The National Women's Soccer League has announced a post-World Cup TV deal for the back half of the 2015 season. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast six games, including the three playoff games, and stream the other four on Fox Sports GO. This brings to a conclusion league commissioner Jeff Plush's comments in early April that the league was in final negotiations for a broadcast deal.
The first four games will be streamed starting July 22 with Portland Thorns vs. Seattle Reign, then the broadcast part will kick in on August 9 for Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars.
All the games, whether streamed or broadcast, will be aired from Portland's Providence Park or Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium, presumably due to the logistics for broadcast already being in place there as well as being venues that look good on TV.
Is this necessarily fair to other teams? It means of course that Portland and Houston will have the lion's share of exposure during the regular season with four games for Portland and three games for Houston. The Reign will be in two games and all other NWSL teams except the WNY Flash will be in one.
On the other hand, is airing a small collegiate venue like, for example, Soldiers Field necessarily good for the league? Soldiers Field did host a US Open Cup game in 2013, but the kind of people who tune in to the Open Cup probably don't make value judgments about MLS based on one broadcast. As NWSL struggles for legitimacy and with an extremely limited schedule of 10 games, only six of which will actually be broadcast on TV, every single broadcast must be an opportunity to seize viewers and increase market share. Viewers will be coming to these broadcasts on the heels of the Women's World Cup and the jump from a sold-out BC Place to less than 3,000 at a small college or municipal venue is fairly jarring. It might be better to hook viewers with good production value and nice venues, and then introduce them to the smaller side of NWSL.
Still, it might also be bad if BBVA Compass Stadium doesn't manage to put enough people into the lower bowl to make it look like a good crowd on broadcast. (However you feel about Portland, this won't be a problem at Providence Park.) The image of an echoing stadium could be more detrimental than a fully-packed smaller venue. And you could argue that teams that don't play in big MLS venues with the backing of an MLS side need exposure much more, particularly a team like the Flash that has lost big names like Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd and plays in a geographical region with a smaller soccer-going population. But sometimes exposure can backfire, creating negative perceptions.
Either way, hopefully these games will bring good ratings to Fox, encouraging them to expand any coverage deals in future seasons. When women's pro soccer isn't broadcast in such a vacuum, there will be more margin for error.