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The booming business of women’s sports

As a Forbes headline stated this summer, “Women’s Sports Are Profitable” – but only when brands, media and broadcasters buy in. With more companies choosing to lean into women’s sports in the last year, it seems like a fitting time to talk about the business of women’s sports and some of the justifications businesses in the past have made for not investing in them.

“People won’t watch women play sports”

Coverage of women’s sports on TV news has hovered around an average of 5% a year for decades, and women’s sports are rarely discussed during their off-season. This is a stark contrast to men’s sports that have 24/7 channels with shows dedicated to predicting the outcome of the playoffs before the season even begins. However, with the launch of the Women’s Sports Network last November — the first 24-hour streaming network dedicated to women’s sports – the gap in airtime may finally begin to narrow.

As the Forbes article noted, the justification for the lack of equal opportunity, representation on TV, or pay has consistently been blamed on economics: sports is a business and people simply won’t pay to watch women.

However, the stats show that this rationale is rooted more in sexism than in reality. The Women’s World Cup regularly outperforms expectations for views and has brought in more views (and wins) than the men’s team with viewership far surpassing other big-time male sporting events, including the Stanley Cup.

Surveys have shown that the appetite for women’s sports is there, especially among younger viewers. Gen Z adults are more likely to be interested not only in women’s sports overall compared to older generations but are also more avid about being able to watch sporting events live. Therefore, if the content is made available, consumers will tune in.

“The investment won’t pay out”

Although there are plenty of naysayers who say investing in women’s sports just isn’t worth the cost, some companies are actively leaning into women’s sports and are already seeing the payoff. Last year Ally Financial made a commitment to spend equally on men’s and women’s sports within 5 years and began by working with CBS to move the National Women’s Soccer League’s championship game into a prime-time slot for the first time. Viewership increased 71% over the year before and made it the most-watched game in league history.

Ally Financial also struck an ad deal with Disney/ESPN early this year that included a requirement for 90% of the investment to be put into women’s sports in order to expand game highlights, branded content and features.

Additionally, Google announced a partnership with The Athletic to double the amount of women’s sports coverage by investing in staffing and resources to cover those games. And female college athletes have greatly benefited from the NIL era, where brands have discovered that female influencers tend to dominate on social media compared to their male counterparts.

In an age where sports viewership has been steadily declining for years, especially among younger generations, it may be just the right time for sports businesses to not only become more innovative in the way they market their products but to consider tapping into the female demographic. Not only are women viewed as the strongest block of consumers overall, they are believed to drive 70-80% of consumer spending.

As the NFL recently discovered, women will show up to watch sports and purchase merchandise if you give them something they actually want to see at the game – other women.

Author

  • Julianne Culey

    Julianne is the Assistant Director of the Reynolds Center with expertise in marketing and communications and holds a master's in Sociology from Arizona State University.

    View all posts

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