The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and A+E Networks on Thursday announced an historic broadcast partnership that gives A+E Networks an equity stake in the league and greatly expands broadcast access for fans.
Lifetime, part of the A+E Network, will become an official sponsor and broadcast partner of the league in a three-year deal, beginning this April. With this deal, for the first time in NWSL’s history, a league game will be on TV every weekend of the season. The NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime will air every Saturday at 1 p.m. PT, with a pre-game show airing 30 minutes prior to the match.
Meanwhile, a new joint venture between A+E and the league, NWSL Media, will act as the media and commercial arm of the NWSL — overseeing all global broadcast and sponsorship rights. NWSL Media will manage the live streaming of all matches, ensuring consistency across the league while expanding access to pre- and post-game content.
“We are on a journey to establish a sustainable, permanent soccer league in the United States and Canada,” NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said at a press conference announcing this partnership. “It’s a transformational day for our league as we announce a partnership with A+E Networks.”
In previous years, the league required teams to stream games on YouTube, which was free and available in countries outside the United States. Broadcast quality was mixed, with some teams struggling to provide consistent, high-definition streams.
NWSL Media is currently negotiating with potential partners to stream the games not broadcast on Lifetime, so a lot still remains up in the air. However, in Thursday’s press conference, the league reinforced its commitment to accessibility and said that games will be streamed globally for free, and archived online afterward.
The new venture also will manage all digital assets for the NWSL, including a re-designed league website, a new NWSL app on iOS and Android, and the league’s social media platforms.
“This partnership is not only tremendously significant in the continued growth of the NWSL, but representative of how far the league has come in four years and where it can go in the future,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati.
This is a unique and significant partnership for the league. One could argue that the last three seasons had TV deals, but that would be a stretch. ESPN streamed playoff games in 2014, while FOX Sports took advantage of the record number of viewers watching the Women’s World Cup and aired playoff matches and a few league games late in the 2015 season. Last year was the first time a TV deal was announced before the season began, but again it was limited to matches after the Rio Olympics.
Having a broadcast partner with so much invested in the league — even a nontraditional one that isn’t known for sports — could prove to be a smart move. Getting sports fans to Lifetime may be a challenge, but there’s no denying the network has money and a powerful brand. How will this unfold? Only time will tell.