Acting league commissioner Amanda Duffy didn’t have a lot of details for journalists on Wednesday’s NWSL preview conference call. “There’s some important aspects to our positioning of our digital games that we need to make sure are clear and clarified before we share those details,” she said. “...what we need to put in place before we share the details of the location and how fans can access it, we need to have those in place.”
What she did confirm is that all non-televised games would be online live and free of charge, and that international fans would have access to these games on the league website and on the league’s streaming app, which should be released before home openers this weekend.
“I think the next obviously 24, 48 hours is when we’ll be sharing the news,” said Duffy when asked for a time frame on concrete details.
Duffy could not confirm exactly what NWSL’s streaming platform would be, despite speculation last night that it would be Go90 Sports.
“I’m aware of what was on digital platform and social media last night,” she said. “Right now what I can confirm for you and for our fans is that we will have all of our games available, the non-national game of the week...will be online, will be free.”
Duffy acknowledged that the delay in announcing a streaming partner was not ideal. “From the timing perspective, is an ideal time a month ago, two months ago? Maybe,” she said. “I think the timing probably isn’t what we want but I think from a net outlook on it, we know that we’re going to have all of our games available to our fans whether it’s through television or on a digital platform. And we know that the production of these games will be at higher levels, a higher quality, than they’ve been in previous seasons through our partnership with Vista Worldlink, who in the soccer industry is playing a big role in producing digital broadcasts right now.”
Duffy stuck to the talking points throughout the conference call, ultimately saying, “I can assure everyone that they won’t miss any games this weekend or through this year.”
She also pointed out that despite some bumps along the way, overall the new partnership with A+E Networks has already started to yield potential new resources for the league. “I think that the partnership with A+E and Lifetime has opened up some conversations that previously we weren’t having,” she said. “...the strength of having a media company, a media network behind the league...supporting that in a human resource way and a financial resource way is significant to continue conversations and introduce us to new conversations and new potential partners that are ongoing. I do anticipate we’ll have more national partners that we’ll be announcing later this year.”
Of course, part of the conversation around NWSL’s growth is the signing of international superstar Marta, who will be joining the Orlando Pride from Rosengard in the Swedish Damallsvenskan. “I think the timing of Marta coming to NWSL is key,” said Duffy. “And I think it’s a good time for her to be a part of it. Looking at seasons ahead there have been some players, I think with a more recognizable name, that have decided for short term and longer periods to play in other leagues outside the United States for development purposes. But for Marta to come in right now I do think that speaks to the level of stability we have right now as a league, and I think she’s a player that while some might say she’s not necessarily at her prime, I think she’s still a player that can impact the quality of the play and the competition level and continue to raise the bar in that capacity. I also think...NWSL fans, existing and new that we’re going to reach through our partners at Lifetime, that’s a player and a name I think our fans will come out to watch....”
Duffy was a little more cautious when discussing expansion, ever aware of growing too much too fast. But the conversations are happening. “We do have several expansion conversations ongoing, I think, that date back to last year and possibly even earlier than that.... We’re talking to several strong ownership groups about expansion.”
As for Duffy herself, she said the search for a new NWSL commissioner is an active one for the time being. “I’ve taken a leadership role in operations and execution of everything that we’re doing at NWSL,” she said.
Her overall tone was one of pragmatic enthusiasm, couching some of her discussion in the long term for the next five or 10 years, which is reassuring despite the time crunch interfering with a more organized roll out of the league’s new streaming plan.
“There’s improvement to be made,” said Duffy. “And while it’s historic that we’re entering our fifth season, it’s still a young league and there’s still a lot of pieces to put in place.... There are going to be some changes, some improvements in all of the markets we’re really going to have to address to make sure the product we’re putting out to our fans, to the media, is at the level we need it to be as a Division 1 women’s professional soccer league.”