A Strong Ally Helps CBS Push Women's Soccer Into Primetime

How the brand, Paramount and the NWSL made history

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For the first time since the National Women’s Soccer League’s inception ten years ago, fans can watch the championship on a national network in primetime.

Saturday’s battle in D.C. between the Portland Thorns and the Kansas City Current will air on CBS and Paramount+ at 8 p.m., thanks to a collaboration with sponsor Ally, Paramount and the NWSL.

The game was originally set to air at 12 p.m. ET, drawing blowback from fans and players alike. After all, that’s a 9 a.m. PT start time for a championship matchup.

The shift to primetime is thanks to official sponsor Ally Financial, which increased its media investment with CBS to make it happen.

When NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman joined the league in April, one of her first priorities was moving the championship game to primetime. Still, the commissioner knew it would require sponsor help.

“Sponsorships are obviously a crucial part of providing financial stability to the league first and foremost. We have an incredible partner family that has invested in us and the players for the long haul, believing in the league and our mission,” Mitch Poll, the NWSL’s chief revenue officer, told Adweek. “Beyond that, our partners help to promote the league. Their marketing brings in new and casual fans—they are in many ways a major marketing voice for us.”

Ally CMO Andrea Brimmer met Berman shortly after her start date to get the ball rolling.

“Moving a game to a primetime spot is not inconsequential,” Brimmer told Adweek. “We immediately talked about our desire to participate in that. We collectively started having conversations with CBS, who already had been thinking about how to get the game moved to primetime and knew the importance of trying to do that.”

Dan Weinberg, evp of programming at CBS Sports, told Adweek that moving the game to primetime had been something on CBS’ radar.

“The overall goal being to elevate the championship game. That’s what we do at CBS Sports,” Weinberg said. “We were all aligned on that goal, and on the programming side, it was about figuring out a way to clear the decks and create room in our primetime schedule amongst the obligations we have in primetime, which I say this is the head of programming, is not the easiest thing in the world to do.”

Win-win-win

It benefits all brands, the league and CBS to see the game shift to primetime.

“You want to be on a primetime network. It’s still where the most eyeballs are going to be in linear,” said Brimmer. “It’s the primary part of what we buy from a media perspective, live sports on network TV. And then we fill in gaps so that we have an always-on schedule, with streaming.”

Paramount has a full programming slate planned for Saturday’s game, with an hour pre-game show on Paramount+, adding a cross-platform element to the coverage, and Weinberg is “super proud” of what’s coming.

“It’s a landmark moment for the League and for women’s sports, to have our championship in primetime on CBS is momentous,” Poll said. “Broadcast television still maintains the largest reach of any medium. Our players deserve this stage and will absolutely own it. It elevates us to a place the NWSL ought to be. Primetime alone says it all.”

Talk the talk, walk the walk

Despite skyrocketing interest (and ratings that match it), women’s sports only get about 5% of total media sports coverage, according to a joint USC/Purdue study. Ally is working to change that, pledging equality in media spend. The financial company will reach equal spend in paid advertising across men’s and women’s sports programming over the next five years.

Ally’s increased investment in the NWSL shows the power brands can have in helping grow women’s sports. And other companies are joining in. Budweiser, which was the first official beer sponsor of the league, is also sponsoring the championship match.

“Brands are not buying media in women’s sports to the extent that they are in men’s sports because the availability of media just isn’t there, which means that the leagues are significantly undervalued versus their male counterpart leagues, which means the players are clearly not making what they should be,” Brimmer said. “Somebody had to blink, and the most important person to blink is the brands because the brands are the ones that have the dollars and have the money to change that equation.”

Ally has activations planned around the championship, including a program called Player Allies, where the company will pay to fly players’ families to D.C. and provide tickets and lodging.

“So many of these women, if they’re just making league minimum, they’re making $35,000 a year,” Brimmer said. “They can’t afford to fly their families, and so we do it for them.”

This isn’t the first time that Ally has increased its investment in the NWSL. The financial company signed on as a sponsor in 2021 and established the Player Impact Fund. Last year, it was used to move the playoffs from four games to six, which increased games for fans and created better earning opportunities for the players.

Elevated opportunity

Paramount has been the NWSL’s broadcast partner since 2020, and the move has proved lucrative for the media company. Nearly all games stream on Paramount+, with a select few airing on CBS Sports Network and CBS.

“We’re super pleased with the partnership. When you form partnerships with leagues and with content providers as a media partner, you have a pretty basic set of priorities,” Weinberg said. “For us, it revolves around this approach for the best in class, and that fits with the NWSL. The best players in the world, some of the biggest and most popular athletes across all sports on the field. The product is dynamic, there’s tremendous athleticism. Their speed, power, physicality and strength. It also appeals to a more diverse audience, a younger audience, a demo that we seek.”

Brimmer also sees value in investing in the NWSL, citing the youthfulness, diversity and affluence level of the fanbase.

“It’s like-minded in terms of brand values,” she said. “And it’s not cluttered. So many of the categories have had long-tenured financial services sponsors and are very, very cluttered where there are a lot of official lead sponsors, and it’s hard to break through. In [the] NWSL you’ve got this great fan base that aligns really well with the demographic that we have and that we want to reach. I can break through the clutter, and I can have a really prominent position.”

The championship takes place weeks after Sally Yates released an explosive report that found “a league in which abuse and misconduct—verbal and emotional abuse and sexual misconduct—had become systemic, spanning multiple teams, coaches and victims.”

Ally was one of the first league sponsors to speak out about the report, with Brimmer telling Adweek: “U.S. Soccer’s report confirms everyone’s worst fears about what these athletes have had to endure. If real and lasting change is going to happen, we all need to get involved. When news of the abuses first broke, Ally doubled down in our commitment to these courageous players and this league and that commitment has not changed.”