Investments in women’s sports are paying off big, and paying off big. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re about to return to the 2022 calendar year, which saw major women’s sports stories dominate the headlines, from Simone Biles’ Olympic journey. Serena Williams’ tennis retirement, Britney Griner’s prison from NWSL players who exposed abusive coaches ahead of new collective bargaining agreement.

The conversation, the facts, are changing. Say goodbye to the lame, tired argument that women’s sports aren’t as popular as men’s sports because of supply and demand. The lazy defense, peddled so long and repeated so often that it’s easy to swallow it all, is based on the simple assumption that interest alone drives traffic and eyeballs, insisting (usually with sarcasm) that if there was more interest, then ratings, pay , and media coverage will follow.

But he fails to recognize the hen’s egg or the hen in that egg. Investment also drives interest, and with decades and decades of deep investment in men’s sports compared to the poor treatment of women’s sports, it makes sense to give women’s sports time to build an equal footing.

With more investment comes higher stakes, and with higher stakes comes more motivation to get a bigger return on the initial investment. And the more effort that goes into marketing a product — media coverage, pregame hype, announcing teams, broadcast locations — the more likely it is to attract fan interest.

While breaking down those decades-old structural disparities, women’s sports will have opportunities to capture the nation’s attention with an event like the women’s NCAA Championship basketball game between LSU and Iowa, making a legitimate dent in the conversation. , or the semifinal between Iowa and South Carolina. People loved or hated Angel Rhys’ championship celebration at Kaitlyn Clarke’s expense, whether you were for or against Don Staley’s Gamecocks to complete an undefeated national title defense, you’re talking.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark had a lot of eyes on women’s basketball in the NCAA tournament.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

And you were watching — 9.9 million average viewers on ABC for the title game, which followed a record-setting semifinal audience of 5.5 million average viewers on ESPN.

Both games were trailed by the UConn men, but their championship win, which averaged 14.69 million viewers on CBS, is the least-watched title game on record. Simple math shows that one sport is climbing while another is falling, so investors are starting to recognize the potential of women’s sports. None of this is new around UConn, where the powerhouse women’s team long ago proved that investment pays off. With many colleagues who have worked in Connecticut over the years, the Women’s Beat has always been one of the most treasured, and games at Gampel Pavilion and the XL Center have long been front-page news.

If it feels like the rest of the world is catching up, it’s because it is.

A 2022 study by the National Research Group found that 30 percent of American sports fans watch more women’s sports than they did five years ago, largely because more women’s sports are being broadcast. Other reasons cite the entertainment and competitive value, the appeal of individual stars, and the growing social media and sports talk conversation surrounding women’s sports. The conversation is changing—literally. Until last year, the women’s tournament could not use the term “March Madness”, which was only licensed to men.

As the report asked, “So, what changed?” Here’s the answer: “According to fans, it’s not that their own tastes have evolved; it’s the landscape of sports and sports broadcasting. Among viewers who are watching more women’s sports than ever before, the most common explanation they cited for this trend was that sports broadcast on TV It’s now easier to find.”

So it is a smart investment. The NWSL announced Thursday that it will have a $1 million prize pool for the 2023 Challenge Cup. South Carolina and Notre Dame will play a women’s basketball game in Paris next season. Ridge’s NIL rating has reached $1.3 million. The NWSL’s expansion Bay Area club went for a record $53 million, compared to $5 million to join Kansas City two years ago. The Bay Area is led by majority investor Sixth Street, which also has stakes in Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and the San Antonio Spurs, as well as partnerships with the Yankees and Cowboys through Legends, the venue operations giant.

should i go The women’s NCAA basketball tournament is finally getting its TV rights, freed from being lumped in with all the other NCAA championship games while the men’s was spun off on its own, a difference that directly affects how much money is returned to schools. and programs. The upcoming Women’s World Cup in New Zealand will once again highlight soccer’s global growth.

The National Research Group put it best: “2022 will surely be seen as a defining moment in the trajectory of women’s sports. Fans are starting to pay more attention to the phenomenal successes of top female athletes, and broadcasters are finally starting – albeit slowly – to invest more in women’s sports and give their games a chance to find an audience.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.

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