Photo by Ira L. Black/Getty Images
In a landmark move for women's sports, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has agreed to a suggested $240 million four-year TV rights deal - marking the largest media investment in women's sport in history.
After A+E Networks withdrew from their media rights deal with the NWSL just five years ago, leaving the league without a traditional broadcast partner as they began the 2019 season, the NWSL has made substantial strides. Expanding to 12 teams, with three more to join by 2026, the league's franchise valuations, attendances, and viewership have soared. On 9 November, the league announced media rights deals that match its standing in the sporting world and reflect the rising value of professional women’s soccer in North America and beyond.
— FORTUNE (@FortuneMagazine) November 10, 2023
The league's latest deal involves four-year domestic media rights agreements with CBS, ESPN, Amazon, and Scripps, ensuring more league revenue and broader game distribution from the onset of the 2024 campaign. These networks will broadcast 118 matches each season, a significant jump from the 30 aired in 2023.
While the financial specifics of the deals remain undisclosed, reports suggest the substantial sum of $240 million in total will be a massive increase compared to the $1.5 million paid annually by CBS since 2020.
Network-specific agreements include CBS broadcasting a minimum of 21 games yearly, ESPN/ABC showing 20 games per season, Amazon streaming 27 matches, and Scripps airing 25 exclusive double-headers on ION Television, highlighting the 2024 NWSL Draft and presenting a weekly studio show.
According to Female Quotient, a 2021 study over the course of three decades showed that "80% of top-ranked sports news and highlights shows in the U.S. had zero stories on women’s sports".
Driven by the growing popularity of women's sports and the league's upward trajectory, this TV deal signals the league's potential for even more growth. With more games available and a notable increase in franchise value, the NWSL can anticipate significant financial gains and expanded exposure.
The NWSL has just agreed to a set of media rights deals totaling $240 million over four years.
It's worth 40x the $1.5M the league was previously earning in TV revenue.https://t.co/nBjnx4Ag4V pic.twitter.com/Wv9kwzWzCh
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) November 9, 2023
However, distributing games across multiple broadcasters might pose financial and discoverability challenges for fans, requiring more subscriptions to access live matches. Yet, with significant marketing commitments from each partner, the NWSL aims to amplify cross-promotion and enhance the league's overall visibility.
Additionally, the financial gains from the new TV deal will likely bolster the league's reinvestment capabilities, allowing athletes to share in the revenue generated. With the agreements lasting until 2027, the NWSL anticipates a brighter financial future, aligning with a period of heightened soccer interest in the US. The league aims to leverage this for even better returns in the next broadcast deal, coinciding with the country’s roles in hosting FIFA World Cup events in the mid-2020s.