NWSL selects Inner Circle Sports to help expand league

  • Inner Circle Sports to represent and advise the NWSL on expansion plans
  • The league is also announcing long-term investments in broadcast operations
  • NWSLPA uses OneTeam partners to manage and commercialize group rights for players

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) has teamed up with sports, media and entertainment investment company Inner Circle Sports to represent and advise the league on expansion.

The NWSL intends to expand to 14 teams in 2024, and its board has approved a new set of expansion rules, with the goal of maintaining league parity and ensuring the long-term success of new and existing clubs.

A complete list of updated rules for the “2023 NWSL Expansion Draft” will be available at a later date.

The US Women’s Premier League unveiled the collaboration following a board of governors meeting in New York on July 12 and 13 to discuss the state of the NWSL and future strategic planning.

The meeting also saw the league develop plans for a series of long-term investments in the competition’s broadcast operations.

Beginning in August 2022, the NWSL will upgrade its Paramount+ and Twitch over-the-top (OTT) broadcasts to include higher quality cameras, infrastructure and staff to ensure an enhanced production. The league said it will help better serve a streaming audience that grew 24 percent year-over-year (year-over-year).

Other details to come out of the meeting included the news that paid attendance has doubled year-on-year, while league sponsorships are up 87 percent from 2021 and social media followers across all platforms are up 28 percent.

The meeting also outlined the NWSL’s plan to further support and improve refereeing. This includes a commitment to increased investment in the development of the league’s officials, as well as the implementation of video assistant referee (VAR) technology for the 2023 season.

In addition, NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman confirmed plans to move the company’s headquarters from Chicago to New York later this fall, opening offices in September.

“This week’s meetings have highlighted what I have believed since my first day on the job; The NWSL will be the tip of the spear in driving transformational change in the professional sports landscape in this country,” Berman said.

“I spent the first three months of my tenure with the league on a listening tour, talking to hundreds of stakeholders, from owners to partners to players and fans. The overriding theme was that while we have challenges to address, we have endless opportunities to unlock our potential that will serve our players and the millions who support them around the world.

“We are united around sustainable investment to serve our league, a bold strategy to continue our growth and a commitment to deliver the best product in professional soccer.”

Meanwhile, the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA) has entered into a multi-year partnership with commercial rights agency OneTeam Partners to become its exclusive licensing partner, which will see the company manage and commercialize group rights for all players.

The pact provides that the players assign to OneTeam the right to license their group rights, including a pool of player names, images, likenesses and other player-owned intellectual property, to third-party manufacturers and service providers.

Under the agreement, OneTeam will provide group licensing representation to more than 300 players and the NWSLPA to generate opportunities designed to maximize the value of group player rights.

The tie-up follows the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NWSL and NWSLPA earlier this year, which gave players control over their own group rights.

The resulting deal with OneTeam will also see the agency structure and manage licensing partnerships across categories including digital, apparel, hard and experiential.

OneTeam currently represents the commercial interests of more than 4,000 players in American sports.

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