View From the Top: How the Rise of Women’s Sports Presents an Exciting New Advertising Opportunity

04.24.2024 Sara Brasfield5 min

The past year has seen a profound transformation in the role of women’s sports in not only live sporting events, but TV entertainment. At the center of this paradigm shift is women’s college basketball, which shattered numerous TV viewership records on the shoulders of high-profile stars such as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.

This year’s NCAA women’s championship game drew a record-setting TV audience of 18.87 million viewers—the most ever for women’s basketball. Even more impressive is that the women’s title game outdrew the men’s by more than four million viewers—and that the college women’s championship game also attracted more TV fans than any college or NBA game in the past five years.

Such strong numbers suggest that the embrace of women’s sports is not merely a blip on the TV ratings landscape. Instead, both male and female audiences are discovering the appeal of watching college and professional women’s sports. As the market for women’s sports increases, it’s opening up an incredible opportunity for advertisers to reach a majority-female, live sports audience through cable TV and streaming channels.

The Growing Purchasing Power of Women

While men represent roughly 62 percent of the audience watching women’s sports, the share of female viewers for these televised events is larger when compared to men’s sporting events.

More women are tuning in to watch women’s sports—and they represent a consumer group that possesses more purchasing power than ever before.

According to the VAB report, “In a League of Their Own: Exploring the Rising Popularity of Women’s Sports,” 85 percent of all consumer spending in the United States is controlled by women, and three-quarters of all discretionary spending will be controlled by women by 2028.

Within the next decade, 66 percent of all consumer wealth is projected to belong to women. This shift in control over spending and wealth will be mirrored by the rising influence of women as a consumer group. While women already possess significant purchasing power, businesses that prioritize engagement of female consumers can cultivate strong brand loyalties that increase in value and purchasing influence over time.

The Market Rewards of Increased Representation and TV Coverage

Although casual observers may assume that the surging popularity of women’s sports is a cultural phenomenon, this flashbulb moment is actually the product of significant infrastructure development for women’s sports that has been decades in the making.

Since its founding in 1997, the WNBA has grown to include 12 teams in cities across the United States—and the league’s commissioner recently announced its intent to add four new expansion teams within the next few years. The National Women’s Soccer League, meanwhile, has been competing for more than a decade and now features 14 teams.

Both leagues are benefiting from strong TV rights deals that are generating ad revenue and expanding the reach of each sport among interested audiences. The WNBA currently has a joint rights deal with the NBA that provides national TV broadcasts of games across Disney, ESPN, ION, CBS, and Amazon. The NWSL has a similar rights deal with CBS Sports, ESPN, Amazon Prime, and other TV and streaming partners.

Overall, TV coverage for women’s live sports has grown from 733 televised events in 2018 to 1,029 as of 2022. During that span of time, the amount of time female viewers spent watching women’s sports increased by 39 percent, far outpacing male viewers (28 percent). This shift was most notable in the championship broadcasts for the three signature women’s sports events, which saw the following year-over-year viewership growth:

  • The 2022 NWSL Championship: 453 percent YoY growth;
  • The 2022 WNBA Finals: 171 percent YoY growth;
  • Women’s March Madness: 81 percent YoY growth.

Foster Engagement with a Unique Live Women’s Sports Audience

Overall, 84 percent of all sports fans are interested in watching women’s sports. But with a larger share of female viewers—along with surging viewership among women ages 25 to 54—the demographic profile of women’s live sports audiences is a little different than men’s live sports.

A tailored approach to reaching this audience is recommended. Businesses eager to reach engaged audiences during women’s sports events should embrace the following tactics:

  • Consult the women’s sports TV calendar when planning media buys. From women’s college basketball, the WNBA and the NWSL to less frequent events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA Women’s World Cup, make sure you’re prioritizing media buys around these events and have accounted for those campaigns in your spending budget.
  • Align ad messaging with the content of the broadcast. Brands like Buick have found success creating ad campaigns that emphasize female empowerment, gender equity in sports, and other issues-driven messaging that is likely to resonate with a women’s sports audience.
  • Target lower-funnel outcomes such as increasing purchase intent among your target audience. While large-scale campaigns targeting live sports events tend to focus on upper-funnel goals such as building brand awareness, there’s recent evidence to suggest that TV ads during women’s sports events can have a measurable impact on purchase intent and other conversion metrics.
  • Delay media buys at your own risk. TV advertiser spend is on the rise. If you wait to plan and purchase your media buys, you risk increased competition that could lead to higher prices and more limited inventory options.

Ready to invest in advertising around women’s sports? Opportunities like this don’t come around very often, and the value they represent won’t last forever. Cox Media’s experts can help you plan out a TV and streaming ad strategy that targets women’s sporting events and fits both your advertising goals and your budget.

Contact us today to get started.

About the Author

Sara Brasfield

Sara is a Marketing Manager on Cox Media’s corporate team in Atlanta, with a passion for writing and delivering relevant insights for advertisers. With more than nine years of experience in B2B marketing, Sara aims to help Cox Media’s current and future clients connect with their customers find new and unique ways to grow their business. Outside of the office, Sara loves spending time running, reading, and supporting her favorite sports teams (Go Braves & Gamecocks!).

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