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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.

Go deeper

Dec 21, 2020 - Podcasts

Milwaukee Bucks owner: NBA teams will lose money this season

The NBA tips off tomorrow night, making it the first major U.S. sports league to play a second season amidst the pandemic. No bubble this time, but also not many in-person fans.

Axios Re:Cap talks with Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry on the business of basketball, how much he expects to lose this season and that massive new deal for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

MLB headed for first lockout since '95 as deal expires

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred (L) and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark. Photo: Matt King/MLB via Getty Images

Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday without a new deal in place.

Why it matters: With no CBA, the MLB is headed for the first management lockout since a 1994-95 strike led to the cancelation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

Media giants back Bannon's bid to release Jan. 6 documents

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon at the FBI Washington Field Office in Washington, DC., in November. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A coalition of news outlets including the Washington Post is supporting Stephen Bannon's campaign for the release of documents related to his contempt of Congress charges, WashPost confirmed Wednesday.

Why it matters: WashPost, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal's parent company and others filed a motion arguing that a proposed protective order seeking to prevent the documents from being released violates the First Amendment, per the Daily Mail, which first reported on the news.