Last year, CBS Sports’ coverage of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) set a high bar for the broadcaster entering 2021, where a certain degree of normalcy will return to the sports calendar.
In 2021, NWSL will play its second short in-season league cup competition before moving on to a normal regular season on May 15. That 2021 Challenge Cup begins Friday.
CBS Sports coverage of the NWSL Challenge Cup launched earlier this week on Tuesday night with an intriguing documentary that looked at how NWSL’s 2020 Challenge Cup was the first test of professional sports in the United States in a bubble. In case you missed it, the program entitled The Original Bubble will re-air several times this week on CBS Sports Network in the lead-up to the beginning of the Challenge Cup.
CBS Sports’ Executive Vice President for Programming Dan Weinberg spoke to World Soccer Talk this week regarding The Original Bubble documentary and CBS’s coverage plans for the Challenge Cup.
“NWSL’s leadership and players worked together to figure out how to bring a team sport back in a bubble concept,” explained Weinberg. “It was remarkable what they figured out how to do it safely and pulled off and showed other organizations how to do it.”
Coverage of live matches begins Friday, April 9 with a rematch of the 2020 Challenge Cup Final between Houston and Chicago. That match will air on CBS Sports Network. Of note, J.P. Dellacamera, the legendary commentator, will call the match alongside Aly Wagner. Dellacamera is historically considered one of the top commentators for soccer on U.S. television.
“We are extremely excited to have J.P. Dellacamera as part of the NWSL broadcast team,” said NWSL Director of Broadcast and Content Dana Rubin. “As the premier American voice of soccer, his presence on the CBS broadcasts will continue to add to the credibility and entertainment value of these shows.”
In total, all 21 matches of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup will air on either CBS (over-the-air), CBS Sports Sports Network and Paramount+. The May 8th Challenge Cup Final will be televised nationally on the over-the-air CBS network with Dellacamera and Wagner again providing commentary.
The manner in which CBS Sports presented NWSL in 2020 was in many ways very different from the broadcaster’s UEFA Champions League Coverage. CBS tapped into the already strong base of commentators that have called women’s soccer matches on US television and added a layer of superior production to bring a new level of broadcast to American television and streaming.
Instead of reinventing the wheel and trying to force a new stamp on coverage, CBS Sports enhanced the already strong existing work of NWSL Productions. The use of commentators that had regularly called the women’s game and NWSL speaks to that, though CBS did put its own mark on the coverage in terms of presentation, graphics and extended pre- and post-match shows.
As CBS Sports portfolio of soccer properties grows, Weinberg made it clear that the strength of NWSL means it remains a priority for the broadcaster.
“We’ve got a really strong package this year – Challenge Cup then the regular season, also including the Championship in November on CBS (over-the-air), and when you look at our extensive portfolio in this sport, NWSL is a premier league in the world so it is a key piece of what we are doing,” said Weinberg. “It’s a key piece for us to establish ourselves where we hope to be the premier player in the (soccer) space.”
It is possible, says Weinberg, that we may see regular season matches being added to the schedule for CBS over-the-air network in addition to the Challenge Cup Final in May and NWSL Championship match in November. CBS surprised some analysts with its strong over-the-air ratings for NWSL in 2020.
“We do know that there is a loyal audience for this league and sport,” Weinberg said. “We know it’s growing, it’s diverse and for this league, [there’s] a strong female component. All of that is appealing from a programming standpoint. We want to align ourselves with best-in-class marquee athletes and marquee leagues that have a loyal fanbase.”
As we’ve discussed with reference to Serie A’s move to CBS, the broadcaster’s superior web presence and 24-hour CBS Sports HQ streaming service, CBS Sports will provide highlights, analysis as well as pre- and post-match coverage on the free streaming service. Sandra Herrera and Jenny Chiu will feature on the CBS Sports HQ coverage.
In addition, CBS Sports website and the CBS Sports App will have extensive content related to the competition including written editorial content.
The three NWSL Challenge Cup CBS Sports Network telecasts will feature Jenn Hildreth as the commentator with co-commentary provided by Lori Lindsey. Marissa Pilla will provide sideline reporting and commentary.
With all of this in place and a strong organizational commitment to the product, CBS Sports appears poised for a big second season of NWSL coverage.