Women sports leagues often face somewhat of a dilemma as they try to plot out their growth: They can either reach out to sports fans who might not often give women a shot or they can reach out to women who might not often give sports a shot (among the many other who do).
While most leagues usually choose the former option, signing TV deals with ESPN and other sports networks, The National Women’s Soccer League is trying the latter.
On Thursday, the NWSL and A+E Networks announced a new three-year partnership that gives A+E an equity stake in the league and arranges for games to be televised on Lifetime every Saturday at 4 p.m. during the season.
“This partnership is not only tremendously significant in the continued growth of the NWSL, but representative of how far the league has come in four years and where it can go in the future,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. “A+E and its resources are a fantastic fit for women’s professional soccer and will have a major impact on continuing to raise the profile of what we feel is already the best and most competitive league in the world.”
Beginning this April, Lifetime becomes official sponsor & broadcast partner of the league. pic.twitter.com/ccBOFSlhKw
— NWSL (@NWSL) February 2, 2017
This sort of partnership has been attempted before, with mixed results.
Lifetime televised WNBA games in the late 1990s and early 2000s before the league shifted its live events to ESPN. At that time, all parties admitted that it made more sense for a growing league to have its games broadcast on a sports network. Said a Lifetime executive at the time: “This is very exciting for us because now we will be able to do what we do best, which is tell women’s stories, and ESPN can do what they do best, which is cover live sports.”
In the past the NWSL has aired games on FS1 and other Fox properties as well as live on YouTube.
If nothing else, this deal gives the NWSL a feeling of stability. It’s a three-year partnership for a league that never quite knows if it’ll be around next month. At the least, the deal with A+E means the NWSL won’t fold up tomorrow.
The players certainly seem excited.
— Carli Lloyd (@CarliLloyd) February 2, 2017
Get ready ! Women’s is taking over! Lifetime is now an official sponsor & broadcast partner of the @NWSL for 3yrs, starting in April!
— Ali Krieger (@alikrieger) February 2, 2017
You guysssssss… how cool is this?! All this excitement got me https://t.co/YzxeOBOKR6
— Ashlyn Harris (@Ashlyn_Harris) February 2, 2017
— Samantha Mewis (@sammymewy) February 2, 2017
— Allie Long (@ALLIE_LONG) February 2, 2017
— Lindsey Horan (@Lindseyhoran11) February 2, 2017
As a soccer player and avid Dance Moms watcher this is very exciting!!!! https://t.co/FSyPWLw8k9
— Rose Lavelle (@roselavelle) February 2, 2017
Since A+E Networks now have an equity stake in the NWSL, they’ve got extra incentive to make this work. Clearly there’s some market for women’s sports in the United States—the Women’s World Cups in 2011 and 2015 drew sensational ratings—and maybe this partnership will be the NWSL’s first step toward capitalizing on it.