CBS “thrilled” with NWSL Challenge Cup

CBS said it is “thrilled” with the quality and excitement of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup and the reception of fans to network’s coverage of the event.

The NWSL is staging a month-long tournament in Utah in lieu of a traditional season in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Games are being held without spectators while the Orlando Pride was forced to pull out after a number of positive coronavirus tests.

All games are being aired on CBS’ streaming service CBS All Access, with the opener and championship game airing live on the main CBS network. The NWSL signed a landmark three-year broadcast deal with CBS in March. Fans outside the United States and Canada can stream the full tournament on Twitch.

It has proven an immediate success for CBS. The opening game of the tournament was the most-watched match in league history, with an average of 572,000 viewers on the main CBS television network.

North Carolina Courage defeated Portland Thorns 2-1 in the tournament opener at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, on June 27.

The game generated a 201-per-cent increase on the previous record: 190,000 viewers for Portland Thorns v Houston Dash in August 2014. Notably, there were 178,000 viewers in the coveted age 18-49 demographic.

“We’ve loved it. The audience was just as passionate as we expected. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised as we had high expectations, but it’s really been a tremendous tournament and we’ve been very happy with the results and the quality of the play,” Jeff Gerttula, CBS Sports digital executive vice president and general manager, told SportBusiness.

“We’ve been learning as we’ve gone [through this process]. We know the audience has high expectations and we’ve continuing to try to get better and we’re committed to it. We’re going to create a better product for soccer fans. The NWSL is our first step in the soccer production space and we’ve learned a lot and we’ve learned it quickly,” Gerttula said.

CBS is not disclosing CBS All Access streaming figures nor the number of fans who have subscribed to the streaming service based on the NWSL Challenge Cup.

“We’re quite pleased with the numbers that we had on broadcast [television],” Gerttula added. “We’re thrilled with what we’ve seen.”

CBS recently extended its new commitment to soccer by picking up the English-language rights to the Uefa Champions League in the US two years early after current rightsholder Turner Sports called time on its deal.

Last November, in a surprise development, CBS secured rights to the Champions League from the 2021-22 season through 2023-24. However, CBS will now broadcast Europe’s flagship club soccer competition from August, in time for the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, as well as the 2020-21 campaign.

CBS has also gained the rights to the second-tier Uefa Europa League, new third-tier Uefa Europa Conference League, and the Uefa Super Cup. All games will be streamed on CBS All Access, with select games on linear television.