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Women’s sports get their own TV network via new streaming outlet

Finding women’s sports on TV is about to get a lot easier.

The venture firm Fast Studios on Wednesday launched the Women’s Sports Network, a streaming service for game highlights, original shows and documentaries. The network plans to add live matches and tournaments to its lineup, starting in January with an undisclosed sport. The channel is available through streaming services like Inc.’s Freevee, Fox Corp.’s Tubi and FuboTV, as well as through smart TVs. It has the support of the Women’s NBA, the Ladies Professional Golf Association, U.S. Ski & Snowboard and nine other sports leagues and federations.

The programming will be free to watch and supported by yet-to-be-named advertisers. Fast Studio is betting there’s a significant overlap between cord cutters—people who drop cable TV for a la carte streaming services—and women’s sports fans. The company is counting on the public’s growing interest in women’s sports.

“No longer do we have to wait for a highlight to run that should have been in the top of the show, and wait till the end of the show and pray that it does run,” said Carol Stiff, who chairs WSN’s board of advisers, a group that includes league executives and athletes. “Those days are over.”

Though 20% of US sports fans express interest in women’s sports, finding programs that serve that audience can prove tough. Major broadcast networks allocated only 5% of their sports coverage to women in 2019, according to a March 2021 study by researchers at Purdue University and the University of Southern California. That’s despite growing interest: The 2022 WNBA season was the most-watched in 14 years.

“As we started to talk to the various leagues and athletes, there was a level of frustration there in terms of the ability to get these athletes showcased,” Stuart McLean, chief executive officer of Fast Studios, said in an interview. “Everyone saw the value of coming together.”

It’s been 21 years since the Canadian network CTV tried to launch a women’s league channel. It folded two years after its debut. Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN announced a women’s sports vertical in 2010, ESPNW, and 10 years ago marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX with five weeks of content on ESPN3. The landmark amendment to the Civil Rights Act protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex. Now at the law’s 50th anniversary, Fast Studios is positioning its third streaming offering as a more comprehensive hub.

“Many years ago, I’d say, ‘No, I want to be part of the main menu. I don’t want to be off to the side,’” said Stiff, a 31-year veteran of ESPN who retired from the network last year.

She believes the network’s dedicated focus will benefit women’s leagues and viewers, and is excited about programming a new operation from scratch.

“We have prime time wide open,” Stiff said in an interview. “We’re 24/7, and we can put games and stories and documentaries where the league partners want their games to be played versus being forced into areas or windows that they don’t even want to be in.”

The new network represents an opportunity to upend a vicious cycle in women’s sports: less coverage means fewer viewers and less advertising. Female athletes typically make a fraction of what their male counterparts command, both in salary and in sponsorships. The United States Soccer Federation in May said it would pay players on men’s and women’s teams equally, after a years-long equal pay suit.

Said McLean: “The fact that now we’re at a place where we can launch a network with support from 12 league partners across all of women’s sports is going to further help the cause of the athletes and and the leagues overall.” Bloomberg

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