Women’s Sports Viewership on the Rise: Who’s Watching?
Susan Boland, Vice President, Digital Strategy
From the stands to couches to social media feeds, women’s sports are on the rise and solidifying their position in the media landscape. Nearly every organization—the WNBA, NWSL soccer, the LPGA, NCAA—is seeing all-time highs in viewership numbers across linear TV and streaming. With more people tuning in to see these athletes compete, we dive into who’s watching.
MRI-Simmons projects that nearly 37 million U.S. adults make up the women’s sports audience base. Access and resources play a significant role in women’s sports growth. NWSL aired on prime time for the first time in history on CBS with nearly one million viewers watching—a 71% increase from last year’s final. WNBA viewership is also growing exponentially—and surpassed MLS soccer for the first time in 2022. This is aided by their increased broadcast TV distribution and reach, which grew from 5% in 2018 to 17% in 2022, according to Nielsen MediaView. This year was the first time that the NCAA women’s basketball final was televised on a broadcast network since 1995. According to ESPN, the game averaged 9.9 million viewers, making it the most watched women’s college basketball game to date. The game was also the most streamed sporting event (women’s or men’s) to date, on ESPN+.
According to a recent study by the Sports Innovation Lab, fans of women’s sports have been ahead of general sports fans in how they consume media, actively seeking out the games they want to watch on streaming platforms, and are plugged into social trends, and passionate about athlete causes.
An Active Community of Media Consumers
Like other demographic groups, fans of women’s sports have many shared characteristics that brands should
understand if they want to engage with this audience.
- They consume content across all screens. This audience spends a lot of time on digital channels, especially streaming and social media. And they aren’t just consuming media—they are engaging with female athletes’ social profiles and are willing to pay a premium for the streaming content they want to watch. They are also often content creators with great potential as social media influencers that know how to create viral content and advocate for brands.
- They want to connect with the female athletes they admire in every way possible. As part of their digital engagement—they actively seek to learn more about the fashion, nutrition, and lifestyles of their favorite athletes. That desire has led this audience to consistently outspend general sports fans buying directly from social media marketplaces that offer goods from athletes and influencers.
- They support brands that invest in women’s sports. According to Kantar, 50% of fans would go out of their way to support brands that sponsor women’s sports—which trends higher for Gen Z at 63% and Millennials at 66%.
- They support brands that support causes they believe in. This makes brands that are purpose driven – focused on sustainability, gender equality and other values-based initiatives a perfect match for this audience.
For brands looking to connect with multicultural audiences, opportunities abound in female sports. African American viewership indexes are high for several sports, especially the WNBA. For Spanish, Hispanic and Latino audiences, they are heavy viewers of U.S. Women’s soccer and gymnastics.
In many ways, investing in women’s sports is a stronger path to growth versus traditional sports. The rate at which this audience is acquiring new fans is more than double that of the general sports fan at 16% versus 7% year over year for the past four years, and retention is nearly twice that of the general sports fan (25% vs 14%), according to the Sports Innovation Lab. The rise in viewership and engagement is opening up so many exciting opportunities for brands to connect with these audiences, and the time is now to strike. Interested in exploring your options? Contact us today at GetInTouch@rainforgrowth.com.
This article is featured in Media Impact Report No. 44. View the full report here.