UPDATED with comments from league press conference below.
NWSL has entered a partnership with A+E networks to broadcast games on Lifetime, one of the channels owned by the network. A+E will gain an equity stake in the league along with the league’s existing ownership groups and Lifetime will become an official league sponsor. This is the beginning of a three-year deal, beginning this April. Lifetime will broadcast one game every week on Saturday at 4 PM ET with a pre-game show at 3:30. No doubt this equity stake played some part in the bump to the 2017 salary cap, which includes a huge increase to the minimum salary from $7,200 to approximately $15,000.
The rest of the games will be livestreaming under the arm of NWSL Media, a joint venture between NWSL and A+E that will oversee broadcast and sponsorship rights and produce livestreams in high definition. This includes “exclusive new and original digital content for pre-game, halftime and post-game segments” as per the press release. Currently NWSL Media is in negotiation for a livestream partner, although this does sound like the end of all games broadcast for free on Youtube without geographic restriction.
“We are on a journey to establish a sustainable, permanent soccer league in the United States and Canada,” said Jeff Plush at the press conference. “It’s a transformation day for our league as we announce a partnership with A+E Networks.”
Plush said NWSL Media will deploy digital media “globally” and called A+E one of the most robust media assets in the world.
“This is really an incredible moment for Lifetime and for A+E Networks and for me personally,” said A+E president and CEO Nancy Dubuc. “Not only is soccer an incredible sport, a dramatic sport, and incredible story, a growing business, but I also think in the narrative of empowering women, being a female athlete is incredibly important to being a successful woman.”
“Business is anything but traditional these days,” said Dubuc, calling Lifetime not just a TV brand but a “female media brand” and called back to approximately 20 years ago when Lifetime used to broadcast the WNBA. Dubuc sounded untroubled by suggestions that Lifetime hadn’t broadcast sports in a while. “It’s a little early to announce who’s doing what in terms of directing and early commentary but what I’m seeing it’s first class and it’s all names you are familiar with in terms of the coverage of both the World Cup and the Olympic level,” she said.
Plush said the league hadn’t discussed adding a second game of the week with Lifetime yet, citing “robust conversations” with digital partners to stream games outside of the game of the week.
“We’re not in the game of the week business necessarily, we’re investing in NWSL,” said Dubuc. “We’re equally motivated to make this successful on every platform in whatever scope it needs to be.”
When one reporter asked about bridging any possible gap between Lifetime viewers and sports fans, Dubuc said, “I think there’s some assumptions there. I think 45-50% of the NFL viewership is female. So women watch sports. Sports are great dramatic stories, and if those sports stories are served up in an entertaining and relatable way, and a passionate way, women create those authentic stories of aspiration of competition, of drive an determination, agony and defeat.... It’s also an opportunity for us to bring younger girls and new fans to Lifetime.”
“Growing a business is not something that happens overnight,” said Dubuc. “We’re very familiar with what that feels like - to grow a channel, I mean growing a league is very similar in a way to growing a media brand or growing a television channel. It doesn’t happen in months or quarters, it happens in years.”
You can watch the league’s press conference with A+E president and CEO Nancy Dubuc, league commissioner Jeff Plush, and USSF president Sunil Gulati, livestreamed below.