Next Stop For USWNT: HBO

(Image via Turner Sports)

U.S. Soccer and Warner Bros. Discovery (Turner Sports) agreed to an eight-year media rights deal in March 2022, with hopes of growing the American game, specifically, the women’s game. This Tuesday, January 17th, HBO Max will become the latest streaming service to enter the live sports arena, when it broadcasts the U.S. Women’s National Team in their friendly match against New Zealand.[1] The friendly will serve as a test launch for HBO’s ability to provide a quality livestreaming sports experience, as well as insight into how the recently-merged Warner Bros. Discovery will utilize its massive content resources in order to elevate a sports partner.

The USWNT will play two friendlies this month, both of which will air exclusively on HBO Max. Turner Sports will broadcast over 20 matches (men’s and women’s) annually, half of which will air on TNT or TBS, while all matches will be available to stream on HBO Max. This $200 million media rights deal aims to combat a somewhat concerning downtick in viewership; USWNT TV ratings fell 10% from 2021 to 2022. This equates to an average of 362,692 viewers across 13 games – actually a 20% increase from 2018 (the corresponding year in the prior World Cup cycle). The USWNT’s highest-rated matches last year were the four games played on major networks (ABC and Fox).[2] This new deal with Turner Sports hopes to attract a significant portion of HBO Max’s approximately 76.8 million subscribers.[3]  

Cindy Parlow Cone, President of U.S. Soccer, expressed her excitement for this new partnership: “During our discussions it was clear how dedicated they are to growing soccer in the United States, especially their commitment to expand the women’s game.” WBD Sports’ Senior Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, Raphael Poplock, shares the same vision. “We want to leverage the mothership in all ways possible, and that includes cross promotion and pollination with other sports,” he recently shared.

Similarly, U.S. Soccer has shown interests in leveraging other WBD brands, such as the Food Network and CNN. Poplock added, “we’ve already had some internal dialogue around what can we do before, let’s say a U.S.–Mexico match, to make that feel like a huge tent-pole moment.” Turner/WBD also has plans to capitalize on its various social media assets, centering around the Bleacher Report and House of Highlights brands. 

Looking ahead, this is very likely just the beginning for WBD’s sports livestreaming platform. WBD President David Zaslav mentioned the eventual possibility of acquiring broadcast rights to NBA games. While Zaslav said that he was “hopeful that we can do something very creative,” he also qualified the statement with some strategic public posturing, adding that WBD does not “have to have the NBA.” Until then, the USWNT serves as an excellent introduction into the livestreaming sports world, and this relationship will almost surely prove to be mutually beneficial for both parties, as well as for eager fans.


References

[1] https://www.sportico.com/business/media/2023/hbo-maxs-first-u-s-live-sports-broadcast-uswnt-1234700819/?cx_testId=9&cx_testVariant=cx_1&cx_artPos=1&cx_experienceId=EXAKGDTXOYL0#cxrecs_s

[2] https://justwomenssports.com/uswnt-broadcast-deal-hbo-max-january-new-zealand/

[3] https://variety.com/2022/streaming/news/hbo-max-discovery-plus-subscribers-q3-1235422137/

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3L at University at Buffalo School of Law; BSELS Co-Vice President

MBA in Marketing;

In pursuit of a career at the intersection of sports law and sports business, specifically in professional hockey.

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