Women’s sport is bringing new people into sport, data suggests

The latest Women’s Sport Trust research shows 2023’s viewing figures are down on last year’s, but there was record growth in golf, cricket and netball.

LinkedIn sports UEFA Women's EURO 2022
Source: LinkedIn/Christopher Lee/UEFA

People in the UK spent more time watching women’s sport in 2023 than ever before, making it another record breaking year.

Viewers watched on average nine hours and 58 minutes in 2023, compared with eight hours and 15 minutes in 2022, and three hours and 20 minutes in 2021, according to new research from the Women’s Sport Trust.

Source: Women’s Sport Trust

However, viewing numbers for 2023 are down, with 36.2 million people watching at least three minutes of women’s sport programming between January and 22 October, compared with the 38.9 million who watched in 2022. The numbers fall below 2019 too, which had a high of 39.8 million viewers.

“Viewing figures are essential. We need to keep monitoring how things are evolving,” Laura Weston, trustee of the Women’s Sport Trust tells Marketing Week. But, she adds: “We’re now at a point where we need to also drill down and start asking more sophisticated questions.”

“We also need to acknowledge that progress isn’t ever a straight line,” says Weston.

We’re now at a point where we need to also drill down and start asking more sophisticated questions.

Laura Weston, Women’s Sport Trust

While international tournaments and landmark events are continuing to gain traction, the data highlights a drop in domestic women’s sport audiences for football and cricket in 2023. The Women’s Hundred cricket tournament viewing figures fell 15.5% this year compared with 2021, and football has also seen a drop.

Digging further into the data, cricket matches during The Hundred were more likely to air as Sky Sports’ main event if broadcast towards the beginning of the week, with Tuesday being the most likely day (100%) followed by Monday (89%) and Wednesday (83%).

For the weekend, those figures drop to 31% for Saturday, and just 20% for Sunday. On average, women’s cricket games that didn’t clash with men’s had an audience of 259% higher compared with games with a conflict.

‘Commercially sustainable’: Why it’s time for brands to start backing women’s sport beyond big tournamentsThe viewing figures for the opening 10 games of the Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL) season across BBC and Sky Sports fell by 25.8% this year, compared with the first 10 games last season. However, one less game was broadcast.

Sky Sports’ viewing figures have declined 20.5%, but the BBC has seen a slight increase thanks to it broadcasting the second most watched WSL game ever, which was Arsenal vs Aston Villa.

“We are in a test and learn phase for women’s sport, so it’s important to understand that broadcasters are trying to work out where to place the content to create a consistent appointment to view, so it becomes a habit,” says Weston.

Sports beyond football

Source: Women’s Sport Trust

Football has so far been the perceived driver of women’s sport figures, given its role as the most popular sport in the UK. However, it’s not just the 2023 FIFA World Cup that has driven the numbers up this year. In fact, golf and cricket have translated their momentum into record-breaking figures this year.

The Solheim Cup – the biennial gold tournament for professional women golfers in Europe and the US – had 95 million viewing hours, compared with its previous best of 6.3 million in 2021.

Likewise, England women’s cricketers had the highest audiences on record for the summer, with 7.4 million viewers watching for three minutes or more, compared with a previous record of 6.2 million. Similarly, the Netball World Cup was watched by 5.6 million this year, up from 4.5 million in 2019.

Meanwhile, viewing hours on UK television for the Women’s Six Nations hit 10.4 million, compared with 7.7 million in 2022.

Differentiation is key for marketing women’s sportGrowth in these sports is “very exciting”, says Weston. “Seeing this diversity of sport and role models getting screen time is brilliant.”

Success for a range of sports will have benefits for brands and sponsors too. Weston says: “The top line is that not only does the audience exist for these sports, but it is a potentially a younger, more diverse audience who have money to spend.”

Previous data from the Women’s Sport Trust highlighted that women’s sport fans are often the people in control of their household’s budget. This audience has “more affinity and propensity to buy from a brand supporting women’s sport,” says Weston.

This is a demographic she thinks FMCG and female lifestyle brands “who may not have considered sport” as a platform for them before can tap into, alongside the opportunity to be part of building the women’s sport culture. “Fashion, music and beauty all have a role to play and bringing these together will set the course for years to come,” says Weston.

The real measure of success though is seeing this visibility translate into viability.

Laura Weston, Women’s Sport Trust

Fans of women’s sport are not a copy and paste of men’s sport fans. “It could be that they enjoy men’s and women’s sport, but approach women’s sport differently,” says Weston. This could mean involving the family more and viewing it as more inclusive and “less tribal” compared with men’s sport.

“This tallies with the fact we are seeing fewer women’s football fans who have a dedicated team that they follow but instead they are fans of women’s football in general,” she adds.

Plus, the recent Women’s World Cup had 11.5 million viewers out of 29.9 million who didn’t watch the 2022 Men’s World Cup. Meanwhile, 33% of the Solheim Cup’s audience did not watch the men’s Ryder Cup. “This is the first time we have really been able to highlight this and it’s exciting that women’s sport is bringing new people into sport,” says Weston.

“The real measure of success though is seeing this visibility translate into viability,” she concludes. “So, attracting more investment will allow women’s sport to be sustainable in the long-term and reward our athletes for the unbelievable effort they have put in on the international stage.”