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ESPN and Athletes Unlimited Sign Multi-Year Rights Agreement

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2024 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
Athletes Unlimited
Feb 21, 2024
  • ESPN Will Air AU Pro Basketball For First Time; Deal Now Includes All Four Athletes Unlimited Sports
  • Over 70% of Games will be Distributed on Linear TV, with Remaining Games Featured on ESPN+

Reflecting the impressive growth of Athletes Unlimited as well as ESPN’s ongoing commitment to women’s pro sports, the parties announced a multi-year renewal of ESPN’s rights agreement Wednesday morning. For the first time, the deal will include all four Athletes Unlimited sports – women’s pro basketball, softball, lacrosse and volleyball. The addition of AU Pro Basketball comes amid ESPN’s incredible success with the WNBA and college basketball, and further positions AU Pro Basketball as a mainstay in the women’s basketball ecosystem as well as a leading platform for marketers looking to reach sports fans.

In 2024 alone, more than 70 live games from the innovative player-centric pro women’s sports organization will air exclusively on ESPN platforms, with more than 50 airing on linear networks and the remaining games available on ESPN+, the leading sports streaming service. In addition, ESPN will have international rights for these competitions to air on TSN in Canada, ESPN Latin America, and other platforms.

Each Athletes Unlimited season features world-class talent competing to be crowned individual champion in their sport, with playoff-level intensity in every game. Named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in 2023, Athletes Unlimited features an Advisory Board comprised of an illustrious group of high-profile contributors from the worlds of sports, business and entertainment including basketball legend and ESPN women’s college basketball analyst Sheryl Swoopes, two-time NBA champion and entrepreneur Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman of 35 Ventures; U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team superstar Abby Wambach, among many others.

Athletes Unlimited events scored impressive increases in viewership across ESPN platforms in 2023, including a 25% year-over-year increase for AU Pro Lacrosse on ESPN2 and ESPNU and a 38% year-over-year increase for AU Pro Softball on ESPNU. With all four AU Pro Sports featured in the upcoming Olympic Games as well as explosive interest in each sport at the collegiate level, the property is poised for continued growth. 

The partnership will begin later this month with ESPN’s coverage of AU Pro Basketball, which tips off February 29 at Fair Park Coliseum in Dallas, Texas. The 40 player roster features Olympians, WNBA All-Stars and WNBA champions, including 18 players who finished the 2023 WNBA season on a roster, along with 11 additional athletes with WNBA experience. 

ESPN’s full 2024 coverage of Athletes Unlimited Pro Sports includes: 

“ESPN has been absolutely crucial to the success of Athletes Unlimited, showcasing our amazing world-class athletes on the biggest global stage in sports. ESPN’s renewed and expanded commitment to Athletes Unlimited is both a validation of our business model as well as a testament to the growing popularity of these sports at the professional level,” said Jon Patricof, CEO and Co-Founder of Athletes Unlimited. “With all four of our pro women’s sports now featured on ESPN, we look forward to working with their incredible team to take Athletes Unlimited to even greater heights in the coming years to serve fans as well as brands looking to reach fans of women’s sports.” 

“We’re excited to showcase even more world-class female athletes through this new agreement with Athletes Unlimited as part of ESPN’s longstanding commitment to women’s sports,” said Dan Margulis, senior director of programming & acquisitions, ESPN. “This agreement allows us to continue to showcase the sports we feature on the collegiate level – highlighting these athletes throughout college and into their professional careers.  We look forward to presenting our debut season of AU Pro Basketball on ESPN platforms in addition to the popular league competitions that already exist in volleyball, softball and lacrosse.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include a corrected chart showing ESPN’s full coverage of AU Pro Sports.

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