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‘Where the heck are the women?’ Why women’s sports could see financial boon in future TV deals

As fan and sponsor interest in women’s sports continue to grow, and media landscape shifts, women’s sports could see a TV revenue boon soon.



The National Women’s Soccer League’s early matches were nearly exclusively streamed on YouTube. They often only attracted a few thousand viewers at once. And the most of them were free.

It’s safe to assume that things have altered in the last ten years. The NWSL has signed seven-figure broadcasting contracts with CBS and the Twitch streaming service, which is owned by Amazon. Ratings are rising, and it is anticipated that the revenue from the upcoming agreement or deals would be significantly higher.

According to commissioner Jessica Berman, “I believe maybe it won’t surprise you to know that we expect considerable growth.”

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And the NWSL is far from unique in the world of women’s sports.

Many leagues’ current television contracts are coming to an end as interest from fans and sponsors in women’s sports grows and the media environment changes. In the coming years, a boom in TV revenue may result from a metaphorical “perfect storm” of market and sociological elements.

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We are, in essence, at a convergence moment, according to Ellen Staurowsky, a sports media professor at Ithaca College’s Park School of Communications.

“The sporting community is aware that excluding women costs them money, in my opinion. Then, on the opposing side, we have consumers knocking on the door asking, “Where the hell are the women?””

Women’s sports were highlighted as “ready for more monetization” in a 2020 research by Deloitte, which forecast that it will grow to be a $1 billion sector over the next few years. And one of the primary drivers of such development is anticipated to be rights fees from TV deals.

The NWSL’s three-year arrangement with CBS is slated to expire next year, making it the first significant player in women’s sports to attempt contract negotiations. Although Berman stated that the league and the network have already had early discussions regarding a renewal, she provided no additional information regarding the nature or progress of those discussions.


The next year, in August 2024, the NCAA’s championships package, which includes TV rights for the women’s March Madness, is scheduled to expire. Additionally, the WNBA’s existing agreement with ESPN expires in 2025.

The leagues’ TV contracts are about to expire at a crucial and, in some ways, ideal time. In reference to both the public’s perception of gender equity and sponsors’ and broadcasters’ realizations that “there really is untapped potential” in women’s sports, Berman called the current environment “an awakening.”

The majority of it has been neglected for a very long period, according to Berman, who was appointed commissioner of the NWSL earlier this year. “And I believe the market is experiencing a major and necessary overcorrection.”

Untapped potential


Last October, an NCAA-commissioned report on gender equity issues in women’s collegiate basketball provided proof of this market change to the general public.

Sports rights analysts at Desser Media, Inc. examined all of the NCAA’s current sponsorship and rights agreements, including one with ESPN that combines broadcasting rights for championships in 28 other sports with those for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

According to the article, the NCAA presently collects $34 million annually from the agreement. However, Desser Media predicted that starting in 2025, March Madness for women will be valued nearly three times as much, or about $100 million annually.

According to Ed Desser, the veteran of the sports media industry whose team conducted the analysis, “our assessment at the time was that there’s a whole lot of untapped value here.”


This is how it works: The NCAA and ESPN originally discussed their agreement in 2001, and they renewed it in 2011. Streaming services have added competition to the market since the deal has stayed unchanged. Ratings have improved. There is evidence that increased funding for women’s sports could raise participation levels even more.

Before leaving ESPN this summer, Carol Stiff managed the network’s coverage of women’s sports. She claimed that when and where the games are shown are key factors in this equation. She thought back to times in her career when a top-tier women’s college basketball matchup would be scheduled for Sunday afternoon, during a lineup of NFL and NHL games, and have low ratings. In order to get a better airing window, she would want primetime.

“Oh, Carol, it doesn’t rate, they said. There are no eyes “She spoke. It doesn’t rate because no one can see it, I’d say.

Ratings suggest that ESPN has reaped the benefits of subsequently providing women’s college basketball with more advantageous broadcasting windows, according to Stiff, who is now a consultant for the Women’s Sports Network.


She added, “I keep saying, ‘If you create it, they will come.

Identical narratives have occurred in several women’s sports. This year, a number of Women’s College World Series games on ABC or ESPN primetime over 1 million viewers. The number of viewers for the 2021 WNBA regular season increased by 49% from the previous year. The NWSL has averaged approximately 450,000 viewers per game when it has been broadcast on CBS, compared to no more than 190,000 viewers during its first seven years of existence.

We observe that our property holds its own against the biggest and greatest in our competitor property set when we are placed on broadcast, linear TV, in good viewing windows — not planned against competing properties, Berman added.

The balance of the stream


In order to increase visibility and safeguard the health and welfare of its players, the NWSL must prioritize securing quality broadcasting windows for its games as it looks ahead to its next contract, according to Berman.

The platform that the games are shown on could also be a problem.

In all sports, the relative importance of streaming and traditional television is changing swiftly, according to her. All leagues, in my opinion, need to determine what that balance is.

For devoted viewers, it may be simpler to follow along and access any game, anywhere, at any time, thanks to streaming services. However, they also have a smaller audience reach compared to broadcast networks, which tend to attract in more casual viewers.


According to The Washington Post, the NWSL’s current contracts with CBS and Twitch are valued around $4.5 million and $1 million, respectively. According to the arrangement, only a select few games are broadcast live on CBS, with the remainder being broadcast on CBS Sports Network, network streaming service Paramount+, and Twitch.

Games from the WNBA are televised on a wider range of platforms, including ABC, ESPN, CBS, NBA TV, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook Watch, and Twitter.

Cathy Engelbert, commissioner of the WNBA, stated at a news conference on Sunday that “there’s a lot of upheaval going on in the media world today.”

“This year, a record for the WNBA, we have 160 games broadcast on national platforms, which is fantastic. Although we are receiving publicity, I believe that some of our supporters are confused about where to find the games.”


The quick expansion of streaming services has had a significant impact on the industry, according to Desser, who has negotiated more than 70 rights deals in his career. This could help increase rights costs for women’s sports in particular.

For instance, the WNBA’s viewership is superior to that of Major League Soccer, which recently inked a historic agreement with Apple TV for around $2.5 billion over ten years.

The majority of the biggest goods will continue to air on major cable and broadcast for the following cycle, according to Desser. “Anything else will kind of have to find its appropriate place, and figure out a way to find the balance of earning revenue, making it easy for users, and getting awareness.”

There is reason to expect sports media firms will consider women’s sports enterprises as wise investments as they seek to increase both ratings and rights payments.


Women tend to be quite supportive of women’s sports; at the collegiate level, at least, they account for more than 42% of all sports spectators, according to a recent LEARFIELD research. Women are a significant target market for sponsors.

The company’s chief marketing officer, Jennifer Davis, stated that women are more likely than men to be younger and have yearly salaries over $150,000.

Given how complex the media world is, women represent growth that is significant, according to Staurowsky, an Ithaca professor. “So, justice is a concern. But in my opinion, it also just comes down to doing business wisely.”

Nancy Armour is a contributor.


Tom Schad can be reached at or @Tom Schad on Twitter.

Originally published on USA TODAY, this article says: What the hell happened to the women? Why future TV deals might be profitable for women’s sports