Almost 33 million (32.9m) people watched domestic women’s sport in Britain in 2021, beating all previous years. The main drivers for this growth were The Hundred in cricket and the FA Women’s Super League which brought in almost 11 million new viewers to women’s sport.

The numbers were revealed as part of a new report published in the week on ‘Visibility Uncovered’ by the Women’s Sport Trust.

5.9 million new viewers to the WSL had not watched any other women’s sport in 2021 prior to the start of the season. Of the 4.9m new viewers to The Hundred, 3.5m (71%) have gone on to watch other women’s sport, with football and tennis the most popular choices.

It was The Hundred that attracted most people’s interest with cricket achieving 41% of total viewing hours, compared to football with 39%, although it is only midway through the WSL season and their new broadcasting agreement with BBC Sport and Sky Sports.

Interestingly, 25% of viewers who watched England women’s cricket or the Women’s Hundred last year did not watch any men’s cricket on TV in 2021.

The research revealed that there were 2.7 million viewers for women’s cricket only, with 27% of those under the age of 35 (in comparison to 25% of viewers who just watched men’s cricket being under the age of 35). 6.2 million people watched live WSL broadcast matches in 2021 without watching a Premier League game on TV, while 1.5 million people watched live W Series coverage without watching live F1.

The research, conducted by Futures Sport and Entertainment, looks at the UK’s media exposure and consumption of women’s sport, men’s sport and mixed sport. It details how this has changed throughout 2021 and predicts record-breaking audiences for 2022.

Contrary to the current trend of declining TV viewing hours, women’s sport is actually growing across both free-to-air and Pay-TV channels. However, it’s free-to-air that really makes an impact to the total audience as it brought 19 million new viewers to women’s sport.

Here in Ireland, the same impact is likely with record numbers of women’s rugby, soccer and Gaelic games matches being carried free to air across RTÉ, Virgin Media and TG4.

During the week it was revealed that nine matches in the 2022 Women’s National League will be shown here as well as the Evoke.ie Women’s FAI Cup.

The report also found that there are significant opportunities for growth for women’s sport for pay-TV broadcasters. 28% of viewers (2.9 million) who watched women’s sport on free-to-air but not Pay TV in 2021, have watched sport Pay-TV channels this year, implying they likely have a subscription to sports Pay-TV channels, while 79% of females watched women’s sport on free-to-air only.

“The importance of free-to-air, alongside Pay-TV coverage, in bringing new audiences to women’s sport should not be underestimated,” said Women’s Sports Trust CEO Tamy Parlour.

“Domestic competitions such as The Hundred and the Women’s Super League are the perfect gateway to viewing more women’s sport and I look forward to seeing the impact other major international events this year will have on future viewing figures. We know how important these major events are in growing viewership figures but we want this growth to be sustainable, driving greater habit amongst audiences, to ensure women’s sport continues to be visible, viable and unstoppable.”

Other highlights from the research include:

  • Interest in female athletes is driving interest in sport in general but this is mostly led by individuals rather than teams
  • Emma Raducanu featured in four of the top ten most visited women’s sport stories on Sky Sports’ website in 2021. In September 2021, there were 8 million UK Google searches for Raducanu, in comparison to just 250 back in May.
  • Peak searches in a week for Fallon Sherrock in the past few years have been higher than for any man in darts
    • The importance of using different platforms to attract different audiences:
      Broadcasting: the audience on Sky Sports YouTube Netball Live channel (74% female vs 26% male, 32% aged from 25-34), which achieves average watch times in excess of 27 minutes, is very different to the Sky Sports TV audience (26% female vs 74% male)
    • Followers and engagement: Chelsea’s women’s Instagram interactions in 2021 were higher than 12 of the men’s teams that play in the Premier League in the 2021-22 season and achieved a 77% year-on-year increase in growth. Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd’s women’s teams’ instagram accounts all had more interactions in 2021 than seven of the Instagram accounts dedicated to men’s Premier League teams
  • Major events continue to be of interest to a female audience
  • Major mixed events attract the highest % of females watching. Wimbledon and the Tokyo Paralympic Games both had the highest % of female viewers from major events with 57%, closely followed by the Tokyo Olympic Games with 52% of females
  • Major events drove digital interest from females – female web consumption reached a peak of 35% during the summer on Sky Sports.

 

 

Sport for Business Perspective

It was once deemed to be true that more coverage would only be justified if there was more support.  These figures together with our own numbers and experience here confirm that there is a willing audience across men and women of all ages to become invested in the Women’s games once they have an opportunity to see them.

Enhanced coverage of our elite teams and stars like Rachael Blackmore has brought much closer the day when there will not need to be a defined Women’s Sport category.  It will be just sport, played sometimes by men and sometimes by women, but of equal interest.