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Study: Women’s sport could be better long-term investment than men’s

Research from The Sports Consultancy and BDO acknowledges ‘huge potential for growth’ with right backing.

8 July 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • Women’s sport capable of innovating without competing with inflexible established formats, study claims
  • Also says men’s sport overly congested with too many investors, packed calendar and strong incumbent rights holders

Women’s sport could be a better long-term bet for investors than men’s competitions, according to new research from from The Sports Consultancy (TSC) and accountancy and business advisory firm BDO.

While acknowledging that women’s sport is still in an early stage of its development, the report states that it can innovate without having to compete with inflexible established successful formats. It is also likely to be free of complex commercial structures which can limit growth.

TSC and BDO add that there is ‘huge potential for growth’ if investment is targeted in the right way, though stress that investors may need to be patient to achieve returns.

According to the study, men’s sport by comparison is congested with too many investors competing with each other to find a return, as well as having a lack of space in the calendar for new competitions or formats. Strong incumbent rights holders are also able to resist disruption from new entrants. 

The report also highlights the growing demand for women’s sport, particularly among younger audiences. A survey from YouGov found that 44 per cent of global sports fans aged 18 to 24 preferred watching women’s sport over men’s, compared to only 16 per cent among the 55-plus age group.

Sponsors are waking up to this growing interest, the report says. A study by Nielsen found that unbundled women’s sponsorship investment across three of sports biggest rights holders – Fifa, Uefa and World Rugby – rose by 146 per cent in 2021.

Women’s sport in the UK could also generate UK£1 billion (US$1.2 billion) in revenue a year by 2030, up from UK£350 million (US$418 million) in 2021, according to the Women’s Sport Trust (WST) and data and insight agency Two Circles.

The study comes in the same week that private equity firm CVC was linked with paying US$150 million for a 20 per cent stake in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), while English soccer’s Football Association (FA) recently denied reports that it rejected a UK£150 million (US$180 million) bid from an unnamed investor to form a rebranded Women’s Super League (WSL).

“This month’s Uefa Women’s European Championship is likely to provide a real boost to interest in women’s football – and women’s sport more widely,” said TSC associate director Kirsten Sibbit-Johnston.

“It’s clear that there is a huge untapped market particularly among younger generations, and indeed, we could now be on the cusp of a huge investment wave.

“However, investment needs to be targeted to grow the sport – by supporting female athletes, increasing professionalism and driving up exposure. It’s also about building new ways in which fans can engage with the personalities, characters and rivalries that really drive passion in competitive sport.

“The biggest returns will come to those who invest across the women’s sport ecosystem buying themselves a greater share of influence and the ability to set a direction of travel for the sector.”

Ian Clayden, head of professional sports at BDO, added: “Perversely, Covid-19 helped raised the profile for women’s sport as space in the sporting calendar allowed for much greater exposure, particularly through streaming platforms.

“We’re seeing huge interest among young fans, but the values of some women’s sport assets are still very competitively priced when compared to equivalent opportunities in men’s sport, and sponsors and investors are taking note.

“However, men’s sport didn’t grow to where it is today overnight, it took decades of steady professionalisation and investment. We expect a faster trajectory for women’s sport, but investors will still need to focus on the medium to long term if they want to capitalise on the opportunities available.”

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