Dawn Staley, the coach of North Carolina, has been around women’s basketball long enough to witness the woes of the WNBA, a young league that has gradually been gaining interest within the sport as a whole.
“This probably looks packed to capacity for the decision-makers in our sport to allow us to do just that,” said Staley, who led the Gamecocks to their second college basketball title this year.
The popularity of women’s sport has grown steadily in recent years, but 2022 marked a turning point. Several sports in its women’s branches gained television audiences, endorsement deals, and prominent coverage.
This latest WNBA regular season was the most watched since 2006. And various women’s basketball stories grabbed headlines, from the sacking of two-time Olympian Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury to the retirement of Sue Bird, of the Seattle Storm and one of the most popular players.
According to ESPN, which broadcast 25 regular season games and all the playoffs, the latter averaged 456,000 viewers, 22% more than in 2021. It was thus the most watched WNBA postseason since 2007.
The WNBA draft averaged 403,000 viewers, the most since 2004, when Diana Taurasi was the first overall pick.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league and women’s college basketball have supported each other in their development.
She added that the NCAA Women’s Tournament, which had the most-watched final in nearly two decades, sparked a boom for women’s basketball ahead of the WNBA season. Now, Engelbert wants to see how far that growth can go.
“I’m never satisfied,” Engelbert said. “My team always asks for more. When you’re in a hyper-growth mode, that’s what you have to do. We don’t rest. We have to take momentum when it’s there… We have to keep pushing as well. We need more investment and valuation.” .
The league has an agreement with ESPN/ABC through 2025. The agreement paid the WNBA $27 million in 2021 and $28.5 million this past season.
The figure increases by $1.5 million per campaign to reach 33 million in 2025.
Also women’s football has grown in 2022.
It generated higher global revenue from sponsorships and broadcast rights, according to a FIFA study. Through a report issued in October, the governing body of world soccer indicated that clubs reported a 33% growth in commercial income from one year to the next.
77% of the leagues receive the name of a sponsor, above the 66% observed in the previous year.
That structural growth was accompanied by an unprecedented general interest in women’s football.
A January friendly match between the United States and England at Wembley sold out in one day and drew nearly 78,000 spectators. Earlier, 87,192 people watched England’s 2-1 win over Germany in the Women’s Euro Cup final.
That last one was the largest influx of fans for a Euro match, for men or women.
“The number and types of different platforms drawing attention to women’s sports, not just soccer, show that there is interest,” said Kate Markgraf, general manager of the US women’s team.
In the United States, the popularity of the NWSL, the women’s soccer league, grew even in the midst of an abuse scandal in it.
An independent investigation commissioned by the US Soccer Federation revealed in August that emotional abuse and sexual misconduct in the league was a systemic problem, impacting multiple teams, coaches and players.
However, the NWSL final, held on October 29, drew 915,000 viewers who tuned in to CBS in prime time, a league record.
As women’s football gains momentum ahead of the upcoming World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Makgraf expects this year’s trend to continue for the foreseeable future. She wants the success and popularity of women’s soccer to impact fans personally.
“When you go to a game and watch it, you are amazed and you change,” he said. “And if this happens more often, it will have a bigger resonance… That’s the goal of soccer in America, to be one of the preeminent sports in our country.”
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Women’s sport marked a key moment in 2022