It has been difficult to keep up with the torrent of recent good news regarding growth in financial strength and fan support for women’s sports. Reports of soaring team valuations, higher earnings for athletes, new sources of investment for leagues and record-setting attendance and viewership have come at a rapid-fire pace in recent weeks.
Consider just a few of the latest headlines:
- As the NWSL looks to expand from 12 to 14 teams by 2024, it has attracted a crowded field of those interested in bidding for franchise rights. Commissioner Jessica Berman noted at last weekend’s press conference prior to the league’s championship match that there have been initial inquiries from 82 potential ownership groups, a number she expects to result in “five-to-10 official bids.”
With recent club valuations as high as $100 million for Angel City FC, $40 million for Gotham FC and $35 million for the Washington Spirit, insiders expect expansion fees to run anywhere from $20 million to $50 million for the 14th club. (It is almost certain the 13th spot will go to MLS Real Salt Lake owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith, who hold an option to bring back a Salt Lake City NWSL team.)
- Women athlete’s made significant gains in personal earnings, according to Sportico’s ranking of the highest paid female sports stars. In the 2021 list, Simone Biles finished third behind Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams—the top two both this year and last—bringing in $6 million. This year, the number three earner, Emma Radukanu, earned $26.2 million, ahead of Eileen Gu at $23.1 million, followed by Biles at $9 million.
Overall, Sportico noted that “the top 15 female athletes earned an estimated $214 million and hail from nine countries, while playing five sports.”
- FIFA’s analysis of 294 women’s soccer teams in 30 leagues worldwide found that clubs’ commercial revenue rose by one-third in the last year while the same source of income rose 24 percent for leagues. FIFA’s “Setting the Pace” study also found seven percent of clubs generate more than $1 million in annual revenue.
- In September, women’s sports league operator Athletes Unlimited raised $30 million from outside investors including Blitzer, Sports Innovation Lab founder Angela Ruggiero and Kevin Durant’s and Rich Kleiman’s venture capital firm 35V.
- Saturday’s NWSL Championship broadcast on CBS, held in primetime for the first time—was seen by 915,000 viewers, a 71 percent increase over last year’s match. The league set a season total attendance record this year as 1,042,063 fans took in matches.
Internationally, UEFA’s Women’s Euro 2022 was the most watched in history, more than doubling viewership from 2017 to a cumulative live audience of 365 million. Total attendance was also more than double 2017 at 575,000 fans.
Those developments are especially important at this crucial time for women’s sports. Coming against the backdrop of disarming reports of harassment and abuse in women’s professional soccer in the U.S., the many positive developments should signal to prospective business and brand partners that women’s sports remain a smart investment, with sponsorship fees and franchise values significantly discounted versus properties in men’s sports despite the strong—and growing stronger—fan interest and support for women’s sports and their athletes.
Corporate marketers are already jumping on the bandwagon. Berman noted that NWSL sponsorship revenue increased 87 percent this year over last, while SponsorUnited reported that the number of sponsorships across professional and collegiate women’s sports and athletes increased 20 percent year-over-year in 2022, with 3,500 brands securing 5,650 sponsorships or media buys.