Women’s sports: Progress in the present and a promising future

Sports is potentially a powerful platform for the promotion of gender equality, yet media interest and coverage has historically focused primarily on men’s sport rather than women’s sports. Reasons include a lack of effort from broadcasters and a struggle to convince advertisers of the value of sports content beyond big events. But progress is being made in recent years, especially in the US market. “Without question, the momentum of women’s sports–both in the sponsorship universe and the public domain–continues to snowball. The evidence is everywhere. In the last year, deals with teams and leagues grew 21%, while athletes inked 18% more partnerships. Across 15 professional women’s leagues, 3.500 brands bought 5.650 sponsorships or media deals. Meanwhile, the advent of “name, image and likeness” deals in the NCAA has seen female college standouts sell 680 partnerships across more than 350 brands, engaging 30M followers in the process.”, according to SponsorUnited [1]

The rise of women's sport is also reflected in the fact that it surpassed men's sports in some areas, notably on social media, SponsorUnited reports: “For the third straight year, brands performed better with women’s tennis players: female stars engaged 53M followers with branded posts, versus 38.5M for male players. In the collegiate NIL space, female athletes generate 4x more total audience engagement and 7x more engagement per deal than their male counterparts, despite having fewer than half as many partnerships–which may compel brands that traditionally favor men’s sports to revisit their marketing strategies.” [1]

In a study conducted in October 2022 among 2500 people, the National Research Group underlines that “almost a third of fans are watching more games than they once did, and as a result, the broadcast market for women’s sports has enjoyed double-digit growth in most territories.” [2] In spite of this fact, women’s sport is still perceived as less exciting and less competitive that men’s: fans are more willing to spend money on watching men’s games and purchasing men’s teams’ products. “Results from the survey show that 79% of U.S. sports fans still claim they do not actively follow women’s sports. However, 30% of those fans are watching more women’s sports today than they were five years ago, and nearly 25% say their viewership of women’s competitions has increased in the past year. Gen Z (39%) and Millennials (29%) are now watching more women’s sports than they were a year ago.” [2]

Audiences’ interest in women’s sports is increasing: The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup generated record viewership (993 million people watched on TV, 482 million on digital platforms), and the final was more popular than the 2018 men’s final, with a 22% larger audience. Viewership for the women’s US Open tennis tournaments have been greater than for the men’s as well, but media coverage was lacking. According to a report published by Deloitte in 2020, an analysis of 250,000 news articles found women’s tennis grand slam events received 41% less coverage than the men’s events; ESPN Digital’s number of women unique visitors across its digital properties last year increased by 4% year-over-year, and total unique visitors to the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tournament are up 43% compared to the 2019 tournament, across ESPN’s digital platforms.

In the summer of 2022, the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift has made its come-back after its first editions held between 1984 and 1989 and two other independent events: the international women's Grand Boucle, held between 1992 and 2009, and the women's Route de France, held between 2006 and 2016. On July the 31st, at the end of the last stage that crowned Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten overall race winner, observers were unanimous: the 2022 Tour de France Femmes, with its 24 teams of six riders each, was a success. [4]

For the sponsors, a presence in the first women's Tour de France in 30 years meant being associated with the promotion of equality between men and women, which is a strategic issue for their brand image: "We don't expect a financial return, but returns in terms of notoriety, image and visibility" [5], says Thierry Vittu, director of human resources for Cofidis, which created its women's team last year. This visibility was achieved in front of a large TV audience since the seventh and last stage was followed by 2.7 million people on France 2, which achieved 30% of audience share with this event. Throughout the week of competition, the average audience was above two million viewers daily.

The newspaper Les Echos [5] reports an estimated sponsorship revenue of around €6.725 million, including €2 million per year over four years for Zwift, the Tour's naming partner. The historical partners LCL, Skoda, Leclerc who provide the yellow, green and polka dot jerseys are also present, along with Liv and FDJ. The partnership with the Tour de France costs them all together €2.5 million.

As for financial investments, they are far less than those involved in the men's Tour de France. "Cofidis spends €13 million on professional cycling, and €1 million on its women's team. Its 11 female riders each earn between 40 000 and 80 000 euros per year, while the average salaries of their 31 male colleagues are around 180 000 euros per year on average”. [5] Regarding the remuneration of the riders, €247 500 in prizes and bonuses are distributed to them, with €50 000 for the winner. The men's Tour de France distributes nearly €2.3 million in prize money, with €500 000 for the winner.

In spite of the increasing popularity of women’s sports, a revenue disparity persists. Deloitte has said it expects TV rights and sponsorship revenue for women’s sports to hit over $1 billion globally. In fact, the company declared in its report that women’s sports revenue in 2021 has been “under a billion dollars - a fraction of the global value of all sports (men’s, women’s, and mixed), which in 2018 reached $481 billion, an increase of 45% over 2011 [6].

To conclude, these recent reports indicate that women's sport still has a long way to go but sponsors and media are making significant progress in terms of revenue and audience. ”The attention being paid to the financial disparity is making women’s sports into more of a priority for advertisers. Brands are showing more interest in women’s sports” beyond advertising around big events like the Olympics or the Women’s World Cup” [6]. Over the coming years, the expected economic and communication development of women's sport remains promising, considering that the growing media interest and public enthusiasm should for sure help to reinforce it. While women’s sports overall may not currently have the reach of men’s sports, they offer brands and sponsors opportunities around a deeper and more purpose-driven engagement with fans, and with audiences that differ from those of men’s sports.


[1] SponsorUnited. 2022. Women in Sports.

[2] National Research Group. 2022. Women’s Sports Study.

[3] Sporsora. 2021. Le développement économique du sport féminin en France : que disent les experts et la data ?

[4] Lienhar, A. (2022, December 8). Le sport féminin toujours en quête d'une meilleure médiatisation. Le Figaro.

[5] Guillemin, L. (2022, July 24). Tour de France Femmes : ce qu'il faut savoir sur l'aspect financier de la course.
Les Échos. https://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/services-conseils/tour-de-france-femmes-ce-quil-faut-savoir-sur-laspect-financier-de-la-course-1778304

[6] Guaglione, S. (2021, April 8). Why growth of women’s sports coverage and advertiser interest is bogged down by small steps forward. www.digiday.com