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Study: 52% of women in the UK watching sport at least once a month

Altman Solon’s report highlights increasing number of female fans tuning in across major markets.

2 December 2021 Ed Dixon

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  • Sports fandom among women more event-driven than men, according to study
  • WSL could become model for women’s leagues globally
  • Opportunity for sports properties and partners to ‘super-serve’ female fans with products and experiences

A new study has highlighted the increasing number of female fans watching sport, with more than half of women in select countries tuning in at least once a month.

The 2021 Global Sports Survey from strategic consultancy Altman Solon found that, collectively, nearly 50 per cent of women in the US, UK, and Germany are monthly sports viewers. That figure rises to nearly 70 per cent in LatAm and Asia countries.

The study gauged viewing and fandom among 18,000 respondents in 16 countries across North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

Female respondents were also asked to select their favourite sports league and competitions. Compared to men, a higher percentage of women selected the Olympic Games and men’s and women’s Fifa World Cups as their favourite sporting events to watch.

According to the study, sports fandom among women appears to be more event-driven than men, creating an opportunity to turn casual female sports fans into more loyal fans and regular viewers.

Women’s leagues and national teams, including Fifa and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), were popular among female viewers but often trailed the men’s leagues in interest. Altman Solon states this is in part due to the relative lack of televised matches and limited marketing budgets to showcase players.

The study points to English soccer’s Women’s Super League (WSL) as a potential model for women’s leagues globally. The league is currently in the first season of a three-year rights deal with Sky Sports and the BBC, which has initially produced record viewing figures. A separate study from Nielsen Sports last month also said that the broadcast agreement could see the WSL attract a total season audience of 14.5 million in the UK.

“We are seeing significant tailwinds from rights holders and investors exploring opportunities in women’s leagues,” said Ian Lube, partner, Altman Solon. “The FA and Women’s Super League are in the unique position to build a global leader and future powerhouse in the women’s game.”

The survey also shows that top US major leagues and European soccer leagues are quite popular among female sports fans, approaching the popularity levels among men.

In the US, 56 per cent and 50 per cent of female fans selected the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) as a favourite league, compared with 68 per cent and 57 per cent of male fans.

In Europe, the differences are greater. Fifty per cent of female sports viewers in the UK are fans of the Premier League, compared to 68 per cent of male fans. In Germany, 55 per cent of female sports viewers are fans of the Bundesliga, versus 68 per cent of male fans in the country.

The survey also highlights strong international interest in top female sports stars. Serena Williams is the most popular with nearly 40 per cent of global sports fans, while fellow tennis player Naomi Osaka, as well as US soccer aces Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, are popular with 20 per cent to 25 per cent of global fans. LeBron James was the most popular male athlete at 30 per cent.

Altman Solon concludes that interest in women’s sports will continue to grow as properties, media partners and sponsors invest in reaching female fans. It also notes that recent studies have shown greater fan engagement with brands and sponsors that are involved in women’s sports, suggesting a growing corporate focus and spending on women’s sports.

Additionally, the study believes there is an opportunity for sports properties and partners to ‘super-serve’ female fans with products and experiences.

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