Four Reasons Why Women’s Sports are a Slam Dunk for Marketers

For decades, marketers have turned to men’s sports to reach and engage consumers. In 1941, the first paid TV advertisement in the U.S. was before a men’s baseball game, and the industry never looked back.1 Until now.

2023 was a catalytic year for women’s sports; fans (both men and women) watched in droves, resulting in a massive increase in viewership across major women’s sports like tennis and basketball.

Brands already understand the value of men’s sports but have hesitated when it comes to women’s sports due to preconceived notions that viewership is not high, only women watch, and men’s is simply “better.” The tables, however, have turned. Last year, a women’s tennis match brought in more viewers than men’s—and not just by a little: Coco Gauff’s U.S. Open Women’s Final averaged viewership of 3.4 million – 48% higher viewership than the Men’s Final.2

With interest in women’s sports exploding, along with the massive shift to streaming and how women’s sports helps build brand trust, it’s now a must for marketers to prioritize this category to reach valuable audiences. And what better time to talk about it than on the heels of Women’s History Month?

1. Growth in Women’s Sports Fandom is Outpacing Men’s

Viewership and investment in women’s sports grew significantly in 2023, indicating a shift in the sports marketing landscape.

NCAA Women’s Basketball saw an 87% increase in 2023 Final Four viewership compared to 2022, with an astounding 6.5 million viewers on average.3 And, the National Championship game was seen by 10 million fans, a 103% increase from 2022.4 The WNBA also had an exceptional 2023. According to Nielsen, the 2023 WNBA draft saw a 42% increase in viewership, and the 2022 season had its most watched season in 21 years.4,5

As increase in viewership for women’s sports continues in 2024, there’ll be even more valuable opportunity for marketers.

2. It’s Time for Marketers to Rethink Sports Fans

Contrary to popular belief, men are a primary demographic for women’s sports. Audience insights platform GWI found that 57% of the American adults interested in women’s sporting events and competitions are men.6 Additionally, 62% of Gen Z fans said they’d watch more women’s sports if they were easier to find.7 Investing in women’s sports is a slam dunk for networks and streaming services looking to capture this coveted demographic.

On top of that, women influence purchase decisions across a variety of categories and are projected to own 75% of discretionary spending by 2028.8 They represent a core demographic for marketers looking to expand the reach of their brand yet are often overlooked in sports-focused advertising. Including women’s sports in the advertising mix gives marketers more chances to reach invested fans, possibly at a lower price point, meaning dollars could go further.

3. Sports Moving into Streaming Brings More Opportunities for Marketers

While most sports are viewed live via cable, there is no denying that there has been a growth of sports programming airing on streaming platforms.9

Super Bowl LVIII, which ran live across cable and streaming, featured several ads from health and beauty brands looking to capitalize on the “Taylor Swift Effect.” These brands can see tremendous return on their investment, since while not a female sport, 46% of NFL fans are women.10 Creating ads that resonate with women during these games can provide incremental value for marketers reaching them wherever they are watching.

Traditional TV remains an essential part of connecting with audiences, but as audiences continue engaging with sports on streaming, advertisers can tap into the value it brings. And with the Paris Olympics coming up this July, women’s sports will be front and center on a global stage.

4. Advertising in Women’s Sports Helps Build Brand Sentiment

With its increased awareness, investing in women’s sports allows marketers to reach growing audiences and make a connection with fans. According to the ROI of Women’s Sports Report, sports fans trust brands more when they are associated with their favorite teams.7 For instance, 60% of Americans think companies that partner with the FIFA Women’s World Cup show their commitment to the advancement of gender equality in sports, and 55% state this affiliation makes a brand more interesting or appealing.11

Marketers Investing in Women’s Sports Will Win Big

Women’s sports continue to grow in popularity, and marketers would be remiss not to hop on the bandwagon before it’s too crowded— just a year after being given the “March Madness” label, there was a 354% increase in advertisers for the NCAA women’s tournament.12 That’s no small number.

As we look back at this year’s Women’s History Month and March Madness tournament and start to prepare for the summer Olympics, it’s a good time to discover the large amount of untapped potential in women’s sports. Marketers prioritizing investment in women’s sports in 2024 will likely be in a league of their own.

Dawn Williamson is Senior Vice President and Head of Sales Development for Effectv, the ad sales division of Comcast Cable, where she leads the development of integrated, business-focused solutions for the company’s local, regional, and enterprise clients. With her decades of experience in both marketing and sales for leading companies across the media industry, Dawn always has her pulse on the latest marketing trends.

1. 1941: Bulova airs first-ever TV commercial in 1941 before Brooklyn Dodgers game , The Drum, 2023.
2. Coco Gauff’s US Open Victory Marks Most-Viewed Women’s Major Tennis Final Ever on ESPN , ESPN, 2023.
3. ESPN Platforms Set Unparalleled Records with NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball , ESPN, 2023.
4. Women’s Sports Viewership on the Rise , Nielsen, 2023.
5. WNBA 2023 Season Delivers with Record-Breaking Viewership, Attendance and Digital Engagement , WNBA, 2023.
6. GWI Sports. Q2 & Q4 2023. Internet Users 18 – 64 (split by gender).
7. The ROI of Women’s Sports: A Blueprint for Value Investing , Sports Innovation Lab, 2023.
8. Wise Up to Women, Neilsen, 2022.
9. Live Sports are Headed to Max, as Warner Bros. Discovery Adds a New Tier to Streaming App , CNBC, 2023.
10. Rice Sports Finance Expert Examines ‘the Taylor Swift Effect’ at Super Bowl LVIII and How the NFL is Targeting Women , Rice University, 2024.
11. 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup: The Essential Data Hub , Nielsen, 2023.
12. March Madness: Breaking Records as Viewers and Sponsors Tune into Women’s Basketball , Dow Jones, 2023.