National Women's Soccer League

Streaming issues present more problems for growing NWSL fan base

After the 2015 Women’s World Cup concluded and the United States were crowned world champions after a 16-year drought, fans caught the soccer craze. Luckily for fans in the United States, there is a league where the stars of the U.S. team play. Most fans in the U.S. are not located in close proximity to a team and those fans depend on the online streams to watch their favorite players compete.

After an isolated issue in Washington on May 16, this past week three matches had issues. Fans were upset and voiced it on social media. Meanwhile the league is not saying much about what caused the issues this week.

During the World Cup the league signed another midseason television contract, this time with FOX Sports. The network had the broadcasting rights to the Women’s World Cup and seemed like a natural fit.

NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said the league was “extremely thrilled to once again partner with FOX Sports to broadcast the National Women’s Soccer League to a national audience.”

FOX Sports seemed to share the same enthusiasm.

“Our agreement with NWSL showcases our continuing support of women’s soccer well after the champion is crowned at the FIFA Women’s World Cup and that we are proud to support the sport’s top players through our partnership,” said David Nathanson, Head of Business Operations for Fox Sports.

In the debut of the new television/online rights, the NWSL and FOX failed the fans. After Portland sold out the match against rival Seattle, the only way to watch the match was through FOX Sports GO. The game was unlocked, meaning any fan could simply go to the website and watch the game.

Except maybe not.

The stream struggled to load fully for much of the match. Some fans were able to watch the stream. Others struggled with loading the game or audio issues.

While the NWSL, Portland Thorns and even the FOX Sports Help Desk tried to assist on social media and keep fans informed as they tried to solve the problems, the game was over before a viable solution had been worked out. FOX Sports Go representatives did not respond to requests for comment on whether these issues were the result of an increased number of viewers.

A league source gave the following statement on Sunday afternoon:  We’re aware some fans had difficulties streaming several matches this week.  We apologize to those fans for any inconvenience.  We are currently trying to determine the cause of the problems.

The league opted to remain silent on what the issue might have been, or what the protocol may be should issues arise on Wednesday’s stream:

… we do not feel that it is appropriate to go detail on the technical issues with last week’s stream. We have addressed it with FOX Sports and look forward to having a good stream on Wednesday in Houston. We are prepared if any issues arise again, but we do not expect that to be the case.”

After the anger of not seeing the league’s showcase on Wednesday night, the weekend matches did not fair much better on the league’s usual YouTube platform. The Chicago-Washington match struggled for much of Saturday’s 1-1 draw. The chat was not disabled and it was clear that fans were having the same issues.

The Washington Spirit released the following statement to Nutmeg Incorporated when contacted on Monday morning:

“We apologize to the fans for the ongoing technical issue that has significantly impacted our ability to livestream games for the past two weeks. The Spirit rent our facilities and must work collaboratively with the Maryland Soccerplex to resolve issues with the stadium internet. We are working this week to find a better solution to ensure a quality stream similar to what we provided earlier this season.”

The NWSL had all the momentum after the U.S. women brought home the Women’s World Cup title. The casual fan was talking about women’s soccer and was interested in seeing these athletes play.  With few guarantees for the league, now is the moment for the league to gain popularity.

Wednesday’s match on FOX Sports Go will feature Carli Lloyd and the Houston Dash against defending champion Kansas City and the retiring Lauren Holliday. Lloyd’s popularity has soared after her record-setting performance against Japan while Holiday’s stunning volley proved to be the game-winner.

The league can’t afford another mistake like last week.

Like in sports, it’s a new week. Everyone can have a bad game and maybe this was the NWSL’s bad week. It was the first soccer match and maybe FOX Sports Go had to work out the bugs. This week is will look to rebound, and the league needs to score.

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