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A+E Networks, National Women’s Soccer League Ink Major Deal

Variety logo Variety 2/2/2017 Oriana Schwindt
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Women’s soccer is coming to Lifetime.

A+E Networks, a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and Hearst, has taken an equity stake in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). The two will launch a joint venture, NWSL Media, which will oversee the league’s global broadcast and sponsorship rights, production of league game telecasts, as well as live streaming and digital platforms.

As part of the deal, A+E Networks channel Lifetime will become an official sponsor of the League and an official broadcast partner. NWSL games will begin airing on Lifetime in April, marking the first time in NWSL’s history that a league game will be broadcast on television every weekend of the season. Under the three-year deal, the “NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime” will air every Saturday on the channel at 4 p.m. ET, with a pre-­game show at 3:30 p.m. ET, from April through September. Lifetime will be featured on all official jerseys with a patch on the right sleeve.

NWSL Media is currently negotiating live streaming deals, but NWSL president Jeff Plush said the league is committed to streaming every game to as wide an audience as possible. Previously, games had streamed on YouTube globally.

“As a former college athlete, I know the importance of sports in the lives of women and girls and I couldn’t be more thrilled to join forces with NWSL and U.S. Soccer to ensure professional women athletes are elevated as the entire country can watch and be inspired by their strength and athleticism,” said Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO, A+E Networks.

The deal is just the latest to bring some sports-related diversity to Lifetime. Last April, the network signed a three-movie pact with UFC star Ronda Rousey. “Business is anything but traditional these days,” Dubuc said. “We don’t see Lifetime as a TV brand, but as a female media brand. Twenty years ago, its legacy was that it broadcast the WNBA.”

The NWSL consists of 10 professional teams across the United States, from the reigning champions the Western New York Flash (just relocated and rebranded as the North Carolina Courage) to the Seattle Reign. Women’s soccer received a massive profile boost in 2015 with the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which the U.S. women’s national team won to a TV audience of 25.4 million on Fox.

“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,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati.

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