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Leagues: NWSL

NWSL needs long-term TV partner

Welcome to my new weekly column that will review broadcast media happenings around the soccer world. Every Monday, I’ll discuss the latest happenings in the US soccer broadcast media scene and throw some reporting tidbits and analysis in there.

NWSL TV deal for 2020
On Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that NWSL will not remain on ESPN this season.

One source told me on background that NWSL going to NBC would prove problematic for MLS. If NBC is able to elevate and promote NWSL the way they did the Premier League, it would draw a sharp contrast with MLS.

The source said promoting NWSL as the “best league in the world” where the “World Champion USA play,” would potentially undermine MLS’ argument about watching the league because it is “our soccer.” The source was less concerned about CBS or beIN SPORTS potentially acquiring NWSL rights, feeling neither outlet has the bandwidth in terms of promotion to core soccer fans to make any sort of dent.

My take is that NWSL is drifting from partner to partner in the post A&E era, and needs Octagon, the media agency retained by the league, to settle on a long-term strategy. 

Ahmed Fareed strong weekend deputizing for Rebecca Lowe in NBC’s Premier League studio

It was quite a surprise to awaken Saturday morning to see Ahmed Fareed instead of Rebecca Lowe on NBCSN. Fareed has become quite good at presenting the Premier League with all the midweek action the last two seasons. And he was on the mark in his question setups for Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino. Fareed’s emergence as a competent Premier League fill-in not only adds to the portfolio of the versatile multi-sport host, but gives NBC more options in Premier League presentations. 

In the past, I have not been favorably disposed to multi-sport presenters handling soccer, but Fareed has grown confident in the role as he’s now regularly filled in since early 2019. 

Studio coverage this weekend on NBCSN had a strong focus on Bruno Fernandes’ signing by Manchester United, the renewal of the Pep vs. Jose rivalry that has helped define European club football the last decade, as well as Arsenal’s continued difficulties. Fareed facilitated a really good discussion Sunday morning about Arteta changing the Gunners mentality and shape out of possession, something never emphasized by Wenger or Emery. 

ESPN FC needs more match exposure 

ESPNFC’s wraparound League Cup coverage of Manchester City-Manchester United demonstrated the potential of using the program and studio talent with so many soccer properties currently on ESPN+. It’s been mighty frustrating to see how little ESPN uses this platform to provide proper match coverage of ESPN+ broadcasts, be they from the cups in England, Serie A or other leagues. 

The move of the Bundesliga to ESPN next season should require a greater studio presence and the extensive use of shoulder programming. For all the complaints about FOX’s coverage of German football, it’s been easy to locate highlights shows using a programming guide. And studio coverage on FOX has actually been useful when an effort is made. For example, this weekend Alexi Lalas and Ian Joy flanked Kate Abdo for coverage in the FS1 studio and provided plenty of good analysis.

FOX’s team of Keith Costigan and Warren Barton score again

Keith Costigan and Warren Barton have emerged as a spectacularly listenable commentary team for Bundesliga matches. Barton’s work has dramatically improved since joining FOX Sports in 2008 as part of their soccer coverage. He’s also developed a versatility to serve as both a studio analyst and co-commentator. 

The former Newcastle United defender has demonstrated an uncanny ability to discuss team shape and defensive mentality in the last few seasons, an especially useful trait covering a league where goal scoring at times seems to simple for the top sides, as most recently evidenced by Erling Haaland’s seven goals in his first three league matches. 

But unfortunately, this seasoned team is unlikely to call high-level European matches after this season with FOX being out of the European club game. 

What do both Costigan and Barton do after FOX loses the Bundesliga? Both have coaching interests in southern California so aren’t particularly mobile. Costigan in particular is a very well-regarded coach whose career as a broadcaster has been enhanced by his understanding of tactics and technique. 

Despite this, it would be wise for some other network covering the sport to make an effort to use one or both in the future. Even if simply in gap-filling roles. 

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Eddy

    February 5, 2020 at 9:46 pm

    Moot point NWSL signed deal with CBS Sports, looks like that source that said ignorantly/arrogantly said the NWSL deal with NBCSN would prove problematic for MLS was as way off base about where NWSL is vs MLS; I fear it was a NWSL source.

    NWSL and MLS should be working together. I hope there isn’t too much arrogance developing on the NWSL side. In 1999 a then young new MLS commish Don Garber approached those in the US women’s soccer about partnering for a new Women’s league after the first Women’s WC win, MLS was scoffed at,. Julie Foudy said ” we don’t want MLS riding our coattails”. The rest is history.

  2. NaBUru38

    February 4, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    “Neither [CBS or beIN ] has the bandwidth in terms of promotion to core soccer fans to make any sort of dent.”

    That’s correct. However, I doubt that NBC would push the NWSL higher than they did NBC with MLS in 2012-2014.

    Moreover, NBC has rights to multiple sports events (skiing, gymnastics, athletics) and they get minimal ratings.

  3. Eplnfl

    February 3, 2020 at 9:21 pm

    The more soccer coverage of the lower divisions is better for all.

    What wrong with broadcasters covering other sports besides soccer? Any number of the old Sky Soccer Crew handled other sports competently. I believe that there are several good boxing commentators among the group.

    As well as NBC has done with its EPL coverage ESPN still is the coverage king. I have not been a big German League fan over the years but ESPN coverage may convert me.

  4. Monte Reed

    February 3, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    While NWSL struggles to find a broadcaster, I’m sitting here watching Liga MX Femenil on TUDN.
    US Soccer is really dropping the ball on NWSL, they should be the best women’s league in the world but I have noticed more and more players are going to Europe. Spending half of last season not on TV is a joke

  5. Ritchie

    February 3, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    Although I find that I disagree with you more than not, I’m really looking forward to these columns!

    Fareed is solid and prepared but wears on me after a while. He’s a little too stiff and fake sounding and projects too much. A more relaxed version of him would be 5 times better.

    I agree that ESPNFC’s shoulder coverage of the EFL Cup semis was outstanding. Days like that make me want ESPNFC as a 24/7 linear channel. On the other hand, I have to disagree with your earlier take that ESPN+ is bad for Bundesliga. If you’re looking for all of your soccer via the traditional cable satellite delivery, you’re dating yourself. ESPN+ gives you much more content (and allows you to time shift that content) much more than Fox EVER did.

  6. JP

    February 3, 2020 at 11:35 am

    These articles are going to be a great addition.

    Find it hard to believe NWSL going to NBC would be a detriment to MLS. What they did with EPL was one thing, already had a core audience, albeit smaller on the niche Fox Soccer. In addition, EPL is unarguably an entertaining great product for even novice or casual soccer fans. Don’t see them being able to do anything close to that with NWSL if they get the contract. Will be nice filler for them on nights after the NHL playoffs are over during the summer, wouldn’t take away viewers already inclined to watch MLS.

    In regards to wrap around coverage on ESPN+, they probably only did this for the League Cup match since it was a Manchester Derby and saw it as a good promotional opportunity for viewers who may not normally subscribe. Putting their best foot forward. Doubt they’ll carry this forward with any regularity aside from a one off here or there. If they don’t currently do it for Serie A and FA Cup, why would Bundesliga suddently warrant it?

  7. Robert

    February 3, 2020 at 9:18 am

    What a pleasant surprise! Great article!
    I do not see how building up the NWSL would have a negative affect on the MLS, unless it was because they had a better TV package then the MLS. They are both OUR soccer.
    Both leagues with good TV coverage would be wonderful for the sport in the U.S.

    Monday’s just got better!
    Your friend, Robert

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