NWSL Looks to Carve Itself a Spot on Broadcast TV with New Media Rights Deal
NWSL signed major media rights deals with four broadcasters through the 2027 season, and it’s overwhelmingly good for the league.
by Bart Keeler
Ahead of its championship weekend, the National Women’s Soccer League announced four domestic media partnerships, running 2024 through 2027. Now, the league will air 118 matches per season on CBS, ABC/ESPN, Prime Video and ION Network. The deal is worth $60 million each year, according to The Athletic.
This has the potential to position the league as the most-watched domestic soccer league in the U.S. MLS moved away from broadcast to almost exclusively streaming, almost fully behind a paywall. NWSL, on the other hand, is banking on its four media partners to want to make the league successful and promote the plethora of world-class players it has.
From the league’s release:
“Beginning in 2024, 118 matches will be distributed across the following partner platforms:
The NWSL will begin each regular-season weekend with Friday night matches on Prime Video.
Each Saturday night that follows will include a double-header on Scripps-owned ION network, available over-the-air in 123 million homes.
A package of regular season matches will air on The CBS Television Network and stream live on Paramount+, with additional matches airing on CBS Sports Network.
ESPN will air a package of matches across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes (Spanish). All NWSL matches on ESPN platforms and on ABC will stream live on ESPN+ in English and Spanish. The package also includes English, Spanish and Portuguese-language rights in Latin America.”
The NWSL playoffs will feature on all four platforms. CBS will continue to air the championship game, committing to a primetime slot for the next four years.
Random note: Ion is the current name for Pax TV, which carried WUSA matches for two seasons.
The biggest win for the league is ION’s Saturday doubleheaders, which it will lead with a studio show. This puts the league on the same channel at the same time each week, hopefully making it easier to find the league that has struggled to find consistent match times.
Prime Video’s primetime Friday slot is something MLS fans have asked their league to do for years. Now, NWSL has claimed that window, which also gives its local fans at least three chances of an evening kickoff each week.
Soccer fans continue to be some of the more likely cable cutters, the media package will be available to those who subscribe to the major streaming TV providers. All three of YouTube TV, Hulu and Fubo have CBS Sports Network and the standard ESPN, ABC and CBS. Unfortunately, Hulu+ Live TV doesn’t carry Ion, but the other two do.
The three standard time slots for the league each week will help the league establish itself. On Paramount+/CBS/CBS Sports Network, the league never nailed down consistent start times despite having control over them. Creating scheduled programming is good for the league, putting it on a broadcast network sweetens this opportunity.
Personally, I’m a bit bummed we’re losing a central streaming hub for the league. It was fantastic for both fans of individual clubs and general WoSo fans in the U.S. However, the money this new structure brings to the league plus the broadcast visibility it will give it outweigh my (and other WoSo fans) preferences.
The dispersed broadcasts, though, may cause some confusion for fans of the individual clubs. Supporters will have to search for their team on one of the potential seven channels/platforms. That said, most WoSo fans know how to find the games they want to watch. The league will have to do a good job communicating the weekly schedule and promoting its programming on each network.
Ultimately, NWSL will now be available to more viewers via broadcast TV, streaming TV, and individual streaming services. The league also found more partners to promote its product and who are invested in its success. Furthermore, the mid-term contracts give NWSL a chance to capitalize on what could be a U.S.-hosted Women’s World Cup in 2027.