NWSL announces 4-year TV deals with ESPN, CBS, Prime Video: Why it’s a win for the league

The NWSL will reach more viewers in 2024 with its new broadcast deals with ESPN, CBS Sports, Prime Video and Scripps Sports, the league announced Thursday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The NWSL agreed to four-year deals with each partner, who will show at least 20 games apiece on their platforms next season.
  • Fans will be able to stream regular-season matches on Friday nights on Prime Video and watch two prime-time matches on Saturdays on Scripps’ ION network.
  • A package of regular-season matches will air on CBS and stream on Paramount+, with CBS Sports showing additional matches.
  • ESPN will show matches across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, as well as stream them on ESPN+ in English and Spanish.

More about the deals

  • The remainder of the regular-season schedule will be part of a direct-to-consumer package produced and distributed by the NWSL.
  • ION will air the 2024 NWSL Draft in January. A date for the draft has yet to be announced.
  • ION will also lead off its Saturday doubleheaders with a studio show at 7 p.m. ET. The games will start at 7:30 p.m. ET and 10 p.m. ET.

Where can I watch the playoffs?

  • Prime Video and CBS will broadcast one quarterfinal each, while ESPN/ABC will air the other two quarterfinals.
  • ESPN/ABC and CBS will each have a semifinal game.
  • CBS will continue to air the championship game in prime time and make it available to stream on Paramount+. (The league’s three-year media rights deal with CBS wraps up at the end of this year.)

The deals are a win for NWSL

Considering the media rights landscape, $60 million a year combined across all the new partnerships for the four-year deal has to be considered a major win and improvement for the NWSL — while not getting trapped in super long terms (compare it to MLS’s 10-year term with Apple, or U.S. Soccer’s eight-year deal with Warner Bros. Discovery Sports).

This deal is the springboard for hopefully an even bigger one the next time the NWSL heads out to market for the start of its next term following the 2027 World Cup. — Meg Linehan, senior women’s soccer writer

Challenges for viewers and fans

One major challenge will be shifting viewership habits for NWSL faithful. Spreading games across multiple networks to this extent will need a lot of promotion and investment from the league and all of the broadcast partners. The league’s news release does directly address this, stating all four broadcasters have made “significant commitments to marketing and promoting the NWSL, and importantly, cross-marketing each other’s scheduled broadcasts.”

At the end of the day, it’s a major step forward with a lot more money flowing in and a huge increase in games on TV. — Linehan

Expanded playoffs

Thursday’s news also revealed another expansion to the NWSL playoffs. Currently, half the teams in the league make the playoffs, with the top two teams earning byes through to the semifinals and four teams starting the first round of playoffs in two quarterfinal matches. With the introduction of Bay FC and Utah Royals FC, eight teams will make the playoffs — and it looks like the bye week is being dropped from the format, with four quarterfinals split across three broadcast partners.

That means eight of 14 teams will advance to the postseason in 2024 — but hopefully, that number holds for the next round of expansion in 2026 when Boston and one other team join the league. The 2023 season and playoffs showcased the league’s parity, with Decision Day being a true highlight of the format. Expanding too much risks undermining the quality and meaningfulness of the regular season. — Linehan

What about the rest of the regular-season games?

Listen, overall the news is good, but there’s one detail in here that does raise some questions: the NWSL didn’t manage to get the entirety of its inventory into these four partnerships with broadcasters.

It’s hard to know right now if the “direct-to-consumer” package means eventually these could be part of a paywalled viewing platform; international feeds have been free to watch via the league historically. There’s one other promise from the league here too: increased production quality of broadcasts, thanks to “increased, and uniform, investment across all platforms.”

The NWSL knows it can’t afford a drop in quality between matches that might air on ABC versus its website — so while maybe they left a little money on the table by not getting some regular-season inventory sold, the theory is fans shouldn’t notice the difference. — Linehan

Required reading

(Photo: Peter Casey / USA Today)

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