After years of under-deserved coverage in the United States, CBS and Paramount+ have raised the bar for Serie A broadcasting in their first season as league rights holders.
It’s often said that it’s not what you do, but how you do it, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to the unique and endeavoring coverage that CBS has brought to Serie A this season.
From a talent perspective, the network has hired veteran analysts that have been synonymous with calcio commentary over the years as well as newer names who clearly love and grew up with the league, which makes for an ideal mix of familiarity and novelty. More importantly, it shows that CBS is committed to investing in a league that hasn’t been given its due in the age of modern media.
If you grew up watching Italian football in the 1990s like I did, then you know CBS’s Serie A coverage is quite revolutionary. Up until recently, the only way to watch the league was by mounting a humongous satellite dish and figuring out how to hook up the RAI International channel. Or if you were a young kid growing up in New Jersey, maybe you just waited until 11 a.m. every Sunday for the feature match, hoping that at least if your team wasn’t the one picked, then the squilli di tromba would sound, and the scene would cut to your team scoring.
The grainy, old school feed remained the same up until the mid 2010s. As the English Premier League, and even American soccer became much more refined in its broadcasts, Serie A was viewed — in more ways than one — as a second-hand product.
A true diamond in the rough, it’s for this very reason that there have been a slew of international investors in Italian soccer over the last decade. To date, eight out of 20 clubs in the top flight are internationally owned, with all but one of them owned by North Americans. Genoa was purchased by an American investment firm just last week.
In Serie B, Iowa-based Kyle Krause has invested long term into Parma, Brooklyn’s Joe Tacopina purchased SPAL over the summer, and Matt Rizzetta’s North Six group have just closed on a minority stake in Ascoli with an option to become majority shareholder at season’s end, all while having purchased Serie C side Campobasso less than a year ago.
Yet with such attention into the on-pitch product, Serie A entered the current decade without the proper vehicle for its delivery. ESPN+ improved the visual quality to match the times, yet it was a topical presentation, focused solely on the match itself.
— CBS Sports PR (@CBSSportsGang) September 9, 2021
In steps Paramount+, CBS’s over-the-top streaming platform. The network secured the rights to Serie A from ESPN ahead of the 2021-22 season, and will have them until 2023-24. The difference was immediately noticeable.
Not even a record-breaking hurricane in its first week could stop the broadcast, then featuring a brand new studio build-out in Manhattan. CBS brought on a cast composed of ex-players such as Giuseppe Rossi, Serie A personality Marco Messina, and the backbone of league commentary, Matteo Bonetti and Andres Cordero.
Twitter and group chats were buzzing on matchday one, with content rivaling if not surpassing the presentation of the EPL: pre- and post-match discussions, halftime analysis, and even field segments. More than just factual relaying of information, the analysts brought a lighthearted air alongside true nuts-and-bolts commentary.
The first field segment opens with a shot Sergio Leone would have been proud of, capturing Venice’s aquatic charm as Aaron West met with American teenage international Gianluca Busio to discuss life in the fashion-forward city.
On top of its matchday coverage, CBS has introduced a Serie A studio show, Calcio e Cappuccino, which runs Sundays at 11 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. ET. In addition to featuring the traditional highlights, analysis, and interviews seen in other similar shows, Calcio e Cappuccino emphasizes Italian football culture both on and off the pitch.
I was able to catch up with West and Messina to chat not only about where Serie A had come from, but where it’s about to go.
Urban Pitch: Marco, since a teenager you’ve been supporting the growth of the league. What makes CBS different from past platforms and content providers?
Marco Messina: For the first time ever, we have a pre -and post-game Serie A show and not just the match itself.
Italian soccer in this country has taken a journey. At first we watched it on the grainy RAI International, then we had BeIN Sports who would show MotoGP on TV over a Serie A match, and their website didn’t work. Then we went to ESPN, which was refreshing because finally ESPN+ had every game and we could watch the match fairly easily, but they never created any storytelling content around the league itself. Now with CBS we are taking things to that next level — finally there’s programming for hardcore Serie A fans to enjoy, something I never remember seeing in this country before.
It makes me very proud because as a young Serie A fan who grew up in this country, I’d see Premier League shows and be jealous, so now to be at the forefront of this journey with the thought in the back of my head that we are helping to shape younger fans while also giving Serie A fans what they’ve long deserved is something special.
Aaron, how is this different from other roles you’ve worked in the industry? What makes CBS’s coverage unique?
I think the best way to say it is [CBS senior creative director] Pete Radovich has a very clear vision, but it’s collaborative. Some people will say, “Hey, you know soccer! Go and learn everything about Serie A in two weeks.”
But what CBS has done a great job of is going and getting people who live and breathe Serie A, so it’s not like they have to learn it. They’ve lived their whole lives loving this league, so there’s a real passion and deep knowledge base throughout everyone who is covering it.
It’s going to get people that know the league well and might not be completely known, and I think Radovich has a good eye for talent. Marco’s been doing his thing for IFTV for a while, he’s got incredible energy and real knowledge and love for the league — you can see that on TV.
Christine Cupo left finance to cover soccer, because she wanted to cover soccer! We’ve got guys like Mike Grella who have real experience, who is Italian-American who knows the league and grew up watching it. I think it’s a bunch of people that genuinely grew up watching and love this league, like Matteo Bonetti and Dre Cordero.
It’s people who care about it and want it to be good as consumers and not just people who work in this industry — people who care about the league in general.
It’s time to take the satellite off the roof, and enjoy our cannoli and espresso knowing we now have the respect and attention we deserve.