, but unfortunately they only have one channel.

      Setanta still only costs $15 for me on Shaw Direct, but I can’t get the HD version.

  3. $16.99 is the price here in Windsor with no HD either, we only get it in SD.

    Going back to Champions League, I totally agree with a TSN/Score split as The Score has the best analysts in house like James, KJ, Dobby, and they would do an excellent job just like their phenomenal Footy Show Tonight during the World Cup. Unfortunately we’re probably never gonna get it as The Score seems to be getting weaker every year, and it can’t keep up with the two giants.

    A final on CTV one day is not too far fetched as it falls on Saturday afternoon and I bet we will see the day not too far from now.

  4. I’ve been trying to figure out who is carrying the final on May 28th, but can’t find it. Maybe the schedule hasn’t been set yet.

    Any idea? I assume it’ll be TSN, but I’m hoping it’ll be Sportsnet (mostly because Rogers offers their channels in HD by default, whereas it costs extra to get TSN-HD).

    • It will be on both Fox (as in the over-the-air American channel) and Sportsnet. Fox’s coverage is usually better because they use the Sky Sports commentators. Last year Sportsnet didn’t.

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