NWHL Gets Assist From New Twitch Deal

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  • The NWHL signed a three-year exclusive live-streaming partnership with Twitch, which brings all of the league’s games and programming to the platform.
  • Streaming on Twitch is also allowing the NWHL to more deeply engage fans around the games.
NWHL streaming Twitch
Photo Credit: Michelle Jay

The NWHL is seeing early success on Twitch in the first year of its deal with the platform.

The fourteen NWHL games streamed on Twitch in October averaged 67,790 viewers each. There were 949,065 viewers across all games combined.

“Our expectations are always high, but viewership this first month surpassed our expectations,” said NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan. “Twitch is the largest sports streaming platform in the world, so that has brought before a large and new audience, and the management team at Twitch is committed to our joint success. They’ve guided us and have really been phenomenal to work with.”

In September, the NWHL signed a three-year exclusive live-streaming partnership with Twitch, which brings all of the league’s games and programming to the platform.

While the deal has allowed NWHL content to be viewed for free globally, it perhaps, more importantly, is the league’s first-ever broadcast deal in which it receives a rights fee. NWHL declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal.

On Twitch thus far, 60% of the viewership has come from the U.S., while 10% has been from the U.K. and 9% has been from Canada. The most-watched game thus far was Buffalo at Boston on October 12, which had 145,172 viewers.

The league has 5,752 followers on its Twitch account as of November 8.

Last season, NWHL games were streamed on Twitter. While the league announced that it averaged 70,000 viewers per game for its Twitter streams during the 2018-2019 season, that average also included viewership from the playoffs as well as the league’s all-star weekend events, which had over one million viewers alone for the two events. An industry source said that compared to the viewership that the NWHL saw during the first month of its season last year on Twitter, the average viewership on Twitch this season is up nearly fivefold.

Rylan said that she believes part of the reason the league is seeing success on Twitch thus far has been the deep engagement that Twitch provides viewers, as well as the announcers calling the games.

“I give a lot of credit to our rockstar broadcasters, who really know the women’s game and how to connect with fans,” Rylan said. “We also have content contributors like Cat Silverman and Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild, who’ve been hosting their own programming with a show after our games.”

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Adding to that is the uniqueness of viewers being able to chat on Twitch, not only with each other but with the broadcasters and other influencers.

In total, there have been 24,538 messages sent by viewers during games.

“The chat feature on Twitch really aligns well with the broadcast. It allows broadcasters and fans to create a community that never existed before within women’s hockey,” said Anya Battaglino, who in addition to serving as the executive director of the NWHL Players’ Association also has worked as a color commentator on some games this season.

“The willingness to collaborate and learn from the Twitch team has been really important for my fellow broadcasters and I this season. It’s absolutely elevated our product in the broadcast quality and engagement with our viewers,” she said.

While Twitch is primarily known for the streaming of video games, the platform has been pushing deeper into other kinds of content, especially sports. Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, most notably streams the NFL’s Thursday Night Football game, which is also featured on Amazon Prime. Besides the NWHL, NBA G League games. MLS and WWE have also had content on the platform in the last year, in addition to the esports efforts of professional sports leagues, such as the NBA’s NBA2K League, the NHL’s Gaming World Championship, and MLS’s eMLS initiative.

Twitch said that it has more than 15 million active daily users and its free mobile app has been downloaded more than 56 million times.

“Traditional sports have found their home on Twitch by building strong communities and thus, making the viewing experience more enjoyable,” Twitch Director of Business Development Jane Weedon said in a statement. “Watching on Twitch is not unlike watching in-person at the rink – chatting and cheering alongside other fans – and the NWHL has successfully built a viewing experience around these behaviors in a live online setting.”

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Rylan said the NWHL will look to further build on its successful first month on Twitch, which will likely include more league-focused content beyond the games.

“We want to continue to introduce the game of hockey to new fans and work hard to enrich the Twitch viewing experience every weekend. I believe fans will see more in the future, including a show during the week,” Rylan said.