Revenue generated by women’s sport in the UK is set to grow to £1bn a year by 2030 – up from £350m a year currently – making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in the sports industry. The key to unlocking this impressive growth will be the increased visibility of female athletes and teams.

The projections were released this week by the Women’s Sport Trust and data and insight agency Two Circles as part of the release of ‘Closing the Visibility Gap’, the most comprehensive study ever undertaken into the commercial drivers of women’s sport in the UK.

The research found that existing interest in women’s sport is strong, as two-thirds of UK sports fans currently follow some form of women’s sport, and half have attended an event featuring women’s athletes.

However, the sports industry has underinvested in making female athletes visible in ways that resonate with fans; in creating meaningful interactions for partners; and in building prestige for women’s sport overall which is limiting rights-owners ability to capitalise on commercialising growing interest.

Programmes like Guinness’s #NeverSettle providing very specific actions to raising visibility are an important way to put this right and will be followed by others in the coming months and years.

More than 80 per cent of UK women’s sports fans feel major events and TV broadcasts have been important factors behind following women’s sport.

But currently over a third of women’s sport only use digital channels to broadcast their sport.

Additionally, on the main social media channels of some of the highest-profile UK National Governing Bodies, less than 30% of the most prominent images feature female athletes, a discrepancy that is even more marked for professional clubs in football, cricket and rugby.

“Women’s sport has long been on a strong growth trajectory,” said Women’s Sport Trust CEO Tammy Parlour, MBE.

“However, most sport played by elite female athletes still has a long way to go until it becomes commercially viable. To achieve long-lasting change, and for women’s sport to occupy a central role in our culture in the UK, the sports industry must widely recognise a social responsibility to building sport for all, and practically connect a vision for women’s sport to long-term commercial profit.”

“We hope this research can play a role in supporting all sport industry stakeholders in this endeavour, helping them present female athletes and teams in ways that resonate with fans, create meaningful interactions for partners, and build success for women’s sport overall.”

“We believe the next decade will be a gamechanger for women’s sport and with some concerted focus on key areas such as visibility and data we can ensure it is not only commercially viable but sustainable for decades to come.”

The ‘Closing the Visibility Gap’ study also found other areas of potential growth:

  • Only 25% of UK sports fans who follow women’s sport do so actively
  • Images of athletes in action are 12% more likely to prompt someone to find out more about the sport than images of athletes in a personal or entertainment setting
  • Of major sports in the UK, netball and tennis are the only two that have more than 50% of female players who also classify themselves as fans
  • Across sports played separately by men and women, the average gap between the percentage of known men’s and women’s ticket purchasers is 23% according to Two Circles benchmarks, which suggests sporting stakeholders are failing to fully capture available data on women’s sports fans.

‘Closing the Visibility Gap’ is the result of the largest nationally representative survey of UK women’s sport fans; hundreds of hours of one-to-one interviews with sport executives from leading sport governing bodies, teams, broadcasters, sponsors and athletes; and a comprehensive audit of women’s sports coverage on owned and earned digital media channels.

 

We will have Tammy Parlour as a guest on the Sport for Business daily in the coming weeks to discuss the report in greater detail.

 

Lidl Ireland, our partners in Women’s Sport Coverage,   are one of the 250+ member organisations of the Sport for Business network of sporting and business leaders working together across a number of key areas.

 

Sport for Business Partners