A+E Networks Partners With National Women's Soccer, Lifetime to Air Saturday Games

Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty

The partnership also includes a new media joint venture that will handle global broadcast and sponsorship rights.

A+E Networks is taking 25 percent equity stake in the National Women's Soccer League that will include the creation of a joint venture, NWSL Media, and a three-year deal for Lifetime to be the league's official sponsor and broadcast partner.

The deal is a first for women's soccer, which has struggled to pull in the pay and sponsorship deals men's teams have. It's also a departure for Lifetime, which has not shown sports since it aired the WNBA nearly two decades ago. The NWSL Game of the Week will air Saturdays at 4 p.m. ET beginning in April.

A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc has worked to diversify her network group, which includes flagship A&E and History. And last year, the network launched the male-targeted Viceland in partnership with Vice Media, in which A+E has a 20 percent stake.

NWSL Media will serve as the league's "commercial arm," according to a release announcing the deal. The joint venture will manage global broadcast and sponsorship rights, digital assets (including NWSLSoccer.com) and a new NWSL app and live streaming of matches and shoulder programming. Additionally, the Lifetime logo will be featured on team jerseys.

"As a former college athlete, I know the importance of sports in the lives of women and girls, and I couldn't be more thrilled to join forces with NWSL and U.S. Soccer to ensure professional women athletes are elevated as the entire country can watch and be inspired by their strength and athleticism," said Dubuc in a statement announcing the venture. "The teams are filled with some of the best professional players in the world, and we are proud to welcome them to Lifetime."

Added U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati: "This partnership is not only tremendously significant in the continued growth of the NWSL, but representative of how far the league has come in four years and where it can go in the future. A+E and its resources are a fantastic fit for women's professional soccer and will have a major impact on continuing to raise the profile of what we feel is already the best and most competitive league in the world."

The NWSL was founded in 2012 and now has 10 regional teams, including the Portland Thorns, which average 17,000 tickets per game, according to the team. Women's soccer has been gaining in popularity, especially as the U.S. women's national team has become a phenomenon, winning Olympic and World Cup titles. (In 2015, the women's World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan shattered ratings records, averaging more than 25 million viewers on ESPN.) But the women are still paid a fraction of what men on the U.S. national team earn, an amount that is mediocre at best. And last year, five female players filed a discrimination suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission has yet to rule on the complaint.