Women’s sport has seen a spectacular growth in the last five years. The teams, thanks to better preparation, have been accumulating tremendous success, and a higher level and spectacularity in their competitions. But this is only part of why they have attracted public interest and growing fan attendance to the matches. Furthermore, with a growing interest in equality and non-discrimination between the sexes, society has been drawn to female competition, identifying sporting values with social values.
The more significant attraction has also drawn a greater number of sponsors, aware that their support would allow them to identify with the cause of equal opportunities between men and women. This is known as the social dividend. They provide significant extra income so that women’s sport has more resources and can be promoted, prepared, and attract new talent. Now, despite all these advances, competition among women is still not a big business. Its strong point, especially in this starting line of the pandemic, is the social dividend rather than the economic one.
Let’s see it with figures. Deloitte’s forecast in its annual TMT Predictions report for 2021 that world women’s sport will not yet approach $ 1 billion. Therefore, and according to the usual limits imposed by this study, it is not an emerging industry. It is far from the 481,000 million that men’s sport generates globally. And despite this, the consulting firm has decided to analyze it due to its forecast that the public’s interest will only grow in the next decade.
This has already happened in the eight countries with the most sporting activity. They are the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and New Zealand. In countries where 66% of the population is interested in female sport, 45% are willing to go live to witness an event of this type, and 46% would watch it if it were broadcast on television. It is very relevant to consider that fans usually choose, in their female version, the sport they have always followed. In the case of European countries, except for the UK, that sport is football. The others, the most popular in their area, American football and basketball in the United States, and rugby in New Zealand. This leads us to think that women’s sport is not an attraction in itself, but that fans see competitions with the same passion that resemble those they are used to witnessing in men’s sports due to their spectacularity and quality.
No sport shows this evidence better than tennis. Unlike other sports, the support received by players of both sexes is very similar, both by sponsors and by the number of prizes in tournaments. The result has been that men’s and women’s tournaments achieve the same commercial impact. Last year the audience in the United States for the four grand slams was almost equal for both genders, being slightly higher when women competed. This is an essential piece of information because these tournaments are a great driver of pay-TV subscriptions, and therefore the advertising revenue they generate.
But also sports less settled in the public’s taste, such as women’s football, are experiencing a sweet moment in 2021. They seem to have emerged stronger from the pandemic, thanks to previous work by clubs and leagues. FIFA underlined this in the first world report on the development and professionalization of women’s football. Those who separately negotiated the broadcasting rights of their women’s teams and tournaments, and their sponsorship, have obtained higher income than those who did so in an integrated package. Also, the better access of the athletes to training facilities and with more skilled trainers have directly impacted the results.
The public consolidated their favour in 2019, when the FIFA Women’s World Cup attracted 1,475 million viewers, including television and platforms. And this year, everyone is preparing to take advantage of that pull. UEFA has quadrupled the figure dedicated to its women’s football, to € 24 million. The Spanish women’s league has been promoted from amateur to professional category in 2021. The United Kingdom, the first country where women’s football settled, is now experiencing the consolidation of its second most important sport, rugby. For the following season, their women’s tournaments will be broadcast live on Sky News.
European sponsors have wanted to join in this progress. In May, Euronics announced its first sponsorship of UEFA women’s competitions. It thus joined Pepsi, Just Eat and Hublot, and especially VISA, one of the first to bet on women’s sports. It is a long-term agreement until 2025, and the company’s statement reflects the importance of the social dividend: they declared that they had made this decision “so that girls from all over Europe can follow their dreams and practice the sport they love.” Indeed, for the moment, it is supporting a dream and not an economic reality equivalent to men’s sport. But this matters less to companies today than the social dividend they can obtain.
What companies have seen in the success of women’s sport reflects society’s transformation towards gender equality. Many companies have been integrating equal access for men and women into their structures for decades. It achieved a more significant number of female managers who could use their weight to support the sponsorship of women’s competitions—convinced that the skills developed within the field would serve the girl, the young woman, to grow in equal qualities outside it. It is the social dividend of women’s sport and one of its greatest assets to make its promotion an unstoppable progression.