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  • Writer's pictureSarah Kichula

The Rise of Women in the Sports Media Spotlight

By: Sarah Kichula

December 14, 2023

Photo Credit: CNN

In recent years, through broadcasting, streaming, and transmission through social media, women’s sports has seen a significant surge in coverage. In fact, according to a recent Wasserman report, media coverage of women's sports has nearly tripled. Several record-breaking viewership statistics stand out. Nebraska volleyball fans broke the record for number of people watching a women’s sporting event–amounting to over 92,000 people. The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) became the first women’s league to be valued in the billions. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) signed the largest broadcast deal ever for any women’s sports league: a four year, $240 million deal set to increase annual income by 3,900%. 

Streaming and social media platforms such as YouTube and TikTok reach younger audiences and have given rise to the increase in viewership in women’s sports. Gen-Z tend to prefer short video content, including sports content. In fact, ESPN is currently the number one most followed brand on Tiktok across any genre–not just sports–with over 44 million followers. Beyond brands, athletes are able to directly connect with their fans through the nature of social media. Female athletes are known to drive twice the amount of engagement on social media when compared to their male counterparts. In this way, young girls and women are engaged with female athletes that they look up to, and they are able to feel connected to them and their sport.

Photo Credit: Wasserman Collective

Although there has been a large trend in consuming sports content on streaming services and social media, the majority of sport is consumed through linear TV. With rigid schedules in broadcasting, women’s sports coverage tends to hold less desired time slots. The 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship game, LSU showcased their incredible shooting ability when the team topped Caitlin Clark and Iowa. The matchup was by far the most-watched women’s college basketball game of all time, averaging over ten million viewers. Yet, the 2024 NCAA women’s championship game is set to air at 3 PM EST, still not securing a primetime slot. Primetime slots lead to optimal viewership as more people are home from work and school at the end of the day and able to tune in. According to a WNBA press release, the 2023 WNBA draft was scheduled in a prime time slot, resulting in an average of 572,000 views. This event became the most watched WNBA draft in 19 years, proving that primetime slots help promote interest in women’s sports. 

Even when women's sports attain primetime slots, coverage can conflict with popular men’s leagues such the NFL. Quarterly data from 2018 to 2022 revealed that women’s sports coverage skewed towards Sunday in Quarter 1 and Quarter 4, directly competing with several NFL games. While trends show women’s sports coverage continuing to increase, there are still challenges and limitations that allow women’s sports to reach their full potential. 

One way for women’s sport teams to gain attention is by partnering with other men’s teams. The National Hockey League (NHL) highlighted a few top players from the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) in the 2023 All-Star Game. This collaboration gave female hockey players the opportunity to play with popular NHL players and show their skills. In the 2024 NHL All-Star, select elite players from the women’s league will be invited to perform in a 3-on-3 showcase. There is clear interest in women’s hockey as the 2022 Women’s Hockey Winter Olympics had 3.54 million viewers watch the U.S. take on Canada for the gold medal. Events like the NHL All-Star games provide women’s hockey with the opportunity to gain exposure, especially with the games streaming on ESPN, ABC, and ESPN+.

With record-breaking viewership numbers and increased exposure for women’s sports and athletes, there is a promising trend for women’s sports coverage. While challenges to equitable coverage persist, it's nearly impossible to ignore how women’s sports continues to captivate audiences.


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