WUSA, Pax Net TV Soccer Pact

In a surprise move, the upstart Women's United Soccer Association last week dropkicked its multiyear television deal with Turner Sports and signed a two-year pact with Pax TV.

The league, co-owned by several cable MSOs and executives, reached an agreement with Pax that gives the league live exposure on 22 Saturday afternoons, said WUSA representatives.

In addition to televising the WUSA games, Pax TV's parent company, Paxson Communications Corp., will become an official sponsor of the women's Division I professional soccer league. The network will receive certain cross-promotional opportunities with the league, including signs at each team venue, although the WUSA will handle ad sales for the games.

The agreement carries a reported value of $2 million.

Pax Cable Division president Steve Friedman said the WUSA sports package is a perfect fit for the family-oriented programming service, whose audience is primarily women 25 to 54 — although he believes the package will help expand network viewership overall.

"It clearly fits our profile," Friedman said. "The WUSA is an up-and-coming sport and we're a fledgling network, so it works perfectly for us."

The deal is also good for the league, which now has a definitive, weekly time slot to help its promotional efforts. Sources said the cable-centric league — which lost $40 million during its inaugural season, according to published reports — was unhappy with the inconsistent coverage it received from Turner Network Television and CNN/Sports Illustrated.

As a result, it asked for and was granted a release from the four-year Turner contract. The 22-game Turner Sports package averaged a 0.4 cumulative rating.

"We're excited about our new agreement with Pax, which provides our audience with a single destination day and time of the week," WUSA CEO Lynn Morgan said in a statement.

Turner Sports senior vice president of public relations Greg Hughes said only that Turner "wishes the league continued success."

The WUSA's scheduling on Pax, though, could rub up against Major League Soccer. The men's league continues to negotiate with ABC and ESPN for a five-year package that would primarily give MLS a late-afternoon window on ESPN2, sources said.

MLS's negotiations with ABC and ESPN are also tied to the men's World Cups in 2002 and 2006 and the Women's World Cup in 2003. A published report last week indicated that MLS's bid to acquire the World Cup rights from KirchMedia, which sells the TV package for FIFA, the sport's international governing body, is being held up by a Swiss tax law.

An MLS spokesman said the league was "in final discussions" with Kirch for "the global soccer package." Kirch officials did not return calls by press time.

Friedman said Pax, which has aired senior golf tournaments and Olympic trials action, would like to secure more rights to sports events, but only if it makes economic sense and fits the Pax's family-oriented programming format. He confirmed the network has talked to Major Indoor Soccer League officials about a potential television deal, but he would not provide specific details.

Last week, the MISL and competing World Indoor Soccer League announced that they will merge operations beginning with in 2002-2003.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.