Octagon expects strong competition from US broadcasters for NWSL rights

The Octagon agency will prioritise domestic and global media-rights deals as it seeks to maximise the reach and revenue of the National Women’s Soccer League, the top US women’s football league, from 2020.

The NWSL yesterday (Monday) appointed Octagon as a consultant to advise the league on its media- and marketing-rights strategy globally for the next three seasons. The new season gets under way in April.

Octagon is currently finalising a tender process for the domestic media rights to the league, with a view to securing a multi-tier media proposition combining linear coverage with a rich digital offering. Initial talks with broadcasters have already begun and are likely to continue for one to two months. Octagon will work closely with NWSL Media, the league’s in-house media-rights team.

Sponsorship deals will follow, probably early next year, once media coverage levels have been established. Existing sponsors of the league include sportswear company Nike, global brewery AB InBev and consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, through its Secret deodorant brand.

In securing new brand partnerships, Octagon can tap into the global network of advertising agencies owned by its parent company, Interpublic.

For the international media rights it is likely that the agency will consider bids from national and international media groups and from sports marketing agencies.

The league, which launched in 2013, has struggled to secure long-term commitments from broadcasters in the US, and coverage overseas has been patchy. In 2019, ESPN showed some live matches in the second half of the season. Telco Verizon has also streamed matches on its Yahoo Sports platform.

Octagon is confident that there will be strong competition in the US in the wake of this summer’s Fifa Women’s World Cup, which the US won, and which raised the profile of many of the players who play in the NSWL. The large number of international players in the league will also help drive interest levels abroad, the agency believes.

Dan Cohen, senior vice-president, global media rights consulting at Octagon, told SportBusiness today: “The idea is to put together a multi-platform partnership or partnerships. A hybrid model. We do need to have some big exposure as part of this, both for the league and its sponsor partners. Exposure could be free-to-air or a big cable net.

“But we have to have a pretty heavy digital component. It’s a nascent league and needs visibility. It’s also a young league in terms of the people who follow it, so need to speak to them too. Getting a good chunk of content on digital will be integral.”

Cohen said that there was an opportunity to strike deals for both English- and Spanish-language coverage, which could either be with the same media company or two separate companies. “We have already heard back from some of the Spanish-language broadcasters and they are interested,” he said.

He added that in securing international deals “reach and exposure” were paramount. The commitment and marketing plans of international broadcasters would be a determining factor in deciding where the rights ended up.

Cohen said that getting the quality of the TV product right was also critical and the agency would be “progressive” in terms of production, making the most of interactive technologies to create a more personalised experience for fans but without jeopardising the authenticity of the sport. Production will include some “different and unique things that haven’t been done yet”, he said.

The nine franchises which currently take part in the league are expected to vote later this year to end the league’s management contract with the United States Soccer Federation and become fully autonomous from a commercial and organisational perspective.

Octagon won the contract in what is understood to have been a very competitive process. Major agencies and consultants such as IMG, Wasserman, CAA and several smaller, boutique consultants are thought to have expressed been involved.

The agency launched is consultancy division in 2017. Over the first two years, it has consulted on rights deals worth over $950m. Other football clients include the football associations of Thailand and Peru.