The first national television deal in NWSL history was announced on Thursday, with the new league set to partner with FOX Soccer to broadcast nine matches starting July 8.
The announced package features six regular season matches, both playoff semifinal finals, as well as the league’s August 31 championship.
“Our fans will get the chance to see the high caliber of women’s soccer,” NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey said in announcing the deal. “[W]e also hope to create many new fans who will appreciate the amazing athletes and personalities in the league.”
During their opening weekend, NWSL matches were streamed through team websites and the league’s YouTube channel, but unlike the U.S.’s two previous attempts to embed a women’s professional league, the NSWL didn’t begin with a national television deal in place. The Women’s United Soccer Association had games featured on ESPN2, TNT, and the now defunct PAX TV. Women’s Professional Soccer featured a weekly match on FOX Soccer.
Now FOX Soccer, a channel that will be replaced by FXX this summer, is back in the women’s soccer game. With FXX, intended to be a complement to FX, set to target young audiences with a variety of original programming, movies, and other acquired rights, FOX Soccer’s remaining competition rights are expected to be eventually used by FOX Sports 1, an all-sports competitor to ESPN that’s due to launch in August. FXX is expected to replace FOX Soccer in September.
Once that transfer takes place, NWSL rights will be included in a FOX Sports portfolio that includes UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, and the rights to FIFA competitions from 2015 to 2022, including the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
“The agreement with the NWSL showcases our support of women’s soccer and the growing popularity it’s experiencing in the country,” according to FOX Soccer General Manager David Nathanson. “We are excited to be the network home for the sport’s top level players …”
For Bailey, getting the league’s biggest games televised is a vital part of the new agreement.
“The opportunity to highlight the race for the playoffs and the three biggest games of the season that will decide the first league champion on national television is important for the growth of the league.”
Seattle Reign FC owner Bill Predmore noted the big picture importance of national broadcast deals.
“A national TV contract is an important and necessary step towards our long-term goal of a financially sustainable league,” Predmore said in Reign FC’s statement announcing the deal.
Specific games to be broadcast were not announced.