It’s a medium step forward for the league
The National Women’s Soccer League announced early this morning that they had entered into a broadcast agreement with ESPN. In total, ESPN will broadcast 14 games; 11 regular season matches, both semifinals and the final. The North Carolina Courage will be featured in four of the regular season games, which is significantly above the league average and tied with Portland Thorns FC for the greatest number of scheduled broadcast slots. The Courage will host just one of those four broadcast matches; the rescheduled Tuesday, September 17th match against the Houston Dash. The decision to highlight that particular match is surprising, since a weeknight game is destined to have a much smaller crowd than most games.
ESPN signs media rights agreement with @NWSL for second half of 2019 season
⚽️ 14 #NWSL matches to air on ESPN2 & ESPNEWS – including both semifinals & the championship
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) July 4, 2019
A soft launch with perfect timing
While the league’s breakup with A+E Networks during the offseason was unexpected, the NWSL does have a perfect opportunity to prove to potential streaming suitors that they can produce solid ratings. As the USWNT heads to the final match of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the league is expecting a big jump in interest riding on the national team coattails. In 2015, after the USA won their third World Cup title, attendance around the league jumped 20-30% as America was introduced to women’s soccer once again.
The broadcast deal, which perhaps is more like a streaming deal since eight of the games will be on ESPNEWS, kicks off on July 14th with the clear expectation that the league and ESPN will be able to market the biggest names from the tournament facing off in our own backyard. That plan might hit a snag, though, because the USWNT players missed a lot of time following the 2015 World Cup victory. Despite the World Cup ending on July 6th, most players took about three weeks to make their club team returns. It will be interesting to see whether players will be more anxious to get back to their teams this season and how the promotional material turns out without a set date. For the Courage and the league, the sooner those players return the better.
North Carolina Courage broadcast games
Sunday, July 21: Chicago Red Stars vs North Carolina Courage (ESPN2)
Saturday, July 27: Utah Royals FC vs North Carolina Courage (ESPNEWS)
Sunday, August 11: Portland Thorns FC vs North Carolina Courage (ESPNEWS)
Tuesday, September 17: North Carolina Courage vs Houston Dash (ESPNEWS)