She Got Game
Women's Sports

sHe got game

How women are changing the world of sports

As a former collegiate athlete and an avid follower of cultural trends and social media memes, my calendar is aligned with sports seasons and pop culture events. This past year has been unforgettable, not just for me, but for many other women as evidenced by a surge in viewership across sports. The cultural phenomenon known as the "Swiftie Effect," sparked by Taylor's connection with "the boy on the football team," has allowed “Swifties” like me to enjoy an exciting football season along with top-notch Taylor Swift content on social media. In return, female audiences have grown by nearly one-third across the NFL season. This surge goes beyond the NFL and men’s sports and has allowed me to witness an exciting shift in the rise of female representation and viewership in sports.

The soaring popularity of women’s sports is a game-changer for all involved. With 84% of sports fans interested in watching women's sports, the increased passionate fandom provides opportunities to reach an emotionally engaged audience in a brand safe, live environment that is typically more cost effective and less saturated than men’s sports. 

Reflecting on my personal softball career, my days of playing lacked the representation of female athletes in mainstream media. Although I enjoyed watching Major League Baseball, it was frustrating not having the same support as men’s sports. However, the landscape has transformed since my first college season. In 2024, there are 3,200 softball games available across ESPN platforms. The number of games available since 2018 has increased five times, and college softball is now a part of mainstream conversations across major sport platforms.

This visibility - fueled by intensified competition, enhanced media coverage and growing fan interest - has set the stage for female athletes across various sports to not only shatter records but to become household names. Events like March Madness underscore this trend, with athletes such as Caitlin Clark breaking long-standing records while averaging 3.4 million viewers with her Iowa basketball team on March 3rd, which surpassed the nationally broadcasted Warriors-Celtics game on the same night. Furthermore, earlier this season featured Angel Reece leading the LSU basketball team against South Carolina, which captured more viewers (1.55 million) than the Celtics vs. Heat NBA matchup (1.38 million) broadcasted at the same time. Another landmark achievement was set by Nebraska women’s volleyball in August, which broke the world record for attendance at a women’s sports event, drawing an impressive crowd of 92,003 fans for a Wednesday night match against Omaha. 

The rising trajectory of women's sports and its growing audience of engaged fans presents an unmissable opportunity for brands. The ability to connect with enthusiastic and diverse fans in an emotionally charged and less ad-saturated environment is a strategic advantage that marketers cannot afford to overlook. As highlighted in VAB’s insights report, 'In a League of Their Own', the momentum behind women's sports is not just a passing fad but a movement that offers valuable opportunities for audience engagement and brand success. 

By embracing this movement, we're not just supporting the growth of women's sports; we're championing a broader cultural shift towards inclusivity and diversity in the world of athletics. The future of sports is female, and its potential is limitless.

Kaileen Cain

Senior Insights Analyist at VAB

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