NWSL inks record-breaking broadcast deal, a potential game-changer for U.S. women's soccer

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 19:  A  general view of the National Womens Soccer League logo on the scoreboard during the first half of the NWSL soccer game between NJ/NY Gotham FC and San Diego Wave FC on June 19, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in HArrison, NJ.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NWSL announced its latest broadcast deal on Thursday. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The National Women’s Soccer League on Thursday announced new broadcast deals worth $240 million over four years, a sum that could transform the league and allow it to re-establish itself as the best in the world.

The deals are with CBS, ESPN, Amazon and Scripps Sports (which owns the ION Network). Those four networks will collectively broadcast 118 games, a four-fold increase on the NWSL’s previous deal with CBS exclusively.

But the big news is the value of the deal, which will net the league $60 million per season, 40 times more than the previous deal, which was worth $1.5 million annually.

Without a significant TV deal in the past, NWSL revenues lagged, and tight limits on spending remained in place. The league’s salary cap and restrictions on player movement, among other factors, deterred foreign stars, many of whom chose to go to or remain in Europe. At the 2023 World Cup, England’s WSL was the most-represented domestic league; only three NWSL players reached the semifinals.

The new broadcast deals, and the resultant revenue, should allow the NWSL to significantly raise both the minimum and maximum salary limits, which in turn will improve the lives of fringe players and attract more elite ones.

“These partnerships fundamentally change the game for our league and the players who take the pitch each week,” commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement.

If it does, that will have a cascading impact, including on the U.S. women’s national team. As currently constructed, the NWSL “doesn’t offer enough diversity to [U.S. players] in terms of playing against different styles,” as incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes wrote this summer. The balance of power in women’s soccer had shifted to Europe — to its storied clubs and its national teams. There has been a crescendo of suggestions that top USWNT players need to go across the pond as well to keep up.

But not if the NWSL can bring the best European players to America instead. If the NWSL becomes a melting pot of top worldly talent, it can continue to serve the USWNT.

For fans, meanwhile, the deals come with pros and cons. The main downside: With multiple subscriptions now required to watch the league, fandom will be more costly.

The benefits, though, are many. Games will be more visible than ever before, and available to both cable subscribers and cord-cutters. Amazon Prime will broadcast 25 Friday games per season. ION will get a Saturday doubleheader each week, with matches beginning at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

ESPN’s involvement is also a win for the league. And the NWSL championship game will remain on CBS for four more years.

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