Interest in women’s sports leagues is stepping up.

As big names like Visa lead the way for major sponsorship deals – becoming the first ever UEFA sponsor dedicated to women’s football – viewers and broadcasters are becoming increasingly interested in the games and athletes. This brings the tipping point into heavy media investment a step closer.  

Currently, 12% of the global internet population follow women’s sports leagues1 by watching on TV or online.

But as more are watching, and ahead of what’s set to be a hot summer with the Women’s World Cup, can this existing audience show us the biggest opportunities to engage others?

Followers are likely watching for the sport, rather than the community.

Alongside this audience being more affluent than average, a stand-out characteristic is that they’re sports fanatics. Compared to those who follow men’s leagues across the world, those watching women’s leagues express a much stronger interest in both playing and watching sports more generally.

This shows they’re likely to be consistent watchers of competitions and there for the sport itself, rather than the community and social aspect that comes with most men’s sports competitions like the FA Cup or Six Nations Championship.

However, the community element is still important and could be a leverage point for leagues to bolster interest.

Just as men are more likely to be following sports in general, they also make up a majority of the audience watching women’s sports leagues, but only just (at 57% men vs. 43% women).

The importance of cross-gender marketing campaigns shouldn’t be underestimated, and neither should their ability to drive viewing numbers, awareness and participation.

The Women’s Sport Trust and Sky Sports did this brilliantly with their #ShowUp campaign, asking people to pledge across social media to support and dedicate time to following women’s sports competitions.

The hashtag generated 92 million impressions across social media in the first week alone.

This proves that the appetite for women’s sports is there – building a bigger audience of consistent viewers is the challenge.

Chart profiling watchers of women's sport leagues.

Alternative online viewing channels could easily stretch the reach of leagues.

Live sport is one of the only types of content viewers will set aside time to view in real-time – but men’s sports tend to dominate the prime broadcast exposure slots.

Despite this, women’s sports are still predominantly watched via a TV (80%). Almost 50% of these consumers who are watching on TV are choosing to watch the games online too. Globally accessible channels like social media could bolster viewership, especially in markets where women’s sports aren’t broadcast.

And there’s certainly an appetite for it: almost 4 in 10 watchers say they mainly use social media to watch/follow sports events.

Social media gives marketers and rights holders alike the opportunity to bridge the connection between women’s sports, athletes and fans worldwide. It can also be used to engage a younger, more diverse and truly global audience.

Followers are brand-engaged on social media, making the second screen more powerful.

Women’s league watchers are happy to actively engage with brands on social media, whether by sharing posts or clicking through links, and are more likely to do so than those watching men’s sports.

This love of social media and willingness to meet brands there makes the second screen a vital touchpoint.

The vast majority of women’s sports league watchers are likely to be reaching for another device when they tune in to watch. 93% say they regularly do so as they watch TV, with mobile the firm device of choice (81%).

Chart detailing second-screening behaviors of watchers of women's sports leagues.

At least 1 in 2 say they head to social media or chat to friends on dark social platforms when second-screening – perhaps to see friends’ reactions and commentary in real time when watching sports. These consumers could be at the center of raising awareness of women’s leagues, by sharing and commenting on social media.

Although this online community will be small, it’s likely to be a highly passionate one. And it’s promising for marketers and sponsors that a third say they search for information related to what they’re watching, whether that’s to read up about the people or search for products that are advertised.

For brands wanting the attention of these viewers, maximizing the digital footprint of a campaign will be key.

There’s no denying the reach and cost-effective opportunity social media offers – especially during global league games where feeds will be getting more attention than normal.

But to reach these viewers, simply pushing promotional content or ads all over social feeds isn’t enough. Instead, brands must make themselves part of the conversation.

Looking to the future.

Women’s professional sports leagues have historically trailed behind men’s in terms of popularity, but they shouldn’t be pushed aside.

Raising the profile of women’s sports is an ongoing challenge, as is getting those who do tune in to watch more consistently. But growing attention from the media will play a big part here, as will getting the games broadcast during the prime viewing slots.

For brands, women’s sports offer access to an affluent and passionate audience, who are real sports fanatics.

And unlike men’s leagues, there will be more opportunities for smaller and emerging brands to sponsor women’s sports or athletes without being overshadowed, allowing them to make more meaningful, emotional connections with viewers.

1Women’s Leagues include: FIFA Women’s World Cup, ICC Women’s World Cup (Cricket, Select Markets), ICC Women’s World Twenty20 (Cricket, Select Markets), LPGA/Ladies Professional Golf Association, UEFA Women’s Championships League and Women’s World Cup (Rugby, Select Markets).

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