Global fan survey shows growth opportunities for federations, leagues, and teams in attracting female sports fans

Interest in women’s sports has skyrocketed in recent years with fans around the world watching and engaging with women’s sports more than ever. The popularity of global stars like Serena Williams, new media and sponsorship deals for women’s leagues and teams, and high-profile campaigns for more equity in professional sports have kept women’s sports in the spotlight.

A recent highlight of this global growth has been the success of the UK Football Association’s Women’s Super League (WSL), which has garnered strong TV ratings in the first year of its broadcast deals with the BBC and Sky Sports, and secured record in-person attendance for the 2021 Women’s Football Weekend. The WSL experienced another showcase event on December 5 as two of its teams, Arsenal and Chelsea, squared off in the FA Women’s Cup finals in front of 40,942 at Wembley Stadium. The match was viewed by more than 1.3 million on the BBC, with an additional 160,000 streaming Chelsea’s 3-0 victory.

« The record attendances for the Women’s Football Weekend is just one sign of the growing popularity of the WSL and women’s sports globally. There is a palpable buzz around the WSL, with increasing spectator numbers in stadiums and more opportunities for fans to enjoy the WSL through our groundbreaking media partnerships. »

Kelly Simmons OBE, Director of Women’s Professional Game, The FA

Along with the growth in women’s sports, new Altman Solon analysis reveals that female fans are following the top global sports leagues in high numbers – providing opportunities for teams, leagues, and media partners in marketing to female fans.

Altman Solon’s 2021 Global Sports Survey, which gauged viewing and fandom among 18,000 respondents in 16 countries across North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia, shows that more than half of women watch sports at least monthly. Although a higher percentage of men are monthly sports viewers, the survey identifies a large international base of female sports fans and viewers.

Monthly Sports Viewership by Gender
(% monthly sports viewers in each country)

In the U.S., UK, and Germany, nearly 50% of women are monthly sports viewers and in countries in LatAm and Asia, nearly 70%.

Female Sports Leagues/Competitions Among Women
(% of female monthly sports viewers in each country; respondents selecting a league interest-level of ‘4’, or ‘5’ out of 5)

The survey shows which sports leagues and competitions female fans consider their favorites. The top domestic sports leagues in their respective countries and global sporting events rated highest. Compared to men, a higher percentage of women selected the Olympics and men’s and women’s World Cups as favorite sporting events to watch. Sports fandom among women also appears to be more event-driven than men, creating an opportunity to turn casual female sports fans into more loyal fans and regular viewers.

Women’s leagues and national teams, including FIFA and the Women’s World Tennis Association, were popular among female viewers but often trailed the men’s leagues in interest. This is in part due to the relative lack of televised matches and limited marketing budgets to showcase players. In the case of the WSL, the FA’s highly ambitious strategy to develop top players and secure lucrative rights deals with major media partners has shown encouraging early returns – and could become a model for women’s leagues globally.

League Interest by Country Among Women
(% of female monthly sports viewers in each country; respondents selecting a league interest-level of ‘4’, or ‘5’ out of 5)

The top U.S. major leagues and European soccer leagues are quite popular among female sports fans, approaching the popularity levels among men. In the U.S., 56% and 50% of female fans selected the NFL and MLB as a favorite league, compared with 68% and 57% of male fans. In Europe, the differences are greater: 50% of female sports viewers in the UK are fans of the EPL (vs 68% of male fans) and 55% of female sports viewers in Germany are fans of the Bundesliga (vs 68% of male fans in Germany).

League Interest by Country by Gender
(% of monthly sports viewers in each country by gender; respondents selecting a league interest-level of ‘4’, or ‘5’ out of 5)

The survey also shows international interest in women’s sports leagues and competitions. Global sports like the WTA Women’s Tennis Tour and FA Women’s Super League are popular with 20-40% of female fans.

League Interest by Country Among Women
(% of monthly sports viewers in each country; respondents selecting a league interest level of ‘4’, or ‘5’ out of 5)

The survey shows strong international interest in top female sports stars. Serena Williams is popular with nearly 40% of global sports fans and Naomi Osaka, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe are popular with 20-25% of global fans.

US Athlete Interest Among Global Fans
(% of monthly sports viewers in 16 countries; respondents selecting an athlete interest level of ‘4’, or ‘5’ out of 5)

Growing interest in women’s sports is driving increases in women’s sports broadcasted on TV. Earlier this year, the Football Association signed a three-year, £21million deal with Sky Sports and the BBC for the rights to broadcast English Women’s Super League matches, marking the first time that television rights to the Barclays FA Women’s Super League have been sold separately from the men’s game. In another deal announced, DAZN secured global rights to broadcast the UEFA Women’s Champions League soccer for $8 million a year for four seasons and is partnering with Google to air the competition live and free on YouTube for the first two seasons. Last year, the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced that it had secured a three-year domestic rights deal with broadcaster ViacomCBS and Amazon-owned Twitch at a combined value of multi-millions of dollars per season.

« We are seeing significant tailwinds from rights holders and investors exploring opportunities in women’s leagues. The FA and Women’s Super League are in the unique position to build a global leader and future powerhouse in the women’s game. »

Ian Lube, Partner at Altman Solon

Implications:

  • Interest in women’s sports will continue to grow as properties and broadcast/media partners and sponsors invest in reaching female fans
  • Recent studies have shown greater fan engagement with brands and sponsors that are involved in women’s sports, which suggests growing corporate focus and spending on women’s sports
  • Opportunity for sports properties and partners to « super-serve » female fans with products/services

Altman Solon, the world’s largest strategy consulting firm exclusively focused on Telecommunications, Media, and Technology, conducted the 2021 Global Sports Survey in August-September with more than 18,000 respondents across 16 countries. Please submit the form below to request the report and explore additional survey findings here.

    Leadership & Oversight

    Ian Lube | Partner | ian.lube@altmansolon.com
    Mary Ann Halford | Partner | maryann.halford@altmansolon.com
    Matt Del Percio | Director | matt.delpercio@altmansolon.com