HBO Max will become the latest streaming service to offer live sporting events on Tuesday when it airs the U.S. Women's National Team's friendly against New Zealand. The match kicks off Warner Bros. Discovery's eight-year media rights deal with U.S. Soccer.
Tuesday's tilt will provide a test for the platform's ability to deliver a comfortable livestreaming sports experience. It will also provide the latest clue into how Warner Bros. Discovery (which officially merged in April 2022, a month after the soccer deal was announced) plans to use its myriad content arms to boost a sports partner.
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The USMNT will make its Max debut on Jan. 25, before playing a TNT-exclusive match days later; events will continue to be split between the platforms for the near term. Coverage will look similar in both places though, with Luke Wileman serving as the lead play-by-play voice and Sarah Walsh anchoring studio coverage. Analysts include former USWNT players Julie Foudy and Shannon Boxx, as well as ex-USMNT players DaMarcus Beasley and Kyle Martino. Melissa Ortiz will serve as a reporter for the broadcasts.
A few other faces could show up on the coverage as well. Turner Sports has developed a reputation for mixing its sports personalities across properties. Expect it to break out that playbook again for its newest sport. "We want to leverage the mothership in all ways possible, and that includes cross promotion and pollination with other sports," WBD Sports' senior vice president of business development and strategic partnerships Raphael Poplock said in an interview.
But U.S. Soccer will also look to leverage other WBD brands, from CNN to the Food Network.
"We've already had some internal dialogue around what can we do before, let's say, a U.S.-Mexico match to make that feel like a huge tent-pole moment," Poplock said.
Turner also plans to leverage its social assets, built around the Bleacher Report and House of Highlights brands. Soccer won't be entirely new to those audiences since Turner recently carried Champions League action. Part of that package was put on the company's erstwhile sports-specific service, B/R Live, which failed to make much of an impact after debuting in 2018.
WBD president David Zaslav's vision for how sports rights fit into the company's linear and streaming strategies is slowly coming into focus. In November, he hinted at the possibility of bringing NBA games to HBO Max, saying, "I'm hopeful that we can do something very creative."
Yet that same month, Zaslav said his company doesn't "have to have the NBA" as the league prepares to negotiate a new set of long-term rights deals. It remains unclear if that comment was merely an act of public negotiating, or whether it will ultimately read as foreshadowing.
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