NWSL’s regular-season finale makes waves, but not on airwaves
None of the final weekend's six matches aired on television.
Esmeralda Negron is the Co-Founder and General Manager of Ata Football, an over-the-top sports streaming service carrying live broadcasts of women’s football. In partnership with JWS, Ata Football has helped create The Soccer Show, a highlights-driven YouTube program dedicated to the FAWSL.
For those who don’t know, can you give a quick overview of Ata’s business model?
We’ve invested in these women’s football rights and created distribution partnerships with premium broadcasters in territories where we have live rights. We share these rights, because we think it’s the best thing for the sport, but we retain the ability to integrate sponsors into the live match: in opening and closing sequences, halftime shows, whatever it might be.
We are in the process of talking to some really premier brands to, hopefully, get sponsors on for next season and beyond. A big part of our business model is driving revenue and marketing support via our broadcast sponsorship integration, but we’ll be launching our subscription platform in August of 2021 and that will also be a big part of our business model.
The company is a little over six months old. How are things going?
People have asked that a bunch of times and I think we’re lucky in that… I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like the market was excited about it. We launched this in a pandemic when fans were excited about live sport and seeing more and more come back on. We ultimately succeeded, in a way, because I think people were paying attention to anything that came back on. Fans were excited to have live sports. Any league that was confirming they were back on, that they would be visible and accessible to fans, was a positive.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
I think with any startup, you’re going to be struggling for resources and bandwidth. We have a phenomenal group of partners, consultants and interns who have all stepped up to bring the vision of Ata Football to life. We have incredible support from our investment group, 777 Partners through their shared services. Additionally, our broadcast production team, Gravity Media, based in London, are just top-class. Without all of these people, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing at this time.
As with any startup, there are so many challenges. Especially in this space, in women’s sport and women’s soccer, there’s incredible growth and opportunities and partnerships and different things that you can do. It’s just finding the time and being smart with your time and navigating that piece of things, understanding that you’re in this startup phase where you want to do everything, but you don’t necessarily always have the resources or the bandwidth or the staff to be able to move on everything that you want. It’s a lot, but it’s also something I love and I’m so passionate about. I feel so excited about what we’re building and what we’re doing.
Where do you think the biggest future opportunities are?
For us, providing this visibility and accessibility, both on atafootball.com and with our premium broadcast partners, has been phenomenal. In the long term, we hope our digital platform will be where we deliver the most value to fans and players of the game. We want to unite a community around women’s soccer and really deliver valuable experiences, resources, and tools to fans and the grassroots market.
You yourself were an extremely accomplished college soccer player at Princeton. From then to now, can you describe the growth you’ve seen as a player and a businesswoman around the global women’s game?
The leagues and the clubs now feel like they have partners and a support system that’s really going to help them build legitimate fandom and grow the game. That was the inspiration behind launching Ata Football. And when I think back to my experience as a pro in 2006, 2007, and what the landscape looks like now, it’s night and day.
Some people still say, “Oh, women’s sports are still super behind.” And it is when you compare them to men’s. But when you think about the growth in the 10-15 years from when I played, it’s incredible. It’s exciting to see, and it’s really promising.
At Ata Football, we’re really just excited to be involved and to support the growth, to support the visibility, just as I know JWS is. Companies like Just Women Sports and Ata Football can hopefully drive this virtuous cycle of reinvestment in the game and really deliver value to everybody associated with the game so that sponsors can now reach an engaged audience around women’s sports.
Not to get lost in our own hype here, but what made you excited about working with JWS on the Soccer Show?
At Ata Football, we partner with other platforms and organizations that are invested in women’s sport and in bringing more promotion, marketing and coverage to the space. We realized that you guys were dedicated to covering the FAWSL and were excited to produce and launch this show. So for us, it was a no brainer. It’s an exciting partnership. We really respect everything that you guys are doing over there and we love it. To partner with another organization allows us to offer more to our audience and to your audience is a win-win for everybody.
There was big news out of the FAWSL recently with a new television deal with BBC and Sky Sports. What was your reaction, and what does that mean for Ata Football?
I think it’s phenomenal for the league. I think Sky’s investment in producing more matches at a higher level will only give us more opportunity to broadcast more matches here in the US that are produced at a really great standard. So we’re really excited. We have some friends at Sky Sports, so we’re excited for them and excited that there are now more and more investments and bigger investments in the media rights space. Without this type of investment and people recognizing the value and taking this leap, you can’t pump that money back into the leagues and the players and the clubs. I think seeing women’s sports finally getting that value, the attention around that, and people recognizing the value in it from a media rights perspective, I think is tremendous.
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