Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Women’s sports audiences continue to grow on the road to AU-NZ 2023

By Brad Rees, CEO Mediacells

A new YouGov study, amplified by the BBC, finds that 41.5% of UK respondents identify as ‘fans of women’s sport’. 

The Lionesses’ triumph in the Women’s Euros, Team GB’s gold medals at the Winter Olympics, World Athletics Championships and Commonwealth Games have all contributed to the growth, according to the study.

If we accept opinion poll Godfather George Gallup’s assumption that ‘if you’ve cooked a large pan of soup, you don’t need to eat it all to find out if it needs more seasoning’ – then deriving 22 million women’s sport fans from just 2,157 UK adults surveyed by YouGov might possibly stir a sense of authenticity.

We can be sure Women’s sports audiences are an unstoppable force after a bumper Euro performance, where TV eyeballs doubled since 2017 and all focus is now on the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, where audiences are set to rise by at least 33% after the 1.1 billion TV viewers attracted in the previous 2019 world cup tournament.

The key insights into growth are often in the nuance of things, where changing fan behaviours emerge without much publicity.

During the Men’s Euros in 2021 – TikTok demonstrated a subtle expression of new fan sentiment. As global digital entertainment sponsor of the tournament, TikTok attracted younger, female conversations with hashtags #EurosForGirls and #girlsfootball enabling diverse and powerful new voices that attracted audience views of up to 6.3 million.

The platform provided a base for younger, female influencers, like Abi Sykes, to subvert and ridicule archaic, misogynist tropes still active in the football conversation.

The female fan community on TikTok revealed a new football experience where girls share their interest in the matches and players in a unique format.

At around the same time, US Olympic gymnast Simone Biles raised awareness for athletes’ mental health.

When she extracted herself from Tokyo 2020 events her Instagram posts attracted more than 15 million interactions and a 460% growth in engagements after the press announcement.

Mediacells analysis of Simone’s social posts indicates the majority of reactions to her decision to abstain from some of the Games were supported by a young and empathetic audience.

By the end of this summer’s Euro tournament Women’s football was headed in One Direction only.

Women’s football fan engagement became a mass market story, reported by Mediacells, after England’s win against Germany in the Women’s Euro final. 

The record-breaking 87,000 fans that packed out Wembley stadium for the final and the 17.4 million viewers who watched the final on the BBC are the two key stats that the world and her granny now know.

A lesser known stat is that 17.8 million fans in Germany’s ARD TV channel tuned in to make the Wembley spectacle the most popular women’s football match in history.

The 24-hour ticket sell-out of England v USA tickets is the latest indicator that Women’s football is displaying unprecedented growing gains after the FA’s website crashed with a reported 45,000 fans in the queue to get tickets for the October game.

7k bluebadge influencers tweeted about the Lionesses’ win over Germany. Out of all the bluebadge influencers who tweeted about the #WEuro2022 final – the most engaging posts were supplied by One Direction popsters Louis Tomlinson (150k retweets and likes) and Niall Horan (65k).

As the transfer window drew to a close in September, Serie Club Saussuolo only club to post top transfer of a woman, in the Mediacells report.

Sassuolo attracted significant engagement for a post announcing the arrival of Eleonora Goldoni – a striker in the Italy women’s national team. 

The official club post was created by Eleonora on an iPhone and jolts in and out of focus like a typical Gen-Z festival Instagram post, appealing to younger fans. It is unique across the 98 teams as the only winning transfer post to feature a woman.

Finally, back to Mr Gallup’s heterogenous, culinary analogy at the beginning of this article, the UK is more like a multi-choc boxful of Celebrations (see picture below) so, like the pontificating 1930s pollster’s heterogenous bowl of soup, we should take small surveys with favourable outcomes with a pinch of salt.


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