From Trailblazers to Champions: Reflecting on the Evolution of Women’s Sports and the Path Ahead
April 18, 2023
Female athletes have finally found themselves at the center of our cultural zeitgeist. The journey to this point has been long – spanning decades – and has been rife with the roadblocks, breakthroughs, triumphs, and frustrations that are hallmark of every significant social movement.
But even fully in the spotlight, the crusade is ongoing – and we are still on an uphill path toward continued progress and equity. As a team of sports enthusiasts ourselves, the FINN NY Consumer Lifestyle and Sports group has been on the front lines of this cultural shift of new equity initiatives among men and women’s U.S. sporting leagues, international leagues and The Olympics. While all of the progress towards equity should be recognized and celebrated, we know first-hand that this is just a snapshot of the potential within the women’s sports space.
Recent data released by NY Consumer Lifestyle and Sports client National Research Group – NRG Sports has showed significant gains in women’s sports in the past year:
- 30% of sports fans in the U.S. are watching more women’s sports today than they were five years ago, and 25% of U.S. consumers say that their viewership of women’s sports has increased in the past year.
- 85% of fans – including 79% of men – feel it is important for women’s sports to grow in popularity.
- 60% of fans believe sponsors should invest more money into women’s sports.
Yet, the research also highlights where our efforts and advocacy are still falling short:
- 91% of fans are not willing to pay to watch women’s sports.
- S. broadcast networks spend just 0.2% of media budgets on women’s sports leagues.
The progress is slow, but there is a steady build of momentum. And that is to be expected – Rome wasn’t built in a day – but there is much to remain hopeful about in the meantime.
It can be seen through the recent NCAA Women’s Final Four, which showed that when given a proper platform, the competitive rivalry of women’s sports is capable of captivating the masses. Final Four ticket prices on the secondary market for the 2023 season were more than double the amount of prices for the 2022 Women’s Final Four, and this year’s National Championship set a ratings record with an average of 9.9 million viewers on ESPN.
It can be seen through the incredible momentum and success of the National Women’s Soccer League season 2023, which is still in its early weeks. During opening weekend, the league welcomed over 90,000 fans to its various matches, marking a 48% increase in opening-weekend spectators from the previous season. Last week, the league announced the addition of its expansion into the Bay Area, where the league’s 14th team will begin playing backed by a board that includes Sheryl Sandberg. Many of our leading business figures, entrepreneurs, and entertainment leaders feel a shift in energy and excitement around women’s sports, and they are eager to dive in now and join the movement.
In such an exciting time that feels ripe with potential, brands can learn from Ally Financial and Anheuser-Busch, who are putting their money where their mouth is – creating new avenues and paths through which female athletes can shine, on and off the field. Former athletes like Brandi Chastain and Renee Montgomery are taking their passion for competition and sharing it with the next generation of athletes and teams. We are just months out from the 2023 World Cup, which will surely be a manifestation of both the hard work and advocacy that has been put into the women’s sports space, and proof of WHY we need to keep pushing on and fighting towards a more equal future.