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Study: WSL broadcast consumption up 285% in first year of Sky-BBC rights deal

UK women’s sport viewership increases 140% from 1st January to 15th May, according to Women’s Sport Trust.

8 June 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • 20% have watched women’s sport on five or more occasions in 2022, up 9% YoY
  • First quarter of 2022 most watched Q1 for women’s sport on record in the UK

English soccer’s Women’s Super League (WSL) contributed to women’s sport viewership in the UK increasing by 140 per cent year-on-year (YoY) in the first part of 2022, according to new figures from the Women’s Sport Trust (WST).

Almost a third of the UK population has watched women’s sport in 2022, with 21.1 million viewers tuning in from 1st January to 15th May. This is in comparison to 8.8 million at the equivalent stage in 2021, with the average viewing time per person double that of last year (149 minutes versus 72 minutes).

The WST cited major competitions such as the WSL, the Women’s Six Nations and the Women’s Cricket World Cup for the ‘unprecedented repeat viewership’.

Additional data from the women’s sport charity found that 20 per cent of total viewers have watched women’s sport on five or more occasions so far this year, up nine per cent YoY. There was also a two and a half times increase in the number of hours of women’s sport broadcast in the first four months of 2022, in comparison to the equivalent period in 2019.

The WST found that women’s sport accounted for 23 per cent and 20 per cent of all sports coverage on the BBC One and BBC Two public service channels, respectively. Women’s sport made up 12 per cent of all coverage on the pay-TV Sky Sports main event channel, although Comcast-owned Sky accounted for the greatest number of women’s sport hours broadcast in the period.

The first quarter of 2022 was also the most watched Q1 for women’s sport on record in the UK, the study adds. According to the WST, 15.1 million watched three minutes or more of women’s sports coverage, in comparison to 5.06m in Q1 of 2021 and a previous peak of 10.2 million in 2019.

The WSL saw particularly impressive growth in viewership, enjoying a four-fold increase in viewing hours, rising from 8.83 million in the 2020/21 season to 34.05 million in 2021/22, the first year of Sky and the BBC’s domestic broadcast deal. There was also 113 per cent more hours of coverage on UK broadcast channels in 2021/22 (518 hours) versus 2020/21 (243 hours).

Additionally, 46 per cent of viewers watched the WSL on more than one occasion in 2021/22 – up from 31 per cent in the previous campaign. Of those viewers for 2021/22, 45 per cent on the BBC and Sky were female, in comparison to 33 per cent on BT Sport in 2020/21.

“These broadcast figures demonstrate once again the growing demand for women’s sport in the UK and the increased visibility being provided by UK broadcasters to meeting audience needs,” said Tammy Parlour co-founder and chief executive of the WST.

“What is encouraging to see is the number of fans coming back on a regular basis to watch women’s sport on broadcast, with 46 per cent watching the Barclays WSL on more than one occasion in the 2021/22 season, and a fifth of viewers watching women’s sport on five or more occasions so far this year in comparison to nine per cent in the same period in 2021.”

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