If the Tokyo Olympics taught us anything about fan interest, we saw some incredible phenomenon with American gymnast Simone Biles basically reinventing her sport and stepping down at the top of her game. She was able to win 2 medals this year, all while dealing with very difficult personal situations that would likely make every one of us want to quit – including the death of her aunt. More broadly, the Olympic channel found that 56% of engagement comes from women, and the viewership of women’s content is actually higher than that of men’s – a full 16%.
The sports industry is a booming business, and one that has had a recent upward trend, thankfully, in the business of women’s sports. Slowly but surely, women’s sports are starting to come into the spotlight. Take the case of the National Women’s soccer league: last year, it’s viewership grew by nearly 300% to over an impressive 650,000 viewers. There is no doubt that many of you have been seeing headlines of female athletes – Naomi Osaka in tennis, for instance, has been stealing the show and making mental health a key consideration between one’s career and own state of well-being. This is elevating the realm of sports. In fact, when surveyed, 66% of people are interested in at least one women’s sport. You might have the preconceived notion that sports fans are mostly men: studies show that it’s a nearly equal split with 49% of fans are women and 51% of fans are men.
Do we expect too much from female athletes? You know what they say – if you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. The gap is wider than people should feel comfortable with, even though women make up 40% of sportspeople, only 4% were picked up by sports media. 83% of sports now offer the same amount of prize money for both men and women – but that remaining 17% could be a difference of millions for these competitive athletes. Out of the 50 athletes featured in the Forbes 50, only one of them is a woman – Naomi Osaka, who went medalless in the Olympics and also had to bow out of some recent play for her mental health. Not a good look by any standards.
Is there any hope to make a more level playing field? Coverage – and in turn, sponsorship – are key factors to get franchises and brands to pay attention to what fans desire. Currently, a scant 0.4% of sponsorship dollars go to women’s sports. If you were a big brand, would you so easily take such a gamble?
How unfair is the pay gap in women’s sports? On average, female athletes are bringing in only 63% as compared to their male counterparts. It’s an even larger gap in professional basketball – the NBA pays players up to 51% of the league’s revenue. Compare this to the WNBA, where the WNBA pays its players only up to 23% of the league’s revenue.