Oct 28, 2020 - Sports

Women's sports network Athletes Unlimited plans its next moves

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Athletes Unlimited, a network of women's sports leagues that uses fantasy-style scoring, successfully completed its first season of softball last month.

Why it matters: While most leagues scrambled to create one-off bubble tournaments, Athletes Unlimited didn't have to change too much about its model, which was already designed for short, single-site seasons.

  • "Our vision was always to host each season in a single market and build storytelling and other elements around that," co-founder and CEO Jon Patricof tells me.
  • "Not having in-person fans certainly changed things, but ticketing revenue was never a huge part of the equation for us anyway."
  • "If you put medical/testing aside, the pandemic changed call it 10% of our model; whereas for most other leagues it changed 90% of their model."

What's next: Athletes Unlimited will take what it did with softball this summer and try to apply that model to two other sports next year — possibly with fans in the stands this time.

  • Volleyball: February 2021 (Nashville)
  • Lacrosse: July 2021 (TBD)

The big picture: There are clear avenues for growth in women's sports, and the pandemic has helped revealed them.

  • WNBA ratings are up.
  • NWSL ratings are way up.
  • The NWHL is maturing in promising ways.
  • And now, softball, volleyball and lacrosse have a new professional home.
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