In an attempt to capitalize on this summer’s World Cup momentum, the National Women’s Soccer League has hired Octagon to help sell its next media rights package.
The league’s terrestrial TV deal with ESPN and digital media deal with Yahoo end Oct. 27 with its championship game in Raleigh, N.C. Any new deal is expected to tie those rights together.
Back in July, with the enthusiasm and interest around women’s soccer after the U.S. Women’s World Cup win, ESPN agreed to carry 14 NWSL games, but did not pay a rights fee. ESPN has told the league it is interested in renewing, though its exclusive negotiating period has expired. The league wants to have a deal wrapped up in the next few months. The new season starts in April.
As the league takes its rights to market, it is counting on the increasing interest around the Women’s World Cup team, as it features 23 players from the winning squad (including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan) and 35 players from other Women’s World Cup teams.
“This is the best women’s soccer in the world with the best players from all over the world,” said Daniel Cohen, Octagon’s senior vice president of global media rights consulting. “Where can you look at the rest of the U.S. broadcast landscape and find the best league in the world?”
Octagon’s media rights consulting business largely has been focused on international markets. The NWSL is significant for Octagon in that it covers the U.S. market.
Said NWSL President Amanda Duffy: “There has been a considerable amount of outreach and interest in the league’s domestic and international media rights this year, and at this juncture, in order to properly assess the domestic and global landscape, we chose to engage an agency that has the knowledge and the experience to help evaluate the opportunities.”
Fox signed a short deal to carry NWSL games after the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup in 2015. ESPN signed a short deal after this year’s win. Cohen said he is looking for a network to sign a longer deal this time.
“We always talk about the need to promote women’s sports,” Cohen said. “Here we are with the best women’s soccer league in the world, and we as a broadcast industry are not getting behind it to promote it.”
Sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch InBev and Nike, have stepped up their support of the league, Cohen said. Part of Octagon’s deal with the league will also see the agency advise the NWSL on sponsorship sales and marketing strategy.
While the U.S. women’s national soccer team is popular and the league has identifiable players, its TV viewership still is small. Cohen will try to convince network executives that it is a league worthy of investment.
“There needs to be those conversations,” Cohen said. “It’s not about just riding the wave from the Women’s World Cup for six months and being done with it. That’s not efficient, and that doesn’t do right by the rights holder.”
To that end, Cohen suggested that the NWSL will be more open to pushing the envelope on TV production and sports gambling.
“We can be a league that does multiple customizable camera angles, where you pick how you’re listening to it or where you’re watching it,” Cohen said. “Let’s put a camera on someone’s shoulder. After, say, Alex Morgan scores a goal, let’s go up to her and ask her a couple of quick questions on camera.”