Turner Sports began its much-anticipated era of broadcasting the UEFA Champions League and Europa League on TNT with the UEFA SuperCup. The first game televised was the SuperCup between last season's Champions League and Europa League winners, Real Madrid and city rival Atlético.
The game was also streamed on B/R Live, a new subscription streaming platform run by Turner sub-brand Bleacher Report. That part of the rights deal is why Turner's coverage has been much-anticipated — and for some fans, much-dreaded.
Turner is only putting 48 of the over 340 games across the Champions League and Europa League on traditional, linear television: 46 Champions League games (including the final), the Europa League final and the SuperCup. That is a dramatic decrease from previous rightsholder Fox, which televised 146 Champions League games and 205 Europa League games last season. It's also far less than what Spanish-language broadcaster Univision will put on its television channels this year: 97 Champions League games and over 70 Europa League games.
But there are a few twists that Turner aims to use in its favor. One is that while almost all of Univision's streams require a cable or satellite TV subscription — and there's no authentication deal with Comcast — B/R Live's streaming can be purchased on its own. It includes every Champions League and Europa League game, even those on TV.
Another is that B/R Live's subscription streaming package costs far less than Fox's did: $9.99 per month or $79.99 per season, compared to $19.99 per month or $139.99 a season. (Fox's platform still costs that, even without the Champions League).
There's also an option that Fox and other TV networks have never offered with soccer, or other sports: You can buy the stream of an individual contest for $2.99. Turner is putting a lot of emphasis on the single-game option as it tries to grow the Champions League's audience in the United States.
"You've got all sorts of different constituencies here," Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio said, from traditional TV viewers to "some who claim to be be cord-cutters that are still using their parents' logins to authenticate, and everything in between. But no doubt we've got a generation of people who are getting way more used to subscribing to streaming products."
It all makes for a noble experiment — and it will say some things about just how many cord-cutting soccer fans there really are in America.
"We understand the tradition of people watching and consuming sports," Turner Sports chief content officer Craig Barry said. "We're not trying to re-invent the wheel, and that's important. We're just trying to be more creative with the spokes."
They're also trying to be pragmatic.
"There's an additional 12 games a week that we don't have the real estate for on the traditional network," Barry said. "We've chosen to put them on B/R Live to create a product for the consumer where they can watch on demand."
What will you see on studio shows? They aren't branded as "The Champions League on TNT," like the NBA is. Instead, Bleacher Report's soccer brand — B/R Football, officially — is front and center.
Soccer diehards will get their share of traditional analysis (and games will sound very traditional, with world feed announcers on the calls). But you'll also see an emphasis on presenting fans' experiences on site to viewers at home. Fernando Perez, a former Major League Baseball player and longtime soccer fan who has worked for MLB Network and Vice, will travel across Europe to tell fans' stories at games.
"I think that we're going to have plenty of aspects of our coverage that will feel very known and comfortable and traditional, and are going to rely on the great talent that we've hired in Kate and Stu and Tim," Finocchio said. "There are aspects of Bleacher Report and our voice that we do think are maybe more relatable to a U.S. audience without dumbing down the content for a hardcore audience in any way."
That is a delicate balance to strike, and the soccer audience is notoriously judgmental. Finocchio thinks his team — including Gaby Kirschner, one of the top curators in the soccer social media sphere — can succeed. It helps that while Turner is blazing a new trail in some ways, their great coverage of the star-studded NBA offers some templates. So does Bleacher Report's history of soccer storytelling.
"We also have incredible knowledge and data about what stories and what graphical treatments and what superstars and what young stars the Champions League audience in the United States is looking forward to learning more about," Finocchio said. "Ultimately, we want to make more fans feel a stronger attachment and more emotionally engaged in this upcoming season of the Champions League. And as we well know in the United States, sometimes that comes through deeper attachment to, and affinity for, particular clubs. And especially for young sports fans in the United States these days, as has happened in the NBA, often times that affinity happens at more of a player level."
That's certainly true. One needs only look at the explosion of interest in Juventus when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo as proof. Lionel Messi has his legions too, and Kylian Mbappé is rocketing up the charts after becoming a star at the World Cup.
Will Turner's efforts to increase European soccer's resonance here succeed? And more importantly, will they get you to spend money on streaming along the way?
It's time to find out.