August 19 – The US women’s national team may hold the attention and hearts of the nation but their women’s professional league has never enjoyed anything like the same profile. A new deal with ESPN could be a step towards changing that.
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was half way through its season when it broke for the World Cup and the triumphant march of the US women to the title in France.
With the profile of women’s game at an all-time high, ESPN picked up the broadcast rights to 14 of the remaining matches of the NWSL’s 2019 season. Now the broadcaster has gone a step deeper, picking up the all the 2019 rights to the league worldwide.
ESPN will air 30 regular-season matches internationally in 2019, most of the league’s remaining fixtures this season.
The domestic deal with ESPN originally saw eight matches on ESPNews, while six – including the league play-off semi-finals and championship game – available on ESPN2. All 14 games in the first deal also stream live on the ESPN app.
The increased exposure of the league via ESPN’s international distribution will widen the nine-team league’s audience globally as it competes with the fast developing European women’s leagues.
“This is an important step for NWSL to strengthen the league’s reach through ESPN’s international network,” NWSL president Amanda Duffy said in a statement issued by the league. “Expanding the network’s distribution internationally will continue to elevate the profile and visibility of NWSL around the world.”
In Europe women’s teams are generally associated with established men’s professional clubs. With recognised club names and professional infrastructure in place, the pace of growth has been impressive with seven of the eight quarter finalists at the France 2019 World Cup being from Europe.
In the US the women’s teams are standalone and have to date neither the benefit of association with or finance from the big MLS investor groups. The NWSL is only in its fourth season and at just nine teams has focussed on stabilisation of a professional infrastructure rather than expansion.
The ESPN deal and the higher profile it brings may encourage more investors into the club game. Certainly it is hoped it will improve fan attendances at league matches.
“As a brand, ESPN leads the way in delivering world-class soccer content to fans around the world,” Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president of programming and acquisitions said. “We are thrilled to be able to leverage ESPN’s global reach to bring NWSL’s regular-season and playoff matches to soccer audiences worldwide.”
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