ⓘ National Womens Soccer League on television
The National Womens Soccer League is a professional womens soccer league owned by the teams, and under a management contract with the United States Soccer Federation. At the top of the United States league system, it represents the sports highest level in the United States. The NWSL was established in 2012 as a successor to Womens Professional Soccer, which was itself the successor to Womens United Soccer Association. The league began play in 2013 with eight teams, four of which were former members of Womens Professional Soccer.
1. Television coverage
During the 2013–2016 seasons, the majority of league games were available for viewing via YouTube or via individual teams websites. Of the eight teams in the league during the inaugural season, the Boston Breakers were the only team that charged a fee for access to their broadcasts.
1.1. Television coverage Fox Sports 2 2013
On April 18, 2013, NWSL signed a one-year agreement with Fox Sports 2 to televise six regular season games, the semifinal, and championship games. All eight teams would appear on FS2 at least once and all six regular season games.
The commentators that FS2 employed during this time included Steve Cangialosi play-by-play and Kyndra de St. Aubin color commentary.
1.2. Television coverage ESPN2 and ESPN3 2014
On May 28, 2014, the NWSL signed a one-year agreement with ESPN to televise nine games of the 2014 NWSL season. The matches included three regular season and three playoff matches on ESPN2, as well as 3 regular season games live-streamed on ESPN3.
Only six of the nine teams were guaranteed to appear in the broadcast matches, with the Major League Soccer-partnered Houston Dash and Portland Thorns each appearing three times. The Seattle Reign would appear on two of three ESPN3 games and Sky Blue FC would appear once on ESPN2 and ESPN3. The Boston Breakers and Western New York Flash would each appear once on ESPN2, with the Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City and Washington Spirit being shut out from regular-season matches. ESPN2s the viewership average for their a package of NWSL games was at 144.000.
Glenn Davis provided the play-by-play with Monica Gonzalez providing analysis.
1.3. Television coverage FS1 and Fox Sports Go 2015–2016
On June 30, 2015, the NWSL announced a one-year agreement with Fox Sports once more to cover ten matches. Three regular season and three playoff matches were televised on FS1, and four live-streamed on Fox Sports Go. The agreement was extended into 2016 under another one-year contract, covering three regular season matches and the three playoff matches, once again on FS1. Consequently, no game aired for more than a month after the end of the World Cup, and just six matches, total, reached terrestrial TV.
The 2015 NWSL final between drew 167.000 viewers on Fox Sports 1. That was up 7% from the same matchup on ESPN2 the previously year 156K and up nearly 2.000% from 2013 final on Fox Sports 2 8K.
On April 14, 2016, NWSL and Fox Sports announced a one-year agreement to telecast six NWSL games for the second consecutive season. The agreement called for FS1 to air three regular-season matches beginning on September 7, 2016 with a match-up between the Chicago Red Stars and FC Kansas City and all three games of the NWSL Playoffs, which includes the semifinals and final. All six games would also stream live on FOX Soccer 2Go, FOX Sports GO, and FOXSportsGO.com. The Orlando Pride were not one of the three regular-season matches included in the deal, and would have to be one of four playoff teams to make it on national television.
The commentators that Fox Sports employed this time included Jenn Hildreth play-by-play, Mark Rogondino play-by-play, Kyndra de St. Aubin color commentary, and Aly Wagner color commentary.
1.4. Television coverage Lifetime and ESPNews 2017–2018
On February 2, 2017, the NWSL announced a three-year agreement with A&E Networks, in which the Lifetime network broadcast 22 regular-season matches as the NWSL Game of the Week at 4 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday afternoons, as well as three post-season matches. This marked the first time that the NWSL had a weekly broadcast window throughout the entire season. As part of the deal, A&E Networks purchased a 25% equity stake in the NWSL and were granted two seats on the leagues board. The company also formed a joint venture with the league known as NWSL Media to oversee the leagues marketing and broadcast rights, and Lifetime became a league-wide kit sponsor for all players. This deal marked the first time Lifetime had broadcast sports since the WNBA in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Lifetimes broadcasts featured play-by-play announcer Jenn Hildreth, analyst Aly Wagner, host and sideline reporter Dalen Cuff as well as select appearances by analyst and sideline reporter Kate Markgraf.
Lifetime also streamed the game of the week in the United States via its website, and internationally in the NWSL website and iOS app. The remaining games were initially streamed exclusively by go90 in the United States under a digital rights deal with Verizon Communications, and through the NWSL website internationally. The quality of the streams through go90 faced criticism, with sportswriters, users, and players and team staff criticizing the service for its inconsistent quality and arguing that the NWSLs growth could be harmed by go90s relative lack of reach and prominence when compared to YouTube. The Equalizer noted that the app was prone to crashing, did not have the same wide device support as YouTube, and that the telecasts themselves suffered from their own technical problems such as poor camera angles and glitches with graphics, but that the streams were good when they worked. On May 19, 2017, the league announced that they would additionally stream games on the NWSL website and app in the U.S. until the technical issues with go90 were rectified.
After Houston Dash player Rachel Daly collapsed on the pitch after a match in Houston, on May 27 – where the heat index was reportedly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit – she was carried off on a stretcher and hospitalized for heat illness. League operations director Amanda Duffy subsequently announced that the NWSL Game of the Week matches, many of which were slated for the hottest parts of the day in humid cities such as Houston, Orlando, and Cary, North Carolina, would be rescheduled to allow for longer hydration breaks. Some Game of the Week matches changed to other venues, and teams not scheduled for television were granted more flexibility in rescheduling kickoffs for player safety. The league also adopted new procedures for addressing heat and rescheduling matches.
On June 6, 2018, it was announced that six Game of the Week matches through the remainder of the season would move to evening kickoffs and air on ESPNews which is owned by a sister venture to A&E Networks, in an effort to ensure the safety of players, as well as improve attendance. Go90 shut down in July 2018; the remaining games not aired on television were moved back to the NWSL website for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
Since ESPNNews was generally included in a higher-tier cable package as compared to Lifetime, this made the channel less accessible to the average viewer. Fans not watching on television would be able to stream the games live via the ESPN App, but they would need to be ESPNews subscribers to do that as authentication is required in the U.S. This could have potentially led to lower viewership numbers for the games broadcast on ESPNews.
1.5. Television coverage ESPNews and ESPN2 2019
On February 20, 2019, the NWSL announced that A&E Networks had pulled out of its broadcasting agreement with the league one season early. A&Es stake in NWSL Media was given back to the league, but Lifetime would remain a kit sponsor. NWSL president Amanda Duffy said the changes would give the league and its teams finer control over its media and sponsorship agreements, and expected to announce a new television rights deal soon. Verizon Media remained the U.S. digital rightsholder to the league, but the streams moved from go90 to the Yahoo! Sports website and apps.
The NWSL did not reach any national television deals before the start of the 2019 season, but after their opening match, the Chicago Red Stars reached their own television deal with the regional sports network NBC Sports Chicago. In July 2019, the NWSL announced that ESPN had acquired a 14-match package for the remainder of the season divided among ESPNews and ESPN2, including the semifinals and championship match. Eight matches would air on ESPNEWS, and the remaining six, including the two semifinals and the championship, would air on ESPN2.
The 2019 playoffs on ESPN2 averaged 148.000 viewers overall, up 66 percent from 2018. That years championship game between the North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars was seen by an average audience of 166.000 viewers on ESPN2, making it the most-watched NWSL match in three years. The audience was 43 percent higher than the 2018 Final and the NWSLs best audience since the 2016 Final Western New York vs. Washington, 180.000 viewers. The 2019 NWSL season finished with an average of 81.000 viewers across ESPN networks, up 7 percent year-over-year. The 2019 NWSL season on ESPN networks also made its biggest year-over-year gains among viewers 18–49 with an average of 37.000 viewers, a 32 percent increase over the previous year.
ESPNs broadcast talent line-up included Aly Wagner color commentary, Jenn Hildreth play-by-play, Angela Hucles color commentary, Glenn Davis play-by-play, Marisa Pilla sideline reporter, and Dalen Cuff play-by-play and sideline reporter.
1.6. Television coverage CBS Sports 2020–present
In October 2019, the NWSL signed the agency Octagon to market its media rights. It was reported that Octagon was pursuing multi-year agreements of at least three years and stronger broadcaster commitments, as to help build an audience and discourage broadcasters from acquiring NWSL rights to ride the coattails of the U.S. national team and the FIFA Womens World Cup, but then "abandon" it afterward.
On March 11, 2020, the NWSL announced that it has entered into a three-year media agreement with CBS Sports and the video game-oriented streaming service Twitch. For the 2020 NWSL season, CBS Sports will broadcast 87 matches including the playoffs split between CBS, CBS Sports Network, and CBS All Access in Canada and the United States, with the exact distribution among the channels subject to change, while Twitch will stream an additional 24 matches for free. Twitch will also become the NWSLs international media rights holder and stream all matches outside Canada and the United States for free. This marked the first time that CBS Sports would broadcast any major professional soccer on U.S. television since the North American Soccer League NASL in 1976.
Coverage of the 2020 NWSL season was scheduled to begin on Saturday, April 18 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS and CBS All Access with coverage of the OL Reign taking on the Washington Spirit. That was supposed to be followed by a rematch of previous years championship game between the Chicago Red Stars and the North Carolina Courage at 7 p.m. ET on Twitch. On March 12, 2020, the preseason match schedule was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the NWSL announced on March 20 that the regular season start will be delayed.