Turner could hardly have asked for a better opening to the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday. Lionel Messi was in action, as was Neymar and World Cup star Kylian Mbappe, along with two of England’s biggest clubs, Tottenham and Liverpool. The broadcasts—two each day on TNT with the rest exclusive to the B/R Live service—have plenty of room for improvement. But overall the company’s jump into the world of soccer and streaming also went about as well as you could reasonably expect. Let’s get into it.
SO, ABOUT THAT PAYWALL
TNT is airing 100 fewer Champions matches than FOX Sports showed last year (46 vs. 146). The rest are available on B/R Live, either for $2.99/match, $9.99/month or $79.99/year. That’s obviously annoying. In fact, right now it’s probably the biggest third-party sports package exclusively tied to a digital subscription service. But there’s a reason for that. Because the games are played in the middle of the American workday, a streaming solution built around mobile viewing makes some sense. Plus, while growing, soccer is still more of a hardcore attraction than a mass market play. Turner has also been clear about its plans since it acquired the rights last year. B/R Live was built to host these games; the games were purchased to launch the service.
If they’re going to demand our money, at least it’s easy to give. Sign-up is straightforward. The per-match pricing option is appreciated. The viewing experience is simple but solid. (Though this is Turner Sport’s first direct-to-consumer product, it has experience running NBA League Pass.) That said, customers today are also used to a free trial, and B/R’s five-minute preview feels a bit skimpy. I think offering the service for free through each team’s first game would’ve been a nice touch and gone a long way for a new competitor in a crowded streaming field.
(Univision, meanwhile, is airing 97 games in Spanish on its linear channels.)
HOW IT ACTUALLY LOOKS
In a word (which is not actually a word)? Internet-y. Fans watching on B/R Live will get the same experience as cable viewers, which is nice, but largely is a result of how unadorned the TNT offering is. The network is pulling the UEFA-provided “world feed,” adding B/R Live and TNT logos to the top-right, and sending it out. Many observers will prefer the experienced soccer announcers over whichever Americans TNT might have replaced them with, but using the world feed comes with limitations. If you tuned in without knowing better, it would not be clear that the televised match was just one of many going on, and finding those other games might be a chore.
Hopefully TNT can figure out a creative way to keep fans updated of other scores (while pitching the streaming service as the way to watch). For now, the digital experience actually wins in this area, as scores are easily accessible, or can be turned off in “spoiler-free mode.” However, watching online still comes with the occasional lagging, skipping and freezing issues that no company has yet totally eliminated.
WHY STEVE NASH IS TALKING SOCCER
Yes, that Steve Nash. The former NBA star and his new employer will surely receive ridicule for him breaking down a different sport, but after one day, it’s clear why he’s there. For one, he seems to have the chops. (Nash owns a stake in Vancouver’s MLS team and his brother played for the Canadian national team.) I’m no Grant Wahl, but I was impressed with Nash’s ability to dive into game strategy and critique coaches or players when necessary. What I enjoyed most from the 44-year-old was his enthusiasm when reacting to a marvelous move.
His energy was particularly valuable on pre- and post-game shows that were sometimes lacking in it. The studios—one in Los Angeles and one in Atlanta—have a new-age vibe, with B/R branding instead of TNT and cement and wood-style backdrops. The shows work in laid-back chit-chat mode, but could do more building off the vibrancy of the matches they surround. Again, I was also hoping for more coverage of the matches not on TNT, though I did appreciate a segment dedicated to how young Americans fared in their games.
Nash turns out to be a Tottenham supporter, and his disappointment was used one too many times as a way to jolt the production with some emotion. Wednesday, Tim Howard will also be on hand, providing another recognizable face for casual fans. But Tuesday, there might have been few people better suited for his role than Nash.