Today, the ‘value’ of a sport is primarily based on TV viewership and attendance. For women’s sport, it is widely assumed that ‘the attendance and viewing is just not there.’ While these traditional yardsticks are an important trading currency, our research shows that women’s sport has broader engagement, influence and value.
Top-level traditional metrics do not favour women’s sports: women’s sport makes up just 10% of live sports broadcasts; and with a unique broadcast reach across the keys sports of 5 million people it represents just 36% of the audience of men’s sport (13.8 million).
But women’s sport is growing and this is an indicator of future success. There are now seven professional women’s sports leagues, five of which have been established in the past five years. As popularity continues to increase, it’s inevitable that both brands and rights holders have questions about audience, engagement, opportunities and return-on-investment attached to women’s sport.
Overcoming barriers to engagement is key. Interest in women’s leagues and sports is higher when a free-to-air broadcasting strategy has been developed and executed. One-in-two (48%) people say they would watch more women’s sport if it was accessible on free-to-air TV or free online. Facebook is the most popular social media channel to follow women’s sport (87%), followed by YouTube (56%), and Instagram (43%).
The Rebel Women’s Big Bash (WBBL) and the Women’s Australian Rules Football league (AFLW), for example, have attracted large audiences, stand-alone sponsorships and broadcast revenue.
Launched in 2015, the WBBL, a Twenty20 competition, has proved a remarkable success, attracting an early free-to-air partner in Network Ten and title sponsorship from sports retailer, Rebel. In December last year, Rebel renewed its deal for a further three years while in April, Seven acquired the rights to broadcast 23 WBBL games per season for the next six years. Australians’ interest in women’s cricket now stands at 43%.
Meanwhile, in Australian rules, the eight-team AFLW staged its inaugural season in 2017. Games in that first season were largely free to attend, while the broadcast strategy revolved around coverage in local markets on the Seven network – mainly the free-to-air digital service 7mate – with further national coverage provided by Fox. 41% of Australians are interested in women’s Aussie rules.
And let’s not forget Suncorp Super Netball which draws larger audiences across the season than any other women’s code and has the largest share of female viewers.
Women’s sport has intangible association value. Around eight-in-ten (78%) female sports fans say it is important for sponsors to support women’s sport; and 74% say companies involved in sponsoring sport gain in appeal with the audience.
We have already seen a shift in partnerships across women’s sport. Existing brand sponsors are expanding their portfolios or switching completely from men’s sport to women’s. While brands that are new to sponsorship, including Harris Scarfe and Priceline Pharmacy, are coming in at a lower level – often as club sponsors.
Wider societal issues around diversity and equality are also playing into women’s sports investment decisions. And there are more opportunities available in this comparatively uncluttered market at a cheaper price. Not to mention the strong positive sentiments towards sponsors who are involved in female sport sponsorship. Female athletes are seen as inspirational, considered role models and positive advocates of healthy body image.
The rate of change in women’s sport is one of the most exciting trends in the sports industry right now. At Nielsen, we are committed to integrating women’s sport into our current platforms for more accurate and comparable measurement of key metrics. By collaborating with the industry, we also need to develop new inputs including digital, social, net promoter scores and growth indices to provide a more complete picture.
Making sense of what the future holds for women’s sport and the opportunities attached to it is fundamental. For rights holders, brands and the media, women’s sport represents a chance to develop a new commercial proposition and engage fans in a different way.