There’s nearly a 50/50 gender split when it comes to sports participation, but only 4% of coverage is dedicated to women’s sports.
The audience for women’s sports is massive and continues to grow, despite the lack of investment in consistent and high-quality coverage. A Nielsen study found that 84% of general sports enthusiasts of all genders are interested in women’s sport. In this same study it was found that if more women’s sports were available to watch, 46% of fans indicated they’d tune in.
For women’s sports to take the next step, games need to be more accessible for the general public and there needs to be more content around the games. This includes news, highlights, analysis, and storytelling.
What happens when you give sports fans what they want?
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup drew 1.12 billion viewers. The National Women’s Soccer League viewership swelled 493% for their 2020 Challenge Cup and 500% year over year.
Viewership for the WNBA this season was up 68%; media coverage of their championship finals increased 15%.
LPGA viewership increased by 21%.
This year’s U.S. Open tennis final between Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka averaged 2.1 million viewers on ESPN.
As you can see, women’s viewership increases tremendously when given access to high-quality coverage.
“Focusing on broadcast deals is incredibly important because accessibility to the games is a vital component to the growth of the game,” said Alyse LaHue, general manager of NJ/NY Gotham FC. “The more matches you’re able to have access to as a consumer, the more interest there’s going to be for potential sponsors coming into the league to work into the market.”
Despite the increasing popularity of women’s sports, a revenue disparity persists. Deloitte has said it expects TV rights and sponsorship revenue for women’s sports to hit over $1 billion globally. The company declared that it “will be well under a billion dollars — a fraction of the global value of all sports, which in 2018 reached $481 billion, an increase of 45% over 2011.”
Women’s sports turn to social media as a tool to increase awareness. Directing energy towards social campaigns equals dollars benefiting sponsors, league operations, and player salaries, proving to publishers why more games should be shown.
Athlete-run media companies continue to grow with an emphasis on highlighting women’s sports and social justice issues.
TOGETHXR, a lifestyle and sports brand co-founded by Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel, and Sue Bird, launched in May 2020. They focus on rich storytelling rooted in lifestyle and youth culture. Their content features a diverse and inclusive community of game-changers, culture-shapers, thought leaders, and barrier breakers.
Just Women’s Sports, is a new media venture founded by former professional soccer player Haley Rosen. They believe female athletes can fill more than the occasional feature story — they can be the entire publication. From highlights to podcasts, newsletters, and swag, Just Women’s Sports brings fans everything they need to see and know in the world of women’s sports. Recently, they announced that they have raised $3.5 million in seed funding, supported by Kevin Durant, Elena Delle Donne, Kelley O’Hara, and other athletes.
Arielle Chambers, the founder of HighlightHER, Bleacher Report’s platform for women amplifies talented women emerging in music and sports culture, while also showcasing their efforts within their communities and their personal stories.
Despite improved social media coverage and engagement, brands miss out on the idea of intentional sponsorship with female athletes and leagues. In fact, less than 1% of sponsorship money goes into women’s sports.
Women are doing more with less. They’re finding innovative solutions during these most challenging times. They’re seizing the moment and exceeding expectations.
Lastly, I believe this year’s Tokyo Olympics will provide an opportunity for more media coverage of women’s sports, and bring a “heightened awareness” to successful female athletes. What we could see coming out of this year is more interest and commitment” from those supporting women’s sports coverage.
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