Increased visibility of female athletes could power women’s sport revenue in the United Kingdom to nearly 20 billion rand a year by 2030 – up nearly three times from its current figure – making it one of the fastest growing sectors in the sports industry.
The projections were made public at a virtual event by the Women’s Sport Trust and data and insight agency Two Circles as part of the release of ‘Closing the Visibility Gap’, the most comprehensive study into the commercial drivers of women’s sport.
"Visibility will drive commercial growth"
— Women's Sport Trust (@WomenSportTrust) April 21, 2021
Tammy Parlour MBE, Chief Executive and Co-Founder of the Women’s Sport Trust, said: “Women’s sport has been on a strong growth trajectory. However, most sport played by elite female athletes still has a long way to go until it becomes commercially viable. To achieve long-lasting change, and for women’s sport to occupy a central role in our culture in the UK, the sports industry must widely recognise a social responsibility to building sport for all, and practically connect a vision for women’s sport to long-term commercial profit.”
Parlour added: “We hope this research can play a role in supporting all sport industry stakeholders in this endeavor, helping them present female athletes and teams in ways that resonate with fans, create meaningful interactions for partners, and build success for women’s sport overall. We believe the next decade will be a gamechanger for women’s sport and with some concerted focus on key areas such as visibility and data we can ensure it is not only commercially viable but sustainable for decades to come.”
According to the research, existing interest in women’s sport is strong, with two-thirds of UK sport fans currently follow some form of women’s sport, and half have attended an event featuring women’s athletes.
But, the sports industry hasn’t invested enough in making female athletes visible in ways that resonate with fans; in creating meaningful interactions for partners; and in building prestige for women’s sport overall which is limiting rights-owners’ ability to capitalise on commercialising growing interest.
More than 80% of UK women’s sport fans feel major events and TV broadcasts have been important factors behind following women’s sport. But currently over a third (36%) of women’s sport only use digital channels to broadcast their sport. Additionally, on the main social media channels of some of the highest-profile UK National Governing Bodies, less than 30% of the most prominent images feature female athletes, a discrepancy that is even more marked for professional clubs in football, cricket and rugby.
The ‘Closing the Visibility Gap’ study also found other areas of potential growth:
- Only 25% of UK sports fans who follow women’s sport do so actively;
- Images of athletes in action are 12% more likely to prompt someone to find out more about the sport than images of athletes in a personal or entertainment setting;
- Of major sports in the UK, netball and tennis are the only two that have more than 50% of female players who also classify themselves as fans; and
- Across sports played separately by men and women, the average gap between the percentage of known men’s and women’s ticket purchasers is 23% according to Two Circles benchmarks, which suggests sporting stakeholders are failing to fully capture available data on women’s sports fans.
‘Closing the Visibility Gap’ is the result of the largest nationally representative survey of UK women’s sport fans; hundreds of hours of one-to-one interviews with sport executives from leading sport governing bodies, teams, broadcasters, sponsors and athletes; and a comprehensive audit of women’s sports coverage on owned and earned digital media channels.