NWSL Makes the Deal: Breaking Down the New TV Rights
The NWSL has a new home!
CBS and Twitch will be the exclusive provider of National Women's Soccer League games on their national broadcasts and through their streaming service CBS All Access. Certain games will also be provided for free through the video game streaming site Twitch. The announcement is a major boon for the league which just a year ago struggled for exposure after a successful World Cup and settled for streaming games on Yahoo! Sports.
The deal itself is an interesting one and shows just how much investment a network like CBS has in soccer. In the past, they have shown little to no interest, sticking mostly to American football as their primary sports partners. Recently though CBS has purchased the US rights for both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League starting next season, throwing the network into the mix as one of the more prominent broadcasters of the game in the United States. With the inclusion of the NWSL in their lineup, CBS will bolster their football footprint by becoming the broadcasting partner of one of the most established women's leagues in the world.
All of this is a far cry from where the league was just two seasons ago. A deal with A&E to air games on Lifetime appeared like a strong opportunity but turned sour rather quickly. Audiences weren't accustomed to sports on that network and both parties seemed eager to break the agreement early. This current deal with CBS is one that is far more relevant in the sports landscape and could finally be the platform that the league has been looking for.
What's the Deal?
CBS Sports has agreed to deliver 87 games across multiple platforms including CBS, CBS Sports Network and CBS All Access. The season opener and Championship game have been slotted for national broadcasts with more potentially on the horizon. The playoff semi-finals will air on CBS Sports, keeping a majority of major games for the league available through terrestrial airwaves.
24 additional games will be streamed on Twitch, the video game streaming service. Over the years Twitch has found itself moving away from streaming games and more towards live streams and sports entertainment. Their closest deal of this sort is with Impact Wrestling which airs a weekly show just 24 hours after the cable show airs each Tuesday.
How Does it Compare to Other US Soccer TV Deals?
The United States is drowning in soccer coverage with ESPN, Fox, NBC, BeIN Sports and DAZN all having a stake in showing leagues from around the world. No deal being more lucrative than the one between NBC Sports and the English Premier League. The numbers were a staggering $250 million for three seasons, which was then extended to the end of 2021. The network supports the league by offering streams of every game as well as promotion across other networks.
Domestic soccer, however, sees far less investment from broadcasters. Still seen as an upstart effort, Major League Soccer has a deal with both ESPN and Fox Sports totaling $90 million per season until 2022. Several games each week are showcased and out-of-market fixtures are shown on ESPN+, the streaming service which now houses MLS Live.
While there is no reason to expect the money from CBS to equal that from ESPN and Fox, their coverage should be similar, if not better, than that of MLS. The NWSL will feature prominently on network television with a significant presence on CBS All Access. Currently, CBS All Access houses exclusive shows such as Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek Picard. The inclusion of UEFA competitions next year should also bolster the exposure of the women's game with crossover potential being high.
Overall, the NWSL will have better exposure than any other women's sports league in US history. The lack of other sports coverage on CBS should also be a positive, as the league should not be lost in the shuffle during busier times of the year. Even though the rights fees won't generate a large dollar amount, it is enough to push the NWSL into the forefront of the domestic game and stabilize them as a force in the game for years to come.