CBS is ready to be a women's sports hero

Coverage of the NWSL Challenge Cup is a key
COMMENTARY By Cliff Pfenning,

The only thing keeping CBS from being a huge winner in the current socially/culturally challenging times is CBS and its coverage of the National Women's Soccer League.

And, it's possibly a huge deal in that it's the right thing to do - cover live women's sports when there's nothing but taped coverage of men's sports to cover.

Imagine the story that would be created if CBS announced it was upgrading its coverage of the NWSL Challenge Cup to include two extra live matches on its network, not its streaming service CBS All-Access.

CBS made a huge step forward for the league in March, agreeing to become the NWSL's media partner and carry two matches on its broadcast channel (free TV), something that hadn't happened for women's pro soccer - the two previous leagues and seven years of the NWSL. CBS announced it would carry the league's opening match and its final on the broadcast channel. A bundle of other matches would be carried by CBS All-Access, a streaming channel. That announcement happened March 11. Rudy Gobert happened later that day.

When the NWSL set up its Challenge Cup for June 27-July 26, CBS was right there with the same basic idea - cover the opening match and final on the broadcast newtork. The opening match, drew a pro women's soccer record audience of nearly 600,000 viewers. has been doing its share for coverage of the tourney.

But, the network is poised to make a huge impact on women's sports, women's sports media coverage, if it wants to by upgrading its commitment to the league and broadcast a couple more matches.

Imagine if CBS announced to the world that it was going to cover one or two more matches on its network, taking advantage of the fact there's basically no other live events to cover. How much free advertising would just such an announcement get for CBS? And the NWSL.




Women's sports are on the verge of something big

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 5:45am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 2 hours 36 min ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

I've been a fan of women's sports for a long time. Of women's college sports and girls high school competition.

My interest probably goes back to following the UO women's basketball team in the mid-80s, and when I really think about it is somewhat attached to McArthur Court - just going there was such a pleasure and all I needed was a reason to go. The school had a men's and women's team, and my voice had a little more impact in those games with fewer fans, so ... heck, it was a team to follow.

High school sports comes from covering Mt. Hood Conference volleyball matches for The Oregonian in the late '90s when Gresham, Barlow and Central Catholic could attract crowds of 800 fans at least for their rivalry matches, and maket a gym come alive. Covering the University of Portland women's soccer team in 2001 and onward was crowds of 3,000 and more for most matches, especially during the Pilots first title season, 2002.

I've covered the high school cheerleading finals at Memorial Coliseum for most of the last decade. Want to see some energy at an event - that's it.

So, it's good to see women's pro soccer get something of momentum going this season after the U.S. National team's win in the World Cup last summer. Portland sports fans have done more than their part in getting the National Women's Soccer League onto the map by averaging more than 20,000 fans per game last year - more than 15 of the 24 Major League Soccer teams in 2019.

The first match in the NWSL Challenge Cup Saturday attracted the largest audience for a women's pro soccer in television history due to it being televised by CBS and not a cable network. HAving the league's two most successful teams - the Thorns and North Carolina Courage might of had something to do with that.

And yet, the NWSL, and women's sports with it, is still being treated as a second or even third-class option for sports coverage, and CBS is doing its part to show that off. The network has done a great job of bumping up the level of respect for the NWSL, but if it really wanted to get some more results out of its investment in the league, it could easily do more. Just put more matches on its main channel and pay more attention on its online site. 

And, the NWSL would do well to make this happen as well as respond to what it's actually doing for the future. The league got a significant bump in exposure when Kansas City moved to Salt Lake City last year, and that team finished second in attendance at more than 10,000 fans per match. And it has an expansion team set for Louisville next year. It's got a bunch of new marketing partners and a bunch of players who've almost defied public scrutiny by playing in the current tournament, even after one of the nine teams bailed in the week of the first match.

The nation is looking at the MLS and NBA, which are set to restart this month, and wondering if the men's teams have the strength to start, and yet the women's league is going full steam ahead.

The NWSL and CBS should be just thrashing the public sports community with these stories, and yet it doesn't - almost like it's playing into the role it has established as being lucky to still be around after eight years.





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