Athletes Unlimited has signed an agreement with the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Channel to live stream all 30 games in its inaugural softball season, which starts with an Opening Day doubleheader on Saturday, Aug. 29 at Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Ill. The Olympic Channel’s OTT distribution will reach more than 180 territories outside of the U.S., Canada and some parts of Latin America (where partners CBS Sports and ESPN hold the league’s rights), which will significantly expand Athletes Unlimited’s global presence. Coverage will be available online and on the Olympic Channel’s apps for international fans.
“Our distribution deal with the Olympic Channel significantly broadens our audience to watch our inaugural Athletes Unlimited Softball league,” said co-founder and CEO Jon Patricof, who served as president of NYCFC from 2016-18. “With 56 of the best players on the planet, including 19 Olympians, it is fitting that fans will be able to watch them compete on a global stage.”
A network of professional women’s sports leagues founded by Patricof and investor Jonathan Soros, Athletes Unlimited will now reach more than 200 countries total between the Olympic Channel, ESPN and CBS Sports—the latter two were awarded domestic and limited international distribution rights in late June—when it debuts. Financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed.
CBS Sports Network, the league’s lead broadcast television partner, will air seven games in the United States and Canada, including the weekly matchup between the top two team captains. ESPN will distribute 23 games combined between television and digital channels across its platforms in the U.S. ESPN will also distribute its matchups throughout Latin America and Canada, via its partnership with TSN. The Olympic Channel will stream games worldwide outside of CBS and ESPN’s exclusive territories.
Athletes Unlimited teams do not have home cities, team owners or even fixed rosters. Rather, at the end of each week, the league will name its top four point scorers—based on team wins, individual performance and MVP voting—as captains. Each will then draft their new teams for the following week’s contests. The player atop the leaderboard when the five-week season concludes will be crowned 2020’s individual champion.
Among the notable Athletes Unlimited participants are international stars like Erika Piancastelli, a member of Team Italy, as well as former LSU standout AJ Andrews and Team USA’s Haylie McCleney, Kelsey Stewart, Amanda Chidester, Cat Osterman.
Players will star on and off the field for Athletes Unlimited, which announced an expansive digital programming lineup even before it secured its trio of distribution partners. Content will air on its website and across social channels. In addition to supporting its pro leagues, the venture will work to elevate individual player profiles through its content. By the end of 2021, the company expects to have three leagues, totaling around 150 players, up and running in its network. Athletes Unlimited announced indoor volleyball, set to debut in early 2021, as its second sport.