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"We have this because it's working": Inside the USL's progress ahead of historic CBS debut

Saturday marks the first game on network television in USL history.

9 min read
Louisville City FC

Many rivalry games involve a trophy, with the winner earning glory on the field and a tangible reminder of their success to take home. Rarely is that trophy an old traffic barrel.

Louisville City and the Indy Eleven first met as rivals in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup, and they began to play regularly once the Eleven joined the USL ahead of the 2018 season. That year, tongue fully in cheek, the matchup was first christened the Louisville-Indianapolis Proximity Association Football Contest. Still known as “LIPAFC” for short to this day, the game has blossomed into the league’s premier rivalry, barrel and all.

The first iteration of LIPAFC in 2024 will also serve as a marker of the USL’s progress in the media sphere. At 4:00 PM eastern time on Saturday, as a lead-in to the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, LouCity and Indy will face off live on CBS as the first game on network television in USL history.

What started as an inside joke has blossomed into a showcase for millions of viewers across the United States. The broadcast will illustrate how the USL has evolved since its inception in 2011 and how its media strategy goes hand-in-hand with the strides made by its member clubs.

Debuting on CBS, an over-the-air broadcasting titan, is a significant marker of progress. The USL entered into a partnership with the network this year, in a deal that put 100 matches on air across CBS networks. 75 matches are set to be freely available on CBS Sports Golazo Network.

What the USL’s new media rights deal with CBS means for teams, fans
“We’re going with a zig while the marketplace is going for a zag,” says the USL.

Court Jeske, the USL’s chief commercial officer, is bullish on the impact their collaboration has already begun to have.

“Early returns are very positive. We’ve seen great viewership on Golazo, and fans have given really positive feedback about that experience,” Jeske told Backheeled. “CBS wants to put more games on national TV than ever before. Golazo has ubiquity across Paramount+ and Pluto. I think our opportunity is to be one of their tentpole soccer properties. We can be in a position next to the UEFA Champions League and have the conversation transition immediately to Louisville versus Indy or Tampa versus Birmingham.”

CBS has spotlighted the league across its studio shows on the Golazo network, interviewed managers and players, and done the small things like adding the USL to its scrolling score ticker. Jeske and the league believe this presence and the association with CBS’ soccer portfolio is hugely beneficial.

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