One of the first things Jessica Berman told CBS and Ally Financial when she stepped into the role of NWSL commissioner in April was that having the league championship on primetime was a priority moving forward.
So, they made it happen.
For the first time in the league’s 10-year history, the 2022 Ally Financial NWSL Championship will air on primetime, with CBS broadcasting the game at 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 29 from Audi Field in Washington, D.C. The stadium features a grass field and holds 20,000 fans.
“What I’ve heard from our players is that in order for them to deliver on their value proposition and to maximize their potential, they need first-class facilities and they need to feel like they’re being treated like the first-class athletes that they are, and for them, being on primetime is really important,” Berman told Just Women’s Sports.
Last season, players criticized the league and CBS for originally scheduling the championship game for 9 a.m. local time on a turf field in Portland, Ore. The match was eventually moved to 12 p.m. local time in Louisville, K.Y.
9am start is laughable. Im tired of staying quiet. We deserve better. https://t.co/mFhehvJvJp— Ashlyn Harris (@Ashlyn_Harris) September 6, 2021
9am start is laughable. Im tired of staying quiet. We deserve better. https://t.co/mFhehvJvJp
This year’s final was originally scheduled to kick off at noon ET before it moved into the 8 p.m. slot, the league said in a press release Tuesday.
“We point to some of the record viewership that we’ve had already with our partnership with the NWSL,” said CBS’ head of programming Dan Weinberg. “We’re proud of that. We think this is the next step in that.”
CBS’ streaming service, Paramount+, will offer exclusive pre-match coverage at 7 p.m. ET and will also serve as an alternative viewing platform for the match. International viewers will be able to watch the game live on Twitch.
For Berman, the first benefit to being on primetime is showcasing the NWSL to a broader audience. Most games during the regular season are only available to viewers with a Paramount+ subscription, making it harder for the league to attract new or casual fans. The championship’s primetime national television slot will give people who may have never seen an NWSL game the opportunity to watch the league’s best compete.
Last year’s championship game drew an average of 525,000 viewers on CBS, marking a 216 percent increase from the ratings of the 2019 NWSL Championship.
“You’re gonna get anyone that likes sports to get interested, and the more people that we can get to put eyes on NWSL and to see the caliber of play and just to see how exciting this game is just gives us a much better chance to have a really strong long-term trajectory in terms of audience growth and expansion of what we all want to see this league be,” said Andrea Brimmer, Ally’s chief marketing offer and public relations officer.
“I think we’re all going to get behind it big time and make a big push so that we get a lot of eyeballs and a lot of people there.”
The historic move will mark the end of Berman’s first year as NWSL commissioner. Having stepped into the position in the midst of a league-wide abuse scandal, Berman emphasizes the importance of being surrounded by partners like CBS and Ally, who share the league’s values and are willing to take new approaches to help it grow.
“We need people to be courageous and bold,” said Berman, who views the championship game milestone as scratching the surface of what she hopes to accomplish with the NWSL.
“We have a lot of catching up to do, like we should be bigger than we already are,” she added. “We need our partners to be like-minded in the way they show up on behalf of the league … [I’m] so excited to have CBS and Ally be the ones who are fireside, making this happen.”
In addition to the championship game, CBS aired a regular-season match in June and is scheduled to broadcast one more on Sept. 10 between the Washington Spirit and San Diego Wave.
The NWSL quarterfinals will air on CBS Sports Network and Paramount+ during the weekend of Oct. 15, and the semifinals will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network the weekend of Oct. 22. All matches will also stream internationally on Twitch.
On Aug. 31, tickets will go on sale for the championship game at Audi Field, home of the defending NWSL champion Washington Spirit.
“We’re always excited to crown champions on CBS. It’s what we do,” Weinberg said. “We’re super excited to do it with the NWSL again this year. Doing it in primetime, I think, ramps things up even more from a visibility standpoint, from an exposure standpoint. Really thrilled that the piece came into place. We think it’s good for everybody, frankly.”
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.