Women’s Professional Soccer will kick off its inaugural season in 2009 with a national game of the week on Fox Soccer Channel.
As part of a three-year pact, the 34 million-subscriber Fox Soccer Channel will televise a minimum of 20 live Sunday night matches, beginning next April.
The deal, which holds a fourth-year option and is described as a partnership, also calls for FSC to televise the circuit’s All-Star game, while its postseason -- a pair of semifinals and the championship contest -- will be covered next August by FSN’s owned-and-affiliated regional sports networks. That will boost the WPS’s playoffs reach to some 80 million homes, according to the parties. The network holds the rights to stream the matches on foxsoccer.com.
Fox Soccer Channel also plans to feature WPS pre-and post-game shows, round-up segments on Fox Soccer Report, plus content sharing across womensprosoccer.com and FoxSoccer.com. The network, which became Nielsen-rated this month, will control advertising on the matches, but does not plan to interrupt the game action with commercial insertion during play.
The announcement of the national TV deal coincides with today’s WPS general draft, taking place at league headquarters in San Francisco, the results of which will be announced on FSC’s Fox Football Fone-In show at 8 p.m. (ET).
The seven-team WPS is the successor to the cable-centric WUSA which folded days after completing its third campaign and just before the start of the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, after burning through millions of dollars. The new league, which gained momentum from the U.S. national team’s gold medal victory over Brazil at the Beijing Olympics, has already held its top domestic and international player allocations over the past three weeks.
WPS, which has a decentralized ownership structure, compared to the single-entity approach favored by WUSA, will begin play next spring with teams based in the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey/New York, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.
Discovery Communications founder and chairman John Hendricks, the patriarch of WUSA, is the owner of the Washington Freedom franchise. That was the same moniker for the WUSA's Washington team.
The league has committed to expanding in 2010 with squads in Atlanta, Dallas, and Philadelphia. For more information.
“Fox Soccer Channel takes great pride in showcasing the ‘beautiful game’ at all levels, and the addition of Women’s Professional Soccer to our programming lineup will add an exciting new dimension to our network,” said David Sternberg, executive vice president and general manager of Fox Soccer Channel, in a statement. “With the women’s game enjoying an unprecedented surge in popularity, we are eager to showcase the world’s elite players during Fox Soccer Channel’s live and exclusive WPS game of the week telecasts.”
Noted WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci: “Fox Soccer Channel has become the go-to place for global soccer coverage in the United States and is a tremendous broadcast platform for our league. Between the FSC flagship, the Fox Sports Net regional networks and FoxSoccer.com, FSC is the right partner to bring WPS, the world’s best women’s soccer league, to sports fans and soccer fanatics alike.”
With its national carriage deal in the net, WPS and its franchises now will focus their attention on regional television opportunities. That could come in the form of a league-wide pact struck by WPS and then approved by the seven franchises. Or, each club could pursue its own individual agreement.
One likely target: Comcast SportsNet, which operates five regional sports networks that map out with WPS franchises in the Bay Area (Comcast SportsNet Bay Area); New York/New Jersey (SportsNet New York); Washington (Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic); Philadelphia (Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia); and Boston (Comcast SportsNet New England). Comcast SportsNet officials declined comment.
However, sources familiar with the proceedings said that while no deal has been struck, several conversations have taken place and that “carriage remains a possibility.”
Either way, WPS sides are required by the league's operating agreement to air at least two other matches on a regional basis. Even with commitments to Major League Baseball games and other sports, chances are such agreements could yield more than the 14-game allotment.
Moreover, WPS is in talks with Universal Sports, NBC Universal’s recently purchased Olympics channel, to carry programming that could include lifestyle and fitness, as well as player profiles.