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.