Do women watch sports? Here we explore various studies about women athletes and women spectators
In 2021 and 2022, many information agencies researched how viewing attitudes had changed during the pandemic. How do people watch sports now, and how will they watch them in the future?
These studies revealed quite a few exciting things. For example, according to a survey by Meta, three out of four sports fans use social media exclusively to follow sports events and their favorite teams. One in five spectators who watch sports regularly don’t identify as sports fans. Also, it turns out that the popularity of women’s sports has risen significantly and that women, themselves, have become more active viewers. Likewise, they form a more significant percentage of the total TV and online broadcast audiences.
The Meta study shows that Latin America boasts the most gender-balanced sports spectators. In Latin America, almost as many women as men watch sports (49 % vs. 51 %).
The most significant difference in watching patterns between the sexes can be seen in the Middle East and Africa. 61% of men watch sports, and only 39% of women do.
“Growing up, I didn’t see Muslim women on billboards or TV. I felt like my dreams and goals were limited, because how do you dream bigger without seeing someone who looks like you accomplish those things?”
— says Asma Elbadawi, the Sudanese athlete, basketball trainer, and poetess, who convinced the International Basketball Federation to remove the ban on hijab-wearing.
Where can we watch women’s sports?
Despite the growing popularity of women’s sports, finding an online broadcast isn’t easy. This is even more, the case on TV.
At the end of last year, the Altman Solon company conducted a study in which they surveyed 18 thousand respondents from 16 countries in Asia, North America, Latin America, and Europe. Here are their insights.
They found that more than half of women living in the United Kingdom watch sporting events at least once a month. Every fifth woman in the UK says she watches the FA Women’s Super League as her favorite championship.
Why do these results refer much more to the UK if the poll was international? The answer has to do with the partnership which has been active between SkySport, the Women’s Sport Collective, and BBC since 2021. SkySports managers claim audience size and engagement growth were extraordinary due to the integration.
According to SkySport, the number of female sports viewers has increased by 49% since 2017. At the same time, in 2017, the International Women’s Cricket Championship final was viewed by more than a million viewers on SkySport platforms — which is more than the average Premier League match.
“The final vs. a regular match?” — we might be skeptical of the significance of this statistic, but remember that men’s football is the most popular sport around — and beyond all reach in terms of the overall level of interest. But now women’s cricket can compete with it!
Respondents from 33 out of 40 countries indicate that football is the most popular sport. In the USA it is outstripped by American football, in India — cricket, in Canada — hockey, and by basketball in the Philippines.
The Women’s Super League (WSL) broadcasts show the highest ratings. Nielsen estimates that with the rise in WSL fans, the season’s total British audience was 14.5 million, becoming the country’s fourth most popular national League.
But the most crucial part of this picture is a partnership. No league can become famous if sports fans don’t have access to watch its matches.
A Completely New Audience
25% of those who watched women’s cricket had never watched men’s cricket in the past, and six million WSL viewers had never watched Premier League games. The conclusion is simple — if you don’t provide access to women’s sports, you are losing a potential audience.
According to research by Travis Schaedler and Audrey Wagstaff in 2020, respondents who described women’s sports as “slower” and “less exciting” didn’t have any experience watching women’s competitions, i.e., their knowledge was built on prejudice. In addition, less than 10% of sports media covers women’s sports regularly.
The Olympics have become gender balanced. 48.8% of the Olympic athletes in Tokyo were women. At the Olympics in Beijing, this figure dropped a bit — to 45%. According to Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Japanese Olympic games were the first gender-balanced in history.
As the female viewer base grows, so do the top women’s sports leagues. But women, according to research, are more event-orientated, and women prefer to watch flagship matches and top competitions. These results give rise to great potential for audience growth and the ability to transform female viewers from occasional viewers into more frequent viewers.
Let’s look at competitions that women manage to watch not only in the UK but around the world. Compared to men, women are more likely to watch the Olympics and Women’s and Men’s World Cup, including FIFA games and World Tennis Association events. But women rarely watch regular championships, and this only leaves room for growth.
How do women watch sports?
We also surveyed women to learn how they would prefer to watch games: whether alone or together, online or at the stadium—and what they need to make viewing more pleasant.
Most women watch sports only in the company of friends or partners. Some respondents specified that this depends on the sport: e.g., they like to watch football in the company of others but will watch yachting or the Red Bull Cup alone.
In terms of the best place for viewing, the living room — or any other room at home — won the competition. Many respondents explained that watching at home is cozy; you can pay attention to game details and not waste extra time getting to the stadium.
We also asked an open question — what do you need to get pleasure from viewing sports online? Most women reiterated the importance of friends and good company, followed by snacks/food and a lack of advertisement while watching. One of the respondents shared that a bottle of beer comes in handy, “maybe two, if the game is bollocks”.
What Watchers women think about sports
“Unfortunately, not all sports close to me can be seen on TV or a video platform, as their broadcasting would be hard to organize and their entertainment value is low. I would like to see more Open Water Swimming Championships, triathlon races, and General Aviation Sports (air rally racing, precision flying, and air navigation races).
From what the media offers us, I like to watch football and Red Bull competitions: I never missed a single Red Bull Air Race before, but now, after their cancellation, I follow Cliff Diving. These are the guilty pleasures that I watch alone. As for football… Who cheers at the stadium alone? You need company; if we can’t come together with friends, we exchange impressions online”. — Yana, CEO
“Different women watch sports differently, just as is true of men. Some like to discuss and be in a crowd, whether real or virtual because that brings joy. Others follow a game attentively, analyzing tactics. I watch football and always react very emotionally. After all, football is like a film — the same strong emotions, editing, and close-ups are all present, but without any prepared script, and seasons are like series and have plot twists”. — Alina, Editor-in-Chief
“I loved watching sports as a child, but now it’s less interesting to me, although I am aware of the leading world sporting events and sometimes I view them. But in my family, both men and women love and watch sports. Among my friends, there are both male and female football fans.
So I need to be aware and be able to keep a conversation going. While watching a match, I might participate in a general online chat (if this option is available in the stream) or exchange messages with those close to me about a significant victory”. — Maria, Manager of Business Development
Text by Alina Kuzio