National Women's Soccer League: CBS to show championship game in prime time

Washington DC - In the National Women's Soccer League's (NWSL) 10th season, the championship game is headed to its biggest stage yet.

The Washington Spirit celebrate after defeating Chicago Red Stars during the NWSL Championship held at Lynn Family Stadium on November 20, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Washington Spirit celebrate after defeating Chicago Red Stars during the NWSL Championship held at Lynn Family Stadium on November 20, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky.  © Tim Nwachukwu / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

CBS will televise the final in prime time on Saturday, October 29 at 8:00 PM, from Audi Field in Washington – the home of the Washington Spirit and Major League Soccer's DC United.

It will be the first time the game airs in prime time on broadcast network TV, and the first time the game is at night since 2015, when FS1 televised it.

The announcement was made Tuesday by the league, CBS, and the title game's principal sponsor Ally Bank. Originally, the game was set for noon, but the three entities came together to make the upgrade happen.

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"As we continue to advance the women's sports landscape in the U.S. and around the world, this is a particularly significant moment for the league and an opportunity our players wholly deserve," NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement.

The league and CBS need no reminding that last year's title game nearly became a fiasco. The network's only available TV slot was at noon ET and the only team that bid to host the game was the Portland Thorns, which meant the game would kick off at 9:00 AM local time.

A pressure campaign by the players' union led the league to move the game to Louisville, Kentucky, with five weeks to go.

Prime time showing marks a "huge win" for NWSL players and fans

Megan Rapinoe of OL Reign passes against the Washington Spirit.
Megan Rapinoe of OL Reign passes against the Washington Spirit.  © Steph Chambers / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Multiple sources with knowledge of the matter said CBS and the NWSL had conversations in the past about putting the game in prime time. The network's executive vice president of programming Dan Weinberg hinted at that in an interview with The Athletic.

"We wanted to figure out a way to make this happen, clear out our schedule in prime time, find a mutually agreeable date which, in the world of programming, isn't always the easiest thing to do, but we managed to do it," Weinberg said. "We're really excited to be able to have gotten it done, and to see what bears fruit here."

It's also clear that Ally's role was significant. Chief marketing and public relations officer Andrea Brimmer said the bank "increased our media investment with CBS to help make it happen," a turn of phrase that got a lot of attention from fans.

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"This is a huge win for the fans, for the players and the league, and for all brands that invest in women's sports," Brimmer said.

Championship audience could impact future NWSL TV deals

Cece Kizer of the Kansas City Current celebrates after scoring a goal.
Cece Kizer of the Kansas City Current celebrates after scoring a goal.  © Tim Nwachukwu / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

October 29 will be a jam-packed night of sports across the board, with Fox airing Game 2 of the World Series and ABC airing college football at the same time. And the fruit that Weinberg mentioned will be inspected closely by a lot of interested parties.

CBS' rights deal with the NWSL ends after next year, and a big audience will help the NWSL go to market to find a big increase in broadcast revenue. The league's current deals with CBS and Twitch bring in just $1.8 million per year.

That's a pittance compared to Major League Soccer's new $250 million-per-year deal with Apple – even as CBS' NWSL games have sometimes drawn more viewers than MLS on ESPN and Fox channels.

The audience number could also help the NWSL's TV arrangements next year, when CBS will have one of the busiest autumn slates in its recent history. Because the first season of the network's new Big Ten football deal overlaps with the last season of its longtime SEC deal, CBS will have seven Big Ten games along with its usual 15 SEC games. Finding room for the NWSL in there could be tricky.

The good news for the NWSL is that because CBS's SEC slate doesn't start until the third full week of the college football season, a good number of those Big Ten games could be early in the calendar, which would help the NWSL for a championship game at the same time of year.

We don't know yet when next year's NWSL final will be, not least because the league has to schedule around a World Cup taking place in Australia and New Zealand in July and August. A source said the scheduling process for next year is further along than it's been in the past.

For now, at least, the focus can be on this year.

Cover photo: Tim Nwachukwu / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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