NWHL signs three-year streaming deal with Twitch, receives broadcasting rights fee

Every game of the upcoming 2019-20 season, including playoff games and special events, will be broadcast live on Twitch and available to fans free of charge. The revenue from the deal will also be split with players as part of a revenue-sharing deal with the NWHLPA.
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Troy Parla

Troy Parla

One month before the official opening of its fifth season, the NWHL has announced a landmark partnership with Twitch that will see the platform become the exclusive live-streaming home of the women’s professional league.

The three-year deal, which was made official Thursday, is historic in that it will provide the league incredible visibility – Twitch has more than 15 million users – but is also groundbreaking as it’s the first broadcasting deal the league has struck that will see the NWHL receive a broadcasting rights fee. As part of the league agreement with the NWHL Players’ Association, the revenue generated from the partnership will be split down the middle and shared with the players. Financial terms were not disclosed.

“The official announcement of our partnership with Twitch makes this a historic day for the NWHL, our players, fans and everyone who supports the advancement of women’s hockey,” commissioner Dani Rylan said in a release. “The live broadcasts of every single NWHL game on Twitch will allow us to both foster and grow our current community while introducing professional hockey to a new audience for the first time.”

The NWHL’s inaugural broadcast on Twitch isn’t far in the offing, either.

The league will make its debut on the platform on Oct. 5, when the Buffalo Beauts square off against the Connecticut Whale and the Boston Pride take on the Metropolitan Riveters in a season-opening double-header. From there, each game of the 2019-20 campaign will be broadcast on Twitch, as well as every Isobel Cup playoff contest. The league noted, too, that “special events” will also be broadcast on the service. The annual All-Star Game, which has previously emanated from non-league cities such as Nashville and Pittsburgh, is likely among the showcase contests that will be available.

In addition to the games, the league stated that Twitch will also be used to engage with fans. Broadcasts on the platform generally feature live chats, and the NWHL suggested players, broadcasters and “other NWHL influencers” will participate at times alongside fans watching on their devices.

“This is a huge step for women’s hockey,” NWHL Players’ Association executive director Anya Battaglino said in a release. “Getting visibility on professional women’s hockey has been extremely important. The more eyes on the women’s game, the more fans we convert. Women’s hockey is at a monumental time right now, and the more we can showcase this product, the stronger our foundation becomes.”

Previously, the league has utilized services such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to live stream games, some to greater success than others. For instance, while several YouTube broadcasts list viewership numbers in the thousands, last season’s Isobel Cup final between the Beauts and champion Minnesota Whitecaps garnered more than 800,000 viewers on Twitter. And while it is also a free service, Twitch does differ as, unlike the platforms the NWHL has used in the past, it has primarily been a platform used by gamers. That said, the service has been making an effort to incorporate more sports content, partnering with leagues such as the NFL and NBA G League.

Also yet to be seen is if the move to Twitch, not to mention the money from the rights deal, will result in increased production value. The quality of broadcasts in the past has varied. Many have used a single camera angle and been without score overlays throughout the action. Last season’s Isobel Cup final, however, showed the potential the NWHL has to put on a quality broadcast. Though it the game was limited to only a few broadcast angles, it featured score overlays and a full broadcast booth.

Regardless of what changes come, though, the agreement with Twitch – and the associated rights fee – is a massive victory for the NWHL and a testament to the continued growth of the women’s game.

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