Behind the deal: The NWSL & IMG


NWSL reaches new heights with domestic advisory deal

Last year saw record-breaking media rights sales for domestic football leagues around the world. These were a significant milestone for the media landscape, showcasing ground-breaking analysis, partnerships, and distribution strategies. 

One of these deals was for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) negotiated in partnership with IMG. Together, we secured four media rights deals with Prime Video, CBS Sports, ESPN, and Scripps Sports, marking one of the most lucrative agreements for any women’s sport league to date.[1] For a nascent league of 12 years, it was a remarkable moment for women’s soccer both globally and in the US. 

We sat down with our EVP, Hillary Mandel, who led our team to uncover the strategy and (sometimes unconventional) steps that led to such success. (Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.)  


When our partnership with NWSL began, the league was coming out of a challenging period. It was also an inflection point that presented an opportunity, not just to grow revenues but to elevate the sport, reach fans at an unprecedented level and showcase world class athletes in a way that had never been done before. Working closely with NWSL’s newly appointed commissioner, Jessica Berman, and the wider team, we spent time thoroughly understanding the leagues goals, and how best to shape them into an attractive media package. Throughout the entire process, it was key to immerse ourselves in our client’s business and meaningfully collaborate.

The work began with detailed market analysis, conducted by our analytics arm, Endeavor Analytics, and a team of media analysts at IMG. The forensics included a deep dive into the property’s attributes, a rights valuation, and an analysis of the media landscape to determine the ideal partners for the NWSL. Our secret sauce is the alchemy of our high-level data analysis and real-time ‘in market knowledge’ which produce insights to drive an actionable strategy. This balance of science and art underpins our domestic advisory business. 

We faced a common challenge in women’s sports – the NWSL were a league without performance data having been distributed on an unrated cable network with modest reach, with only one appearance all season. This posed difficulties when presenting predictive ratings for partners to financially model. To overcome this challenge, we constructed a compelling story around the NWSL’s future growth. Our narrative pointed to other metrics such as the exponential value seen in expansion teams and the increasing number of brands that sought to invest in women’s sports. 

To reinforce this growth narrative, we brought the league’s official partners to the forefront in an unconventional way. The discussions saw national brands such as Ally Financial, Nike, CarMax and Adobe at the negotiation table, encouraging the networks to increase their investment, promotion and scheduling commitment – and in return pledging their support with significant media sponsorships.

Timing, as they say, is everything. We capitalized on the increasing market value of investing in equality and growth in women’s sport. The recent Women in Sport report from Endeavor Analytics revealed that 50% of the US general population want more media exposure for women’s sport.[2] Whether it’s the ‘Caitlin Clark effect’ or the success of the Women’s World Cup, the growing demand for women’s sport was a key factor in the success of this process. 

Our go-to-market strategy considered three pillars: reach, revenue, and relevance. The aim is to maximize all three, yet often sports properties are forced to make trade-offs to optimize their media rights. Needing to grow its fanbase, the NWSL prioritized wide reach over paywalled streaming services or small cable networks. Excitingly, our pitch drew interest from almost every network and platform in the market. We employed a cohesive multi-partner approach, carefully curating a complementary weekly schedule that enabled us to partner with several networks. Other premium properties ascribe to the same theory with the NFL has four broadcast/cable partners and a streaming partnerand NASCAR closed their new media deal growing from two partners to five. 

Piecing the puzzle together, we developed a distribution strategy that maximized reach, revenue and established the NWSL on premium networks. We created a Friday night package for Amazon’s Prime Video (marking the second high-profile property Amazon has acquired other than the NFL), a Saturday night double header package on Scripps’ ION TV, an OTA package for CBS which will also stream live on Paramount+, and a high volume package with ESPN, our dominant pay TV partner.[3] The value of the contracts has been reported to be worth $240 million over the four year agreement.[4] 

With this elite cadre of networks maximizing reach, we needed to ensure viewers knew where to watch the games. Promotion was essential. Before the deals were approved, partners were asked to submit detailed marketing plans. Senior leadership from each network addressed the NWSL’s team owners and presidents, pitching their promotional plan and vision. This step was designed to strengthen the partnerships and cement their commitment to the league. What’s been hugely gratifying is seeing the proposals in action, with ESPN recently releasing ‘It’s so on’ and ION producing a weekly pre-game show featuring A plus talent such as Jessica McDonald, and sharing the heart-warming story of Racing Louisville FC’s Defender, Carson Pickett, reuniting with Joseph Tidd.

Once the deals were signed, we held a press conference that brought the four winning partners on stage, live, with NWSL and Jessica at the center – another unprecedented move. The event was devised to celebrate their commitment to NWSL, but also emphasized the networks’ responsibility to cross-promote – and work together to drive long-term success for the league.

The work doesn’t stop here – the NWSL needs to ensure their product is world class and continues to captivate fans. As women’s sport continues to grow, and we see more ground-breaking deals, team and league owners inherit the responsibility of delivering quality games. NWSL are certainly committed to reinvesting in the growth of their own game expanding the league to 14 teams in 2026 and airing 190 games, a fourfold increase from 30 games in 2023.[5]

And beyond the NWSL, what does long-term success look like for women’s sports? Success is when we’ve eliminated the need to call it ‘women’s sports’ – when fans who like football will be able to access and engage with the best women’s and men’s football, or basketball, or golf in equal measure.



[1] The NWSL had a record breaking year with more growth than expected, Forbes, 14 Nov 2023.
[2] Women in Sport, Endeavor Analytics, 2024.
[3] NWSL announces landmark media partnerships with CBS Sports, ESPN, Prime Video and Scripps Sports,, 9 Nov 2023.
[4] The NWSL had a record breaking year with more growth than expected, Forbes, 14 Nov 2023.
[5] National Women’s Soccer League Announces Expansion to Bay Area, California,, 3 Apr 2023.