It was a banner year for women’s sports around the world in 2022. Women broke records, made history, and challenged both systemic abuse and the status quo. They also generated a historic amount of awareness around their sports.
By all factors, the popularity of women’s sports took a pivotal leap in 2022, with an increase in sponsorships, ratings, viewership, and prime-time coverage.
Broadcast networks saw viewership numbers on women’s sports vault to new heights. Fans broke attendance records at women’s games around the world. Even in sports betting, women are signing up for sportsbooks at a faster clip than men, and women’s sports are getting more attention from sportsbooks.
We dug into the numbers and found signs of tremendous change and growth for women’s sports through 2022 and signs of increasing momentum for 2023. Here are the highlights.
Number of Women Bettors Increasing: The Evolution of Betting on Women’s Sports
Overall Gains in Women’s Sports Interest in 2022
A study by the National Research Group showed that 30% of sports fans in the US say they’re watching more women’s sports now than they were five years ago.
The top reason fans said they watched more women’s sports? More women’s sports are being broadcast.
Why fans say they’re watching more women’s sports:
- 41% because more women’s sports are being broadcast
- 38% because women’s sports are becoming more entertaining or competitive
- 37% because they have learned more about a specific female athlete(s)
- 32% because there is more press and attention around women’s sports than there used to be
- 25% because women’s sports are being talked about more on social media
The study’s responses bear out what many in women’s sports have said for some time: More investment and amplification would bring more audience attention.
“Without adequate visibility, amplification, and storytelling, it’s unreasonable to expect fans to discover content around sports, let alone engage and spend around them. But when given a real platform, women’s sports are proven to deliver,” said Jaymee Messler, co-founder of Gaming Society, in a piece in Sports Business Journal.
The Fastest-Growing TV Audiences are for Women’s Sports
From 2021 to 2022, the value of women’s sports broadcast rights grew by 30% in the US – and a whopping 140% in the UK and 110% in France.
Women’s sports viewers tend to skew young, diverse, and affluent – exactly the demographic advertisers seek. 39% of Gen Z sports fans and 29% of Millennials are watching more women’s sports. Advertisers are increasing investment in women’s sports and sporting sponsorships.
Check out these broadcast milestones across women’s sports in the US.
Women’s March Madness Tournament Viewership up 81%
The Women’s March Madness overall viewership was up 81% vs. 2021, including a 24% increase in viewership for the championship game between Connecticut and South Carolina. By comparison, viewership for the men’s tournament was up 18%, and the men’s championship was down 42% from 2021.
Of course, the women’s tournament viewership is still lower than the men’s – 10.3 million vs. 34.1 million. But consider the number of investment dollars put into the men’s tournament over decades. The recent accelerated gains for women show that similar investments in women athletes can make a difference.
NWSL Championship Game Viewership up 453%
The National Women’s Soccer League inked a broadcast deal with CBS in late 2021. The 2022 NWSL Championship Game between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current got a primetime slot for the first time, and viewership was up 453% year over year.
By comparison, the men’s MLS Cup Final was up 15%.
“When we were given CBS as the stage, we either competed with, matched or even outperformed the MLS,” Alexis Ohanian, Angel City FC lead investor, told Reuters. “Facts over feelings. When we’re put on that stage, the fans show up.”
WNBA Makes Gains Across the Board
The 2022 regular season of the WNBA was its most-watched season since 2006. ESPN aired 25 regular-season games and every playoff game.
The WNBA playoffs saw an increase in viewership of 22% from 2021. In the WNBA Finals Game 1, viewership was up 171%. By comparison, the NBA Finals game one was up just 25% year over year.
Even the WNBA draft viewership reached nearly half a million viewers – the most since 2004, when Diana Taurasi was the top pick.
Women’s Sporting Events Broke Attendance Records
Fans broke two attendance records in just one night during the National Women’s Soccer League Playoffs. On Oct. 16, the Houston Dash hosted the Kansas City Current in front of a sold-out crowd. The NWSL tweeted out the new single-game attendance record.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A NEW RECORD 🤠 pic.twitter.com/HdG6lIcMYI
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 16, 2022
Not to be outdone, the San Diego Wave vs. Chicago Red Stars game attendance broke that record later that night. 26,215 fans descended on the San Diego Wave’s home stadium, prompting a cheeky follow-up Tweet by the NWSL.
Records are made to be broken 😎 pic.twitter.com/0L9Vx0Lebt
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 17, 2022
Across women’s sports, fans smashed attendance records in 2022. Seattle Storm fans dominated in the WNBA with sellout crowds at the Climate Pledge Arena.
In Europe, 91,648 fans crammed together at Camp Nou to watch Barcelona Femení. The total attendance for the Women’s Champions League semi-finals was 179,733.
And, of course, Serena Williams’ final tournament at the US Open made tournament attendance history. 29,402 fans came through on her opening night, which was an all-time night-session record for the US Open.
Women Athletes Get More Media Coverage
2022 proved that media coverage matters for every sport. Perhaps the closest athletic event where women’s sports reach parity with men’s is the Olympics. A significant reason is that media coverage splits more evenly between men’s and women’s sports during the Olympics.
In fact, according to Samba TV, women’s events dominated the 2022 Olympic viewership, thanks to more media stories.
Media-driven storylines around women’s sports were everywhere in 2022. Some were celebratory, others devastating – but they all deserved and received international attention.
- Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia
- Serena Williams’ “final match” at the US Open
- Sue Bird’s final game with the Seattle Storm
- NWSL achieved equal pay and ratified its first CBA
- NWSL players speak out against abuse
- Sandra Douglass Morgan becomes the first Black woman to become president of an NFL team
- And more
With the proliferation of media coverage comes an increase in attention, awareness, and interest. Over one-third of sports fans who are watching more women’s sports credit expanded media coverage for their increased interest.
Women and Sports Betting
According to a report by Global Wireless Solutions, more than 4.6 million women joined US sports betting apps in 2021, an increase of 115% from 2020. Women continued to increase their adoption of sports betting through 2022 as mobile sports betting boomed in the US.
Bets on women’s sports also increased – though they have a long way to go. FanDuel has seen increases of 270% in bet count and 101% in handle on the WNBA year over year. DraftKings says their handle on women’s sports was up 22% year over year, and bets on women’s sports increased 61%.
Growth in betting on women’s sports can also impact the popularity of those sports.
According to Mike Raffensperger, Chief Commercial Officer at FanDuel, a Nielsen Study commissioned through FanDuel showed that “sports bettors consume 31% more sports content than non-bettors.”
“There are so many ways sports betting can deepen your interest level, engagement, and the enjoyment you get from sports. And that translates to more consumption of sports content, and that’s good for the leagues,” Raffensperger told The Newsworthy.
NIL Deals Are Changing the Game for Female Student Athletes
Name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals finally allow amateur student-athletes to make money for the first time. While male Division I football players are making the most, NIL has also given an enormous boost to women athletes.
According to the AP, from the inception of NIL in July 2021 up to November 2022, women’s sports held six of the top 10 highest-earning sports by NIL compensation.
Women’s sports have a long way to go until there is a level playing field, but 2022 was a year of milestones along that journey.