Women’s Sport Trust: Viewership of women's sport broke records in 2021
Almost 33 million UK viewers watched some form of domestic women’s sport in 2021, according to research by the Women’s Sport Trust (WST) charity.
Of the record-breaking 32.9 million viewers, The Hundred, the new short-form domestic cricket competition that launched last year, and soccer’s top-tier Women’s Super League (WSL) led the way, together bringing in just shy of 11 million new viewers.
While the WSL generated 5.9 million new viewers compared to The Hundred’s 4.9 million, the cricket competition just beat the WSL in terms of the total viewing hours, with 41% compared to 39%.
These sports can be considered a gateway to continued support of women’s sport, it is suggested, with 3.5 million of The Hundred viewers proceeding to watch other sports, with soccer and tennis the popular choices.
The research, which was conducted by Futures Sport and Entertainment, was focused on the UK’s consumption of women’s, men’s, and mixed sport throughout 2021.
The research also highlighted that women’s sport is growing on both free-to-air and pay-TV platforms, despite the overall trend of TV viewing hours declining.
Free-to-air coverage made the most significant impact, drawing in 19 million new viewers.
In total, 79% of viewers watched women’s sport only via free-to-air platforms, 28% of which have watched other sports via pay-TV channels.
This suggests they have subscriptions to other platforms, leaving the door open for the growth of women’s sport pay-TV broadcasters.
Timmy Parlour, chief executive and co-founder at WST, said: “The importance of free-to-air, alongside Pay-TV coverage, in bringing new audiences to women’s sport should not be underestimated.”
He added that there is a “need to consider how decision-makers can help facilitate the growth of women’s sport by considering its strategy of how to use digital channels to reach new audiences.”
This includes enhancing the women’s sports schedule, offering them more prominent broadcast slots, and providing viewers direction to other women’s sport content.
The report also showed that offering content via different platforms could help increase women’s viewership.
This is backed up by Sky Sports having generated a female-majority audience (74% compared to 26%) via its Netball Live channel on YouTube, compared to 26% female and 74% male on its Sky Sports TV channel.
Despite the year of record growth, the report found that women’s sport is behind men’s in regards to repeat viewers.
The report recorded 45% of the women’s Hundred audience watched the competition more than once, compared to 55% for the men’s version.
Meanwhile, despite it being higher than the previous season, the WSL saw 35% of viewers return for the 2021-22 season, a significant decrease from the men’s Premier League’s 87%.