There’s no question that the new NWSL broadcast deal is good for the league. The $240 million four-year contract works out to $60 million per year for the 12-team league, which is the “largest media investment in women’s sports history” according to the NWSL.
It eclipses the $1.5 million deal for 2023. For those of you who are keeping tabs, that works out to a 4000% jump.
The new arrangement is arguably even more lucrative than the celebrated $2.5 billion 10-year deal MLS signed with Apple TV. The $60 million will cover 118 games broadcast on a consortium of networks consisting of CBS, ESPN, Prime Video, and Scripps Sports, which works out to a little more than $508,000 per match. By contrast, when the 2023 MLS season wraps up, Apple TV will have broadcast 597 games – that includes the regular season, the Leagues Cup, and an expanded postseason – which works out to $337,000 per match.
Somebody give NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman a fist-bump for setting a new global standard.
While the financial arrangement is excellent, questions remain about the viewing experience.
Officially, CBS broadcast just 30 games in 2023. But the network streamed all games on Paramount+ or CBS Sports, giving whistle-to-whistle coverage for every single league and postseason match. You always knew how to watch your team play.
The four-network consortium will fracture that straightforward arrangement. CBS, ESPN, Prime Video, and Scripps Sports signed the deal, but the games will be aired on a mix of CBS, CBS Sports, Paramount +, Prime Video, ION, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN+, and ABC.
That’s a lot of acronyms to keep straight. In 2024, watching a particular NWSL game could become a scavenger hunt that has viewers clicking through 11 broadcasters.
In addition, the balance of the NWSL’s matches will be aired on “direct-to-consumer” platforms yet to be determined. Will they be streamed for free on NWSLSoccer.com? Or will they be shown on yet another paywalled service? The league hasn’t said.
Most headlines reporting the rights deal trumpet the record-breaking sum, and for good reason: The NWSL, which will expand from 12 to 14 teams in 2025, are on sound financial footing.
But the needs of fans should be kept in mind. For all of Apple TV’s growing pains during the first year of their deal with MLS, they streamlined the viewing process for a worldwide audience. There’s no more hunting around for a game on YES, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN+, Fox Sports, and FS2.
The NWSL is moving in a different direction. We’ll have to wait until the start of the 2024 season to see how the games will be distributed among the different outlets, and how the league’s supporters will navigate the new broadcast landscape.