The National Women's Soccer League announced a major new three-year media rights deal with A+E Networks, owner of Lifetime and other channels, on Thursday.
Lifetime is now the NWSL's national TV home. The channel will televise a featured game each week at 4 p.m. Eastern, with a pregame show starting at 3:30 p.m. The New York Times' Andrew Das reported that Lifetime will televise 25 games per year, 22 in the regular season and three in the playoffs.
That is a familiar time slot to soccer fans of a certain age. It was the hour when PAX TV televised Women's United Soccer Association games in 2002 and 2003, and was Major League Soccer's weekly window on ESPN2 for much of the league's first decade of existence.
It was not always a successful time slot for either league, but soccer was less popular then than it is now. So much so that Univision networks will air many of its Major League Soccer games during that time slot this year.
Seven of those games are during the NWSL regular season. ESPN will also air three MLS games during that window in other weeks. That means the NWSL and MLS will go head-to-head at least 10 times this year.
That will be more fuel for those fans who question whether having Lifetime as the NWSL's main outlet will attract soccer fans who'd be more likely to watch games on traditional sports channels.
Lifetime does have some past experience televising sports, though. It was one of the Women's National Basketball Association's TV partners in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But considering that until now, the NWSL has only had a handful of games each year on national TV, Lifetime's coverage a significant step forward.
"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," U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. "A+E and its resources are a fantastic fit for women's professional soccer and will have a major impact on continuing to raise the profile of what we feel is already the best and most competitive league in the world."
It's worth noting that A+E is jointly owned by Disney and Hearst. So it may be worth wondering whether ESPN could end up with a few games at some point down the road.
Just as significant as the TV deal - and perhaps more - is that A&E Networks has taken an equity stake in the NWSL.
The company and league have formed a joint venture called NWSL Media that will overhaul the league's website, launch a mobile app for iOS and Android platforms, manage commercial sponsorships and global broadcast deals, and run live streaming coverage of all games not televised,
The last of those clauses is where things could get really interesting. The NWSL has won a lot of praise for using YouTube as its live streaming platform, allowing fans across the globe to watch games free of charge.
It's not clear whether that will continue under the new deal, and it seems possible that it may not. The NWSL's release said that it and A+E are "currently negotiating with potential partners to stream the games not broadcast on Lifetime."
FourFourTwo's Jeff Kassouf reported that the streams will remain free of charge and will not be geoblocked, which means they will be available worldwide.
Here's video of the press conference the league and A+E held Thursday morning in New York to discuss the deal: