Revenue generated by women's sport in the UK is projected to grow to £1bn a year by 2030 – up from £350m a year currently – according to data released by the Women’s Sport Trust and data and insight agency Two Circles.
The pair released the projections as part of the release of ‘Closing the Visibility Gap’, a new study into the commercial drivers of women’s sport in the UK, while the organisations also say the ‘key’ unlocking growth is ‘increased visibility’ of female athletes and teams.
The research shows that two-thirds of UK sport fans currently follow some form of women’s sport, with half having attended an event featuring female athletes. However the two organisations also say that the wider sport industry has ‘underinvested 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’. The research also suggests that this ‘underinvestment’ is limiting the ability of rights-owners to capitalise on commercialising the growing interest.
In addition, the pair found that 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 more than a third (36%) of women’s sport organisations only use digital channels to broadcast their sport.
According to the research, less than 30% of the most prominent images of the main social media channels of some of the highest-profile UK National Governing Bodies feature female athletes, a figure which drops even lower for professional clubs in football, cricket and rugby.
“Women’s sport has been on a strong growth trajectory,” said Tammy Parlour, CEO and Co-Founder, Women’s Sport Trust.
“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.
“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.”
In addition, the research also identified other areas where visibility can grow women’s sport. According to the report, only 25% of UK sports fans who follow women’s sport do so ‘actively’, while of the UK’s major sports, only tennis and netball convert more than 50% of their female players into fans - both of which, they say, shows ‘untapped opportunity’ for growth.
Meanwhile, across sports played separately by men and women, there is a ‘data gap’ of 23% across ticket purchasers according to Two Circles benchmarks, where women’s sport doesn’t currently collect that data. According to the agency, sports stakeholders are failing to fully capture available data on women’s sports fans, impacting marketing decisions and commercial opportunities further down the line.
The Closing the Visibility Gap report featured hundreds of hours of one-to-one interviews with sport executives from leading sport governing bodies, teams, broadcasters, sponsors and athletes, as well as providing a ‘comprehensive’ audit of women’s sports coverage on owned and earned digital media channels.