Lifetime, the cable TV channel famous for movies with names like "The Husband She Met Online," will begin airing National Women's Soccer League games on Saturday afternoons as part of a broader strategy to connect with a new generation of women.
Matches from the 10-team professional league will be shown live and include a pregame show, the network said. The first game airs April 15, with 25 planned, including three playoff matches.
Lifetime's move shows that women's TV is reacting to sweeping changes in the nation's culture and viewing habits. Oxygen, a female-oriented network owned by Comcast, recently announced that it will focus on crime shows. OWN, the cable network founded by Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications Inc., has shifted from self-improvement talk shows to dramas.
"We've always been for women and we always will be for women," said Nancy Dubuc, chief executive of A+E Networks. "How we express that will be fluid over time as generations move forward."
The deal will include Lifetime logos on uniforms and a joint venture that will sell sponsorship opportunities and other broadcast rights for the league.
Lifetime has, like other TV channels, had to deal with shrinking audiences and pay-TV subscribers dumping traditional cable packages in favor of online entertainment. The network's subscriber count fell 3 percent to 91.2 million last year, while revenue declined a similar amount to $863 million, according to SNL Kagan estimates.
At the same time, the final of the 2015 Women's World Cup was the most-watched soccer game ever in the United States — men's or women's — drawing 25.4 million viewers. Viewership of the event nearly doubled from 2011.
Lifetime, founded in 1982 and once known as the Cable Health Network, prospered with made-for-TV movies that typically featured women being mistreated by men. The channel has in recent years been rethinking its focus and mission, according to Dubuc.
With a promotional campaign called "Welcome to the Fempire," the network is trying to reach younger, more socially conscious females.
Dubuc, 48, said, "You had a generation of women, of which I'm part, where it was a stigma to be associated with feminism, there was a backlash. Now you have a generation that is clearly embracing feminism, because at the end of the day the definition of feminism is just equality."
With that generation in mind, the Lifetime movies also are getting a revamp, with celebrities cast in roles designed to generate social media buzz, such as Cher in a film about the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and Courtney Love in one about the murderous Menendez brothers. New unscripted shows include "The Pop Game," featuring rap producer Timbaland and a group of aspiring singers.
This is not Lifetime's first foray into sportscasting. It used to broadcast games from the Women's National Basketball Association in the late 1990s before those rights moved to ESPN. "That may have just been a venture before its time," Dubuc said.