As part of the deal, Michelob Ultra’s branding will be displayed during the Game On shows, and the beer company will also produce feature stories or on-set conversations.
The fledgling Women’s Sports Network — the streaming platform that claims it is to women athletes what the NFL Network is to football players — just had its OTT risk pay off.
Only five months after its launch, the free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) channel announced on Tuesday its first-ever major brand partnership with Michelob ULTRA. The beer company’s undisclosed investment stabilizes a unique women’s sports-centric network that chose Connected TV over linear TV and is now adding sports leagues left and right.
Founded with gender equality in mind, the Women’s Sports Network provides live coverage of the Athletes Unlimited basketball league and has other programming deals with:
- the WNBA
- U.S. Ski & Snowboard
- Premier Hockey Federation
- Quattro Media
- Street League Skateboarding
- Women’s Football Alliance
- World Surf League
The network’s CEO Stuart McLean told SBJ Tech they are also in current negotiations with the Women’s Tennis Association and the NWSL.
Owned and operated by FAST Studios — also led by McLean — the Women’s Sports Network expects to generate 1,500 hours of live and original content in 2023 while under the belief that their unorthodox OTT approach is the wave of the future.
“FAST TV very much was the thesis of the company,” McLean said. “We obviously started working on it ahead of the formal launch, and when we saw Fox come in and buy Tubi, Comcast buy Xumo, Paramount take Pluto, and then start filling the channel slots with their programming, that elevated the experience 1,000%. To us it was the reinvention of cable TV. It was very much like 1985 and an explosion of channels.
“So our philosophy at FAST Studios, and certainly the Women’s Sports Network is a great example [that] in order to be successful as an independent channel provider, it’s a ‘Go Big or Go Home’ strategy. And so we’re making I think, one of, if not the largest capital investment in original programming in the FAST space.”
The Women’s Sports Network’s high-tech facility in El Segundo, Calif., is home to a nightly 8 p.m. ET studio show, Game On, hosted by reporters Jordan Ligons Robinson and Taylor Felix. The editorial team essentially models Game On after ESPN’s SportsCenter and has high-level producers such as Suzanne Lee (formerly of NBC) and Mike Hughes (a David Hill protégé from Fox).
The idea is to produce three feature profiles a week and, in 2023 alone, generate 20 to 30 hours of programming for each of its sports league partners. The network has already debuted a docuseries, “The World According to Sage,” chronicling the journeys of U.S. Open champion surfer Sage Erikson, and now the relationship with Michelob ULTRA will lead to more.
As part of the deal, Michelob ULTRA’s branding will be displayed during the Game On shows, and the beer company will also produce feature stories or on-set conversations surrounding its own brand ambassadors such as WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike.
But FAST Studios only leaped into this OTT platform because it was confident women viewers would assimilate seamlessly to it.
“The genesis of [the network] really came from three sides,” McLean told SBJ. “The first was understanding the fans of women’s sports data. The Sports Innovation Lab in Boston produced a report called Fan Projects…and what we read was that [women’s sports fans] are tech savvy because they’re used to having to hunt and peck their way around the Internet to see the games and the athletes that they want. They’re very purpose driven. And they have an incredible brand affinity.
“And then we started with the leagues and the federations…And what I found really interesting is that the leagues saw value in aggregating and coming together. Nobody threw elbows and said ‘I’ll come in but I have to be in primetime.’ There’s a general consensus here that we’re all trying to lift women sports visibility together. And then lastly, of course, a brand like Michelob Ultra who has raised their hands and said, ‘We want to support these great athletes and we’re going to put our money where our mouth is.'”
McLean said he expects the network to publish its first viewership data next quarter. As of now, its programming can be seen free on Amazon Freeve, Fubo, LG Channels on LG Smart TVs, Local Now, Plex, Sports.tv. Tubi, Vizio, WatchFree+, Roku, Autograph and XumoPlay.
Not on cable.
“I think the [FAST TV] growth is going to continue,” McLean says. “I mean, currently about 50% of Americans have cut the cord. So, listen, linear TV isn’t going away anytime soon, but it’s now pretty equal. Fubo TV, for example, carries the Women’s Sports Network. We’re in active negotiations with others. So, for us, that’s really interesting. It’s almost like jumping the shark, right
“So, you know, we build these networks by design, to be able to be at the level of a more traditional kind of cable TV network. And we just think it’s a huge advantage to be born from this space.”