NWSL's ESPN Deal Could Help Raise Profile Of Women's Soccer
ESPN and the NWSL reached a broadcast agreement late last week, and it should "help boost the league’s national exposure" following the USWNT's win in the Women's World Cup, according to Poe & Romero of PRO SOCCER USA. ESPN has the rights to 14 of the remaining NWSL matches during the '19 season. Eight of those matches "will be available on ESPNews, while six will be available on ESPN2." All 14 games will also "stream live on the ESPN app." The NWSL declined to disclose any financial terms of the deal. Games that are not covered by the ESPN family of networks "will continue to [be] streamed" by Yahoo Sports. The NWSL entered this year without a cable agreement after A&E backed out of its broadcasting agreement months before the season opener, and league President Amanda Duffy said that A&E's decision was a "surprise and the league began pushing to negotiate a new television agreement in February" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 7/4). ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus said that the net had been "examining the NWSL property since February." Magnus: "We were operating under the presumption that the women's World Cup would be a big draw, that the U.S. team would do well" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/8). In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tannenwald reported all eight NWSL matches shown on ESPN this season "will be produced on-site at venues, in contrast to the league's usual practice of remote production and calling games off monitors." The broadcast talent "will be announced later" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 7/5).
BIG OPPORTUNITY: THE ATHLETIC's Megan Linehan wrote the NWSL's deal with ESPN "isn't a long term answer," but it "may signal some promise for the league ahead." If the NWSL can "prove its ability to draw viewers for ESPN, there might be room for women's soccer not just on linear channels" in '20 and beyond, but also for "streams on ESPN+ to live alongside MLS, the USL, the U.S. Open Cup and the rest of ESPN's soccer properties." This will "take some investment from ESPN, but if the network does go all-in this season with supporting coverage on their surrounding social and editorial platforms, it could open up additional doors for the NWSL" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/5). In DC, Neil Greenberg wrote the timing of the ESPN partnership was "critical for the NWSL," as the league now gets to "showcase this year's World Cup talent on a wider scale, talent that includes all 23 members" of the USWNT (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 7/4).