By Grace Benoit
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will now be broadcasted each weekend during its season on the Lifetime network. The NWSL is the highest level of women’s soccer in the United States, established in 2012 in the stead of Women’s Professional Soccer, the previous U.S. women’s soccer league. With 20 games scheduled for each team every season, this provides more media coverage for a league which has historically had only six of its games broadcasted a season. The NWSL season runs from April to August or September with each team scheduled for 24 regular season games, 12 at home and on the road. The NWSL is the third attempt at a women’s professional league in the United States and has been the most resilient, expanding to 10 teams in 2016 and becoming the first to play a fourth season.
The NWSL has had many struggles in its history, ranging from salary issues to high operating costs and lack of funding. Historically, women’s soccer has not been as popular as men’s soccer, but since the 2015 FIFA win, many more fans are tuning in. 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 to finance the league. Though getting the domestic league off the ground has been challenging due to the difficulty of finding funding and corporate backing to sustain operations, the sport continues to score more viewership per year thanks to the success of the U.S. National Team.
The United States Women’s National League gained popularity and coverage after their championship victory in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Due to this increased interest and popularity, the NWSL announced in 2015 its first agreements for televised games with Fox, airing six of its semi-final games in its first season. In each succeeding season, another game was aired in addition. This new deal with Lifetime airs a game each Saturday afternoon for 25 weeks, providing more exposure to the game to new fans and a platform for existing fans to support their teams and women’s sports.
Though Lifetime is traditionally not a sports channel, the president of A+E Networks, the network responsible for Lifetime Channel, confirmed that “we don’t see the Lifetime brand as just a television brand”, but 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.” Lifetime does have experience with televising sports though, having previously aired WNBA games from 1997 to 2000, and will become the NWSL sponsor for three years starting in April. Games which are not shown on Lifetime will be live streamed by A+E and the NWSL on the league’s website, as well as a new mobile app.
“This partnership is not only tremendously significant in the continued growth of the NWSL, but representative of how far the league has come in four years and where it can go in the future,” commented U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “A+E and its resources are a fantastic fit for women’s professional soccer and will have a major impact on continuing to raise the profile of what we feel is already the best and most competitive league in the world.” Greater viewership will strengthen corporate backing and funding, raising salaries for players, and keeping talent in the United States. This partnership brightens the future of women’s sports and its reception in mass media, encouraging viewership, and inclusion of female sports in television.