How to watch NWSL games on the go90 streaming platform, and how the rights deal got done
Verizon's willingness to pay a rights fee to the NWSL is what ultimately set go90 apart from all the other distribution options the NWSL and A+E considered.
On Friday night, I was offered the opportunity to interview two people directly involved in the National Women's Soccer League's media rights deals with with A+E Networks' Lifetime television channel and Verizon's go90 streaming platform.
The offer came with the condition that I not name the two sources. I took the offer, understanding that I had free reign to ask questions and hopefully get a lot of details about how you'll be able to watch NWSL games.
And I did indeed get a lot of details. Here they are.
For the national television games on Lifetime - 22 in the regular season and all three playoff games - it's clear: watch the television channel or its online authenticated streaming platform, or any of the over-the-top subscription streaming services that offer the channel. Archived viewing will be available for 48 hours on Lifetime's website and mobile apps (with TV authentication required), then available on the NWSL's website and mobile app.
(By the way, the NWSL's app only exists for iOS right now, not Android. A+E Networks executive vice president of digital media Evan Silverman has been telling people on Twitter that an Android app is coming, but it isn't ready yet.)
For the season's other 98 games, it's a bit tricky. The go90 platform is where you'll be able to watch them live. Once games end, they'll be archived for 48 hours on go90, then available for later viewing on the NWSL's website and mobile apps.
(If you're reading this from outside the United States, you'll be able to watch all games live through the NWSL's website and app.)
The go90 platform is no slouch in terms of video quality, and it's not new to soccer. For some time now, it has had rights to streams of beIN Sports' Spanish and Italian league games, as well as some CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.
But while beIN has its own streaming platform and deals with other streaming services, go90 is the only option for non-televised NWSL games. That could significantly hinder the NWSL's ability to broaden its audience.
The biggest problem with go90 is that it only exists as a mobile app for iOS and Android devices, and as a traditional website. But the website won't offer NWSL streaming at first. So you can only watch games through the app on a phone or tablet.
If you want to put the picture on a bigger screen, you have to get a Chromecast or AppleTV and move the video to your television via your home's wireless router. If you don't have a television, but just have a desktop or laptop computer and a mobile phone, you're stuck for the time being.
"For the time being" is a key phrase. I was told to expect streaming via the desktop site some time in the future, though I was given no specific expectation of when that time will come.
One potential solution was noted in the NWSL's press release announcing the go90 rights deal. Chip Canter, general manager of of Verizon Digital Entertainment, stated that NWSL games will be available "on go90 and across our owned and operated AOL and, soon enough, Yahoo properties."
(Yes, Verizon owns the thing that we used to call America Online. If you are of a certain age - and that age doesn't have to be too big - this might make you feel old.)
Putting games on Yahoo's sports pages would solve the problem and then some. In addition to the massive distribution that Yahoo's site offers, the company also has connected TV applications for Roku, AppleTV and Amazon Fire.
But none of the parties involved are at that point yet. Indeed, NWSL games won't even be on AOL platforms right out of the gate.
Why is this the case? I didn't quite get an answer, but let's hope that the future doesn't take too long to become the present.
Another side effect of go90's limited distribution is the impact on the social media sphere. You don't have to be a Twitter junkie to know that women's soccer has a rabid core fan base that can make any GIF or Vine go viral in a heartbeat. Even one mention of names like Tobin Heath, Ali Krieger or Ashlyn Harris can light your phone up with a blitz of likes and retweets.
(Just ask any journalist who dares to offer an opinion on who the U.S. women's national team's starting goalkeeper should be.)
Because there's no way to get a NWSL game video feed on a desktop computer right now (unless you run a virtual private networking program that tricks the NWSL site into thinking you're abroad), there's no way to capture footage in a native format. You'd have to hold your phone up to the TV that's receiving a streamed signal from a tablet, and that's if you have a tablet.
The true women's soccer wonks will figure it out, because they always do. There's a perception, though, that the NWSL and go90 are preventing fans from helping the league's content to go viral. And no matter how many GIFs and Vines the NWSL puts on its own social media feeds, the principle of fans being unable to do the same matters to many people.
From what I've heard, the league gets that. It couldn't possibly not, given how loud the fan base can be. But even if the league doesn't want to stop fans from creating social content (and it doesn't), the limitations of go90 have done so. The problem exists, and until it's solved, it will continue to exist.
Given all of go90's constraints, why put so much NWSL content exclusively on that platform?
The answer is simple: Verizon paid for the privilege.
Indeed, Verizon's willingness to pay a rights fee to the NWSL is what ultimately set go90 apart from all the other distribution options the NWSL and A+E considered. And they did consider other options to be sure, knowing that YouTube (the previous streaming home) and Facebook could offer greater accessibility.
But money talks. And when you're a league that wants to be the home of the world's top women's soccer players, money matters. In addition to the rights fee, go90's can bring advertising revenue in ways that YouTube and and Facebook can't, while keeping games free of charge to viewers.
I asked how much Verizon paid, and was not given a specific number. I was only told it was "significant"; a "meaningful licensing fee" that was "a huge factor in this deal"; and that the NWSL and A+E are "extremely pleased that we were able to establish value for the digital rights for NWSL games."
How much of that money will go to NWSL clubs? From what I was told, the money is going to mainly be invested into improving the league's media operations and other infrastructure matters. Some of the money may end up with the clubs, but if you were hoping to hear the money will go toward player salaries and high-profile foreign signings, that wasn't mentioned.
I was also told that the rights fee negotiations were a big part of why the deal didn't get announced until Thursday afternoon - just two days before the start of the season, and 70 days after the Lifetime TV deal was announced at a glitzy press conference in New York.
The protracted nature of the talks put NWSL managing director of operations Amanda Duffy in a difficult spot when she spoke with reporters on a conference call this past Monday - three days before the go90 deal was announced. She was repeatedly asked about the lack of a streaming plan at that point, and repeatedly answered that confirmation would only come in subsequent days.
When I asked Duffy whether a deal was even in place at that point, she said there were "some important aspects to our positioning of our digital games that we need to make sure are clear and clarified, and added that "final details" still needed to be "put in place."
The sources I talked to Friday night told me that the rights fee was one of those final details.
Game broadcasts that you'll watch on go90 will be produced by south Florida-based Vista WorldLink. That's the same company the USL uses for its broadcasts. The partnership has helped the USL dramatically expand the quality and distribution of its game broadcasts, as league president Jake Edwards told me in a recent interview.
Duffy has firsthand knowledge of Vista WorldLink's track record. She came to the league from the USL's Louisville City FC, one of the league's most successful clubs.
Although centralization of broadcasts has some drawbacks - most notably having commentators call games off monitors instead of from in the stadium - the NWSL rightly expects a much better broadcast product this year.
NWSL teams will not be prevented from doing their own local TV deals, but I've been told that those linear broadcasts will be different from the ones fans nationwide see on the go90 platform.
Now that everything is done, it's up to the NWSL to make sure that every fan who wants to watch a game can find it easily - and just as importantly, that games get in front of casual fans who don't follow the NWSL as closely.
I've already noted that many NWSL games on Lifetime are at the same hour as MLS games on Fox, ESPN or Univision channels. It will be another strike against the NWSL if non-televised games don't get in front of enough viewers because of go90's limited distribution.
The games on Lifetime could get a boost from some cross-promotion with fellow Disney network ESPN's coverage of Major League Soccer and other American soccer properties. Don't be surprised if you see some of that during the course of the season.
ESPN and Lifetime have already worked together a bit, including Lifetime bringing in ESPN's Dalen Cuff as the studio host for games. Cuff will be joined by ESPN colleague Julie Foudy for Lifetime's first NWSL game, the Portland Thorns hosting the Orlando Pride on Saturday (pregame coverage at 2:30 p.m., kickoff at around 3 p.m.). It's a marquee game that's getting marquee treatment, and rightly so.
But the big test will be when fans go to watch all the other games that aren't on national TV, and that aren't loaded with national team stars from the U.S. and beyond.
Getting paid by Verizon is a big thing, and it should be treated as such by fans and media. The true potential of the deal lies in the ability to expand streaming beyond go90, to AOL and Yahoo platforms. I suspect I speak for fans and observers across the NWSL and beyond when I say that those future possibilities can't get here soon enough.
The Twitter handle above is for my general news reporting. My soccer handle is @thegoalkeeper. Contact me there for any questions about this post.