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Pay in women’s national soccer league soccer might be to do with broadcasting barely one rung above YouTube

July 3, 2019

During the 2013–2016 seasons, the majority of league games were available for viewing via YouTube or via individual team’s websites.[66] Of the eight teams in the league during the inaugural season, the Boston Breakers were the only team that charged a fee for access to their broadcasts.[67]

2013[edit]

On April 18, 2013, NWSL signed a one-year agreement with Fox Sports 2 to televise six regular season games, the semifinal, and championship games.[68]

2014[edit]

On May 28, 2014, the NWSL signed a one-year agreement with ESPN to televise nine games of the 2014 NWSL season. The matches included three regular season and three playoff matches on ESPN2, as well as 3 regular season games live-streamed on ESPN3.[69]

2015–2016[edit]

On June 30, 2015, the NWSL announced a one-year agreement with Fox Sports once more to cover ten matches. Three regular season and three playoff matches were televised on FS1, and four live-streamed on Fox Sports Go.[70] The agreement was extended into 2016 under another one-year contract, covering three regular season matches and the three playoff matches, once again on FS1.[71]

2017–2018[edit]

On February 2, 2017, the NWSL announced a three-year agreement with A&E Networks, in which the Lifetime network broadcast 22 regular-season matches as the NWSL Game of the Week at 4 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday afternoons, as well as three post-season matches. This marked the first time that the NWSL had a weekly broadcast window throughout the entire season. As part of the deal, A&E Networks purchased a 25% equity stake in the NWSL and were granted two seats on the league’s board. The company also formed a joint venture with the league known as NWSL Media to oversee the league’s marketing and broadcast rights, and Lifetime became a league-wide kit sponsor for all players. This deal marked the first time Lifetime had broadcast sports since the WNBA in the late 1990s and early 2000s.[72][73][74][75][76] Lifetime also streamed the game of the week in the United States via its website, and internationally in the NWSL website and iOS app. The remaining games were initially streamed exclusively by go90 in the United States as part of a paid multi-year sponsorship agreement, and through the NWSL website internationally.[72]

The quality of the streams through go90 faced criticism, with sportswriters, users, and players and team staff criticizing the service for its inconsistent quality and arguing that the NWSL’s growth could be harmed by go90’s relative lack of reach and prominence when compared to YouTube.[77][78] The Equalizer noted that the app was prone to crashing, did not have the same wide device support as YouTube,[79] and that the telecasts themselves suffered from their own technical problems (such as poor camera angles and glitches with graphics), but that the streams were good when they worked.[80] On May 19, 2017, the league announced that they would additionally stream games on the NWSL website and app in the U.S. until the technical issues with go90 were rectified.[81]

After Houston Dash player Rachel Daly collapsed on the pitch after a match in Houston, on May 27 – where the heat index was reportedly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit – she was carried off on a stretcher and hospitalized for heat illness. League operations director Amanda Duffy subsequently announced that the NWSL Game of the Week matches, many of which were slated for the hottest parts of the day in humid cities such as Houston, Orlando, and Cary, North Carolina, would be rescheduled to allow for longer hydration breaks. Some Game of the Week matches changed to other venues, and teams not scheduled for television were granted more flexibility in rescheduling kickoffs for player safety. The league also adopted new procedures for addressing heat and rescheduling matches.[82][83]

On June 6, 2018, it was announced that six Game of the Week matches through the remainder of the season would move to evening kickoffs and air on ESPNews (which is owned by a sister venture to A&E Networks), in an effort to ensure the safety of players, as well as improve attendance.[84] Go90 shut down in July 2018; the remaining games not aired on television were moved back to the NWSL website for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.[85]

2019[edit]

On February 20, 2019, the NWSL announced that A&E Networks had pulled out of its broadcasting agreement with the league one season early. A&E’s stake in NWSL Media was given back to the league, but Lifetime will remain a kit sponsor. NWSL president Amanda Duffy said the changes would give the league and its teams finer control over its media and sponsorship agreements, and expected to announce a new television rights deal soon. Verizon Media remains the U.S. digital rightsholder to the league, but the streams moved from go90 to the Yahoo! Sports website and apps.[86]

The NWSL did not reach any national television deals before the start of the 2019 season,[87] but after their opening match, the Chicago Red Stars reached their own television deal with the regional sports network NBC Sports Chicago.[88]

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