NWSL lands landmark broadcast deal with A+E Networks, Lifetime
NEW YORK (AP) — A+E Networks has bought a stake in the National Women's Soccer League and will broadcast a game each weekend on the Lifetime network.
"It's not a network that's sports related, but it's a network that's women's related," A+E Networks President Nancy Dubuc said Thursday after a news conference attended by several players. "If you look at the coverage of female sports and athletics across any of the broadcasters that participate in league rights and/or sports programming, women are underrepresented, and it's a chance and an opportunity for Lifetime to support that movement and the importance of athletics and competition for girls and women."
Lifetime broadcast WNBA games from 1997-2000, and its current programming includes "Project Runway" and "Dance Moms." It will become an NWSL sponsor and will televise games for three years starting in April, with a 4 p.m. Eastern time slot on Saturdays — sometimes opposite matches of Major League Soccer, Spain's La Liga and Major League Baseball. A+E Networks did not announce the extent of its stake.
"The business is anything but traditional these days, and we don't see the Lifetime brand as a just a television brand," Dubuc said. "We see it as a female media brand, and it has to represent what she is interested in up and down the spectrum in terms of all kinds of content."
The league enters its fifth season with 10 teams, including the North Carolina Courage, who had been the Western New York Flash. U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said the governing body had invested more than $10 million in the league during its first four seasons and will continue its financing.
Fox televised six games in each of the last two years, half during the regular season. The 2016 broadcasts averaged 88,500 viewers, according to the NWSL.
"We are on a journey to establish a sustainable, permanent soccer league in the United States and Canada," NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said.
NWSL Media, a new joint venture of the NWSL and A+E Networks, will become the league's media and commercial arm. The league and A+E intend to have live streams of matches not on Lifetime.
A+E Networks, a joint venture of Disney-ABC Television Group and Hearst, plans to hire outside help to produce the broadcasts. Dubuc would not give an expectation for ratings and viewers.
"If you're going to be a media brand and not just a linear television brand, then you have to make sure you're speaking to all women and all interests," she said, "so it may mean that you end up smaller audiences serving individual pieces of content, but the aggregate is what's important and what we're paying attention to."
Former U.S. captain Christie Rampone, a 41-year-old defender on New Jersey-based Sky Blue, is a veteran of the Women's United Soccer Association. That league folded after its third season in 2003, and she said the NWSL is taking a better approach that is starting to lead to a rise in salaries.
"Growing it slow," she said.