Women’s sports have increased in popularity in recent years and also hit milestones this year where deals and ratings are concerned, according to the Associated Press. This year was the most viewed WNBA regular season since 2006, as headlines about WNBA star Brittney Griner’s imprisonment in Russia also dominated the news cycle.
“People wanna watch great stories, they wanna watch great talent. As soon as you put women on the same playing field as men and pay them what they’re worth. It turns out the dollars follow, the viewers follow,” Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and husband of tennis great Serena Williams, said, according to Essentially Sports.
He is among a handful of investors in the National Women’s Soccer League club, Angel City FC, along with Natalie Portman and former USWNT players Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm. The TV analytics company Samba TV recently released a research study supporting Ohanian’s claims.
The report shows the WNBA, National Women’s Soccer League, and the women’s NCAA tournament this year all surpassed the growth of men’s sports, according to Forbes. This year’s WNBA playoffs averaged 456,000 viewers which was up 22 percent over last year’s postseason, according to ESPN. In addition, the WNBA draft averaged 403,000 viewers. That was the most since Diana Taurasi became the top pick 18 years ago.
Female athletes are also on the verge of lucrative advertising agreements. Samba’s research found that leading companies, such as Nissan, Geico and Capital One, tapped into more than 6 million households during the women’s tournament.
The WNBA now has an agreement with ESPN/ABC through 2025. The WNBA was paid $27 million last year and $28.5 million this past season, but that increases to $1.5 million a season until it reaches $33 million in 2025.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the NCAA Women’s Tournament also increased momentum for the women’s game heading into the WNBA season. She hopes it is just the beginning.
“I’m never satisfied,” Engelbert said. “My team is like ‘Ask for more.’ When you’re in hyper growth mode that’s how you have to do it. We don’t rest. We have to take advantage of the momentum when you have it. … You have to keep pushing, too. We’re underinvested and undervalued.”