Nearly 18,000 fans packed Toyota Stadium, home of MLS’ FC Dallas, on a sunny, 74-degree day in February to watch the finale of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup between the U.S and Brazil. They cheered as veteran Alex Morgan scored in the final seconds of the first half to put the U.S. Women’s National Team in front and when Mallory Swanson sealed the deal with a second goal, leading the host squad to its fourth consecutive SheBelieves Cup title with a 2-1 win.
The match, which aired on TNT and was simulcast on HBO Max, also attracted a sizable at-home audience—ringing in as the most-viewed women’s national team clash on cable since the Olympics in July 2021. For that matter, the entirety of the SheBelieves Cup tallied the second-highest total viewership in the invitational tournament’s history, with TNT reporting a 64% increase in viewership on cable compared to 2022 (when the Cup aired on ESPN).
Perhaps more important, the tournament reached key target audiences. For just the second time, all matches were broadcast on linear Spanish-language television. Among the English-speaking audience, female viewership of the USWNT matches in the Cup was up 124% year-over-year.
It is still early days of U.S. Soccer’s new media deals, but the governing body is already encouraged. Its eight-year, English-language partnership with Turner Sports runs through 2030 and will reportedly pay the federation as much as $216 million to make TNT/TBS and HBO Max the home to more than 20 women’s and men’s national team matches each year. Meanwhile, its Spanish-language Telemundo pact runs through the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
“[Broadcast deals] are always a little bit of a balance between investment, which is critically important as a 501c3, and distribution,” David Wright, U.S. Soccer’s chief commercial officer, said. “Now, fast forward three months into the new relationships, and early signs are really positive. In both English and Spanish language, we saw some very material increases.”
Across all U.S. Soccer matches aired on Telemundo so far, men’s and women’s, the network has reported a 50% increase in median Spanish-language viewership compared to 2021 (there were no Spanish broadcasts in 2022).
The Turner Sports and Telemundo deals replace partnerships with ESPN and Fox. The bundled men’s and women’s national team deals are a departure from the past, when the men’s package was tied to rights for Major League Soccer. Access to the women’s team’s rights, in particular, was enticing to Turner, whose portfolio includes the NBA, MLB and the NCAA men’s March Madness tournament, as well as some WNBA games through the network’s partnership with the NBA on NBA TV.
“I’ll be honest in saying the women’s team was a huge driver of this [deal],” said Raphael Poplock, SVP of business development at Turner parent Warner Bros. Discovery. “It is, in our humble opinion, the best women’s team in the world and one of the best teams in general in the world. Given how important it is for us to make sure that we have equitable coverage of men’s and women’s sports, there’s no better team in the world to draft off of that strategy.”
Telemundo agreed, committing to producing all USWNT matches in Spanish—a first, and an important marker for U.S. Soccer, which sees potential in the sport’s Spanish audience.
“When you look at where we do well and where there are areas of opportunity, there’s a significant opportunity in Spanish language,” Wright said. “We know that. Folks are tuning in as much to watch our U.S. men’s or U.S. women’s national teams as they are to follow who our national teams are playing. That’s a fundamental shift. The demography [of] our fan base is incredibly multicultural, and we’re committed to super-serving the multicultural fan.”
Reaching an even broader audience also requires the third part of Wright’s media puzzle: international distribution, a deal for which is forthcoming, he says.
For now, U.S. Soccer will try to capitalize on Telemundo’s reach within Spanish-speaking households and the tie-ins that come with the broadcaster’s World Cup rights. The NBCUniversal-owned Spanish language network shares the U.S. rights to this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup with Fox and plans to broadcast all 64 matches on linear Spanish television, another first. (Telemundo and Fox also hold the rights to the 2026 men’s World Cup, which will take place in North America.)
“When I thought about how an association with [U.S. Soccer] would line up with our own values as it relates to development of this sport and product for our viewers, but also strategically about our own World Cup properties as well—and the fact that 2026 will be hosted in the U.S. primarily—it just felt like a really good time to be aligned,” Eli Velazquez, EVP of sports at Telemundo, said.
Storytelling has been a key part of the strategy for both partners, who have built surround-sound programming, so to speak, around the matches. Turner Sports’ has had personnel on-site for every match of the partnership so far as well as pre- and postgame shows. Production enhancements, even for friendlies, like Turner’s use of a drone camera in Frisco, mic’ing players and adding walk-and-talk interviews before kickoff have also been part of the approach, as has roping in both network’s sibling brands for promotion.
The investments seem to be paying off across both national teams.
“We just want to continue to push the envelope,” Poplock said. “Clearly, we cannot control the success of the women’s and men’s team on the pitch. We’d love for them to continue to do well, for the women’s team to hoist the World Cup trophy this summer and the men’s team is ascending, but that aside, we want to continue to press the bounds of what we can do from a production standpoint.”