NWSL Signs Three-Year Deal to Have Games Aired on Lifetime Network

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NWSL Signs Three-Year Deal to Have Games Aired on Lifetime Network

TV deal just one of many parts of new partnership.

The NWSL and A+E Networks announced a remarkable deal on Thursday, ushering in a new phase in the league's development. While fans will likely be most

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The NWSL and A+E Networks announced a remarkable deal on Thursday, ushering in a new phase in the league’s development. While fans will likely be most interested in Lifetime becoming the broadcaster for a weekly NWSL game throughout the season, on Saturday afternoons, complete with a pregame show, there’s far more to the deal that does not make it your typical television contract for a sports league.

A+E Networks have bought an equity stake in the league, so they won’t just be airing a game every week, they’ll also be involved in decision-making and guiding the future of the NWSL itself, alongside the team owners and U.S. Soccer Federation.

Most tangibly, the three-year agreement also includes plans to establish NWSL Media, which will handle finding and maintaining broadcast and sponsorship rights for the league, a revamped NWSLsoccer.com website, new NWSL apps on the major platforms, management of the league’s digital assets, including the social media presence of the league.

“This is a transformational partnership in the evolution of the league, and we are so appreciative of Nancy Dubuc and her team at A+E Networks as they take a leadership position in the growth of our league and create opportunities for young women,” NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said in a statement. “We are also extremely pleased to be able to present our fans with the most comprehensive national television and streaming packages in our history.”

“As a former college athlete, I know the importance of sports in the lives of women and girls and I couldn’t be more thrilled to join forces with NWSL and U.S. Soccer to ensure professional women athletes are elevated as the entire country can watch and be inspired by their strength and athleticism.   The teams are filled with some of the best professional players in the world, and we are proud to welcome them to Lifetime,” said Nancy Dubuc, President and CEO, A+E Networks.

During Thursday’s press conference announcing the news of the deal, Plush was asked about the transmission of the rest of the league’s games in 2017. He told reporters the league is in “robust conversations” regarding a partnership for digital streaming, not explicitly ruling out a return to YouTube, where most of the league’s games have been broadcast the first four seasons, but not confirming the streaming option(s) will remain free and accessible to all with an internet connection, either.

The initial news of the Lifetime deal will likely come as a surprise to many. Lifetime, which does have sports broadcasting experience during the WNBA’s early years but is known primarily by a former slogan “Television for Women,” is not shying away from the commitment to programming for a majority-female audience by airing NWSL games, but there are concerns the league drifting so far from the traditional sports networks to a woman-focused network will alienate male fans.

Of course, there’s also the chance that viewers who regularly watch Lifetime but don’t know much about the NWSL may be won over as fans, too. And Dubuc effectively shut a question during the press conference down concerning this very issue by banishing the stereotype that men are sports fans and women, especially those who watch Lifetime, are not sports fans. “I think there’s some assumptions there,” she said.

It’s a bold move for the NWSL, and given A+E’s literal investment in the league, complete with more attention paid to ways to generate revenue for the league, it has to be seen as a good deal. The knock-on effects are already being felt, with the minimum league salary reportedly set to double this year, from $7,200 last season to approximately $15,000 this year. That’s still small potatoes, but addressing the players who previously could not adequately make a living off their salaries is a necessary first step.

And with this new deal, will we see a Los Angeles NWSL team playing on Lifetime sometime in the next three years? Here’s hoping that development is right around the corner.