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Athletes Unlimited Is Getting All Four of Its Women’s Pro Leagues on ESPN Platforms

  • All four pro leagues will air on ESPN platforms for the first time.
  • The league is ‘actively in negotiations’ to get the remaining games on other networks.
Athletes Unlimited
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Athletes Unlimited, a group of professional women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, and lacrosse leagues, announced Wednesday that all its leagues will play on ESPN platforms this year.

The multiyear rights renewal marks the first time all four leagues will be featured on ESPN platforms.

Viewership numbers are trending upward: Athletes Unlimited lacrosse on ESPN2 and ESPNU grew 25% from the year before, and softball on ESPNU increased 38%.

Here is the breakdown by sport:

  • Basketball: Six games will air on only ESPN+, while the remaining 18 will go on WNBA League Pass, which has previously carried games. Another soon-to-be-announced basketball partner will also carry some games, a source familiar with the situation tells Front Office Sports.
  • Softball: All 18 games of the two-week AUX competition will go on ESPN linear networks. Half of the 30 games for the main season will be on ESPN platforms, with 12 on linear and three on ESPN+.
  • Lacrosse: Half of the 24 games will air on ESPN linear.
  • Volleyball: Half of the 30 matches will air on ESPN linear, while another five will go on ESPN+. 

ESPN will show a quarter of Athletes Unlimited basketball games, about 80% of softball games, half of lacrosse games, and two-thirds of volleyball matches. That’s just over half of all 126 Athletes Unlimited games, with 57 on linear networks and 14 on ESPN+. Last year ESPN also put 57 on linear but showed 42 games on ESPN+.

What changed?

ESPN hasn’t been Athletes Unlimited’s only rights holder—CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Bally Sports, and others have gotten in on the action. The same source tells FOS that Athletes Unlimited is “actively in negotiations” with other media partners to bring the remaining games to a larger audience than ESPN+. Athletes Unlimited was intentional about reducing the number of games on ESPN+ to leave them open for other partners, the source says. And it has plenty of time to figure it out: While the basketball league starts next week, softball and lacrosse aren’t until the summer, and volleyball isn’t until October.

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