Though the NWHL has not yet announced a television deal, it appears that the league has brokered a deal with at least New England Sports Network (NESN) to broadcast the Boston Pride’s home opening game live on television. According to sources this deal came together during the recent Four Nations break.
Kat Hasenauer, a freelance sportswriter at the Boston Herald, broke the news via Twitter Tuesday morning.
According to @NESN's programming schedule, they are airing Sunday's @NWHL_ game btw. Boston Pride & NY Riveters. https://t.co/188ekEcWNQ
— Kat Hasenauer (@KatCornetta) November 17, 2015
Looking forward through the schedule, the Pride’s following game on Nov. 29 against the Connecticut Whale will also be broadcast live on NESN, leading to speculation that all Boston home games will be televised.
Rylan hinted at a possible television deal for the league in a recent interview with Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy, and herself has appeared on the Madison Square Garden (MSG) Network alongside players to promote the league. If other deals are in the works, Sports New York (SNY), Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) and the MSG Network could all be possible homes for the Connecticut Whale or the New York Riveters.
Broadcasting on television effectively opens up the game to thousands more, hitting the casual viewer who is flipping channels on a Sunday afternoon. That NESN was open to broadcasting the Pride games live indicates a belief that viewers will tune in in sufficient amounts to make it worth the network’s while. A live game holds a sense of allure for fans and viewers that replays of taped games simply don’t.
This will help the NWHL build a fanbase like never before.
The NWHL has released an official statement about the partnership with NESN, which says:
NESN will air eight (8) Boston Pride games for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. This new partnership marks the NWHL’s first broadcasting agreement during the league’s inaugural season. The NESN schedule begins this Sunday, November 22 when the Boston Pride host the New York Riveters at 3:00 pm on NESN.
“The broadcast value of the women’s game has never been better, and we’re happy NESN is providing a stage for and shining a spotlight on some of the best players in the world,” said NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan.
“This is a great opportunity for women’s hockey to reach the four million viewers in NESN’s coverage area. Harvard Athletics and the staff at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center deserve a big thank you for their support of this deal.”
Putting worries to rest about non-New England natives who follow the action via the league’s YouTube stream, also known on their website as Cross-Ice Pass, the league announced that all NESN-scheduled games will be streamed free for fans by the league, as well.
It is easy to understand why the NWHL pounced on this opportunity; access to four million viewers is nothing to sneer at, particularly with the ease and production value a television crew will bring to the game. As for NESN, a network that focuses on a niche market of local sports, agreeing to air eight games as a test run, of sorts, makes perfect sense. If the NWHL’s viewership takes off, the network was in on the ground floor and likely has some negotiating power when it comes time to talk a second season. If Nielsen ratings are lackluster, they have committed and lost very little time, energy and money, respectively.
Per the press release, Joseph Maar, the Vice President of Programming and Production at NESN stated “We are excited to become the first television partner of the NWHL during its inaugural season. Some of the best women hockey players in the world will play on NESN this winter. We hope fans will catch this new league on Sunday afternoons.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article speculated that NESN broadcasts would mean an elimination of NWHL streaming. This has been removed as per the updates in the press release.