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In the biggest broadcast deal ever for any women’s sports league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) struck a record-breaking four-year TV rights deal with CBS Sports, ESPN, Prime Video and Scripps Sports.
The partners will combine to nationally broadcast 118 matches across partner platforms beginning in 2024—a massive increase from the 30 that will air in 2023, including Saturday’s upcoming championship match on CBS.
The deal is worth $60 million per year, for a cumulative value of $240 million over the course of the term, a source close to negotiations confirmed to Adweek. Endeavor’s IMG and WME Sports advised the NWSL and negotiated on its behalf.
“As a young league experiencing massive growth, we wanted to ensure all our games were accessible to our growing and diverse fan base,” Julie Haddon, the NWSL’s chief commercial officer and marketing officer, told Adweek. “These distribution deals ensure viewing options across both linear and streaming platforms every weekend.
“With each partner contributing significant brand investment to promote and cross-promote, we are able to showcase our exceptional league, clubs and athletes to both new and existing fans.”
The NWSL’s current three-year deal with CBS, worth $4.5 million total ($1.5 million annually), expires at the end of the year—and the league is paying for production costs. The new $240 million agreement marks an annual 3,900% increase in value.
“We have always focused on balancing revenue, reach and relevance, and these deals with these partners represent an unprecedented investment in women’s sports,” said Haddon. “We have a real opportunity to bring our game closer to our fans and brand sponsor partners in new and innovative ways.”
Before the CBS agreement, the NWSL had a string of short-term agreements with ESPN, A&E and Fox Sports.
The next comparable women’s league is the WNBA, which has agreements with Disney, Paramount, Amazon, Scripps, Facebook and Twitch. The deal with Disney is its largest, worth an estimated $27 million annually. But when that agreement expires in 2025, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert is targeting $100 million per year—still a far cry from the $250 million Major League Soccer rakes in annually.
Breaking it down
Starting in 2024, the NWSL will begin each regular-season weekend with Friday night matches on Prime Video. Saturday night will have a doubleheader on Scripps-owned ION network, which is available over-the-air in 123 million homes.
CBS Sports will have minimum of 21 games per season, including a minimum of 10 on CBS and Paramount+, and a minimum of eight on CBS Sports Network. Come playoffs, CBS and Paramount+ get one quarterfinal and one semifinal per season, as well as the championship.
“Extending this partnership further demonstrates our commitment to elevating women’s sports as we continue to work hand-in-hand with the NWSL to highlight the world’s best women’s soccer players,” Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, said in a statement. “As we prepare to present the 2023 NWSL Championship this weekend, we are excited to continue to showcase this league across our platforms for years to come and remain the ultimate destination for soccer fans.”
ESPN and ABC have 20 games per season, 17 during the regular season, as well as two quarterfinals and one semifinal.
Prime Video gets 27 games—25 on Friday nights—the season kickoff match, and one quarterfinal.
“The evolution of women’s sports—and specifically the NWSL—demonstrates that there is a growing audience for remarkable athletes and world-class competition, regardless of gender,” said Marie Donoghue, vp of U.S. sports content and partnerships at Amazon, in a statement. “With the unique power and distribution of Prime Video, and an exclusive window on Friday nights throughout the season, we look forward to expanding that audience as the newest home of the NWSL.”
Scripps will have 50 games, with 25 exclusive on Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET. There will also be a weekly studio show leading off the doubleheaders, and ION will air the 2024 NWSL Draft, with the date yet to be determined.
The league is also building a domestic streaming product that will host the remainder of the games not nationally broadcast, modeled off of the league’s international D2C platform. While pricing isn’t set yet, it will have about 72 games that aren’t part of the new broadcast agreement.
Just getting started
The landmark deal comes at a time of unprecedented growth for the NWSL, now in its 11th season. Beginning next year, two expansion teams—San Francisco area-based Bay FC and Utah Royals FC—will begin play, bringing the total teams to 14. That follows the addition of Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC last year.
Megan Rapinoe’s farewell home game with OL Reign FC in Seattle in October became the most-watched regular season game ever, drawing 683,000 viewers on CBS. That match is only behind the 2022 NWSL Championship, which drew 915,000 viewers—the first time the championship aired in primetime. As of June, regular season viewership on CBS was up 21% year over year, and more than 50% on Paramount+.
“We’ve seen significant growth in women’s sports coverage across broadcast, streaming, social and digital,” said Haddon. “And our fans continue to consume more content across our games, as well as league, club and player content across all of their favorite media platforms—and we look forward to providing it to them.”
The NWSL broke multiple attendance records in 2023, hosting more than 1 million fans throughout the regular season, and the same Rapinoe farewell game now holds the single-game record of 34,130 fans in attendance.
Saturday’s final between Seattle’s OL Reign and New York’s Gotham FC will feature the final game of two legends—Rapinoe and Ali Krieger—taking place at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego, with a capacity of 35,000 fans.
That game will air on CBS in primetime—and it’s likely more records will be broken.