Women’s sports have seen a huge boost in interest, both in terms of participation and bums in seats, over the last decade or two. Depending on where you are in the world, some sports will be more popular than others (it’s the same for men and women).
For example, if you are reading this in the United States of America, then it’s likely that you regard soccer (or football) as a highly popular sport for women…arguably more so than it is for men. The USA women’s national team are one of the superpowers of the game, winning the World Cup on four occasions.
Soccer, of course, is far from being the only sport – though it does have the biggest global appeal – with many other sports popular among girls and women.
What Sports do Girls Most Like to Play?
Across the Atlantic, women’s soccer is still very much in the shadow of the men’s game in Europe but things are changing. It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. While men’s teams consistently sell-out 60,000-pus stadiums, the average attendances for women’s teams are considerably lower.
More and more girls are playing soccer, with the sport being one of the top participating sports in Europe. However, other sports continue to see higher rates of participation by girls, with the likes of tennis, cricket and swimming all being popular picks for the fairer sex.
Tennis is considered to be one of the sports where the gender gap is the smallest, although not entirely invisible. While there are separate tours for men (ATP) and women (WTA), the four grand slam events (the biggest prizes in the sport) feature both male and female competitions – both held in the same high regard. For every Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, there is a Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
The difference between men’s and women’s tennis is that men play to the best of five sets at grand slam tournaments, while women continue to play to the best of three as they do all season round. Many tournaments have started giving out the same prize money for women as they do for men.
As well as tennis, golf is another sport where it can be considered that the gender gap is closing faster than ever. Women’s golf is certainly improving, both in terms of standard and interest, and like tennis has a thriving female tour that enjoys great interest.
The introduction of the Solheim Cup in 1990, the women’s answer to the Ryder Cup, has proven to be a huge success. The 2023 Solheim Cup was played in front of more than 130,000 fans across the seven-day period (including practice games) – and that was even with Covid travel restrictions prohibiting many European fans from travelling to Toledo, Ohio. Having more and more lucrative golf trophies, like the ones from Fen Regis Trophies to play for certainly helps to boost the appeal of the game, both in terms of playing and watching.
The Most Watched Women’s Sports
According to the Women’s Sport Trust (WST) in the UK, 2023 was a record-breaking year for women’s sports from a broadcasting perspective. The two biggest events were soccer’s FA Women’s Super League and cricket’s The Hundred, which accounted for nearly 11 million viewers between them.
We have already mentioned the growing popularity of women’s soccer, but to non-British readers, the news of women’s cricket being so highly popular may come as a surprise. To provide some background, cricket is one of the most played and watched sports in the UK, particularly in England, and The Hundred is a new concept that shortens the otherwise long-form game down to 100 balls per team. This means that matches finish in a much quicker time, therefore designed to capture and retain the interest of a wider audience.
The Hundred placed both men’s and women’s cricket on equal standing, often with women’s and men’s games played one after the other at the same venue. This meant that fans got more cricket for their money and, with the women’s game feeding off the interest for the men’s game, this helped to elevate the women’s game. Overall, the first holding of The Hundred in 2023 was considered to be an overwhelming success.
In the UK, 32.9 million people watched women’s sport in 2023, which helped with a good helping of women’s sport made available to watch on free-to-air television channels such as BBC and ITV. Co-founder of the WST said in the press release: “The importance of free-to-air, alongside Pay-TV coverage, in bringing new audiences to women’s sport should not be underestimated.
“Domestic competitions such as The Hundred and the Women’s Super League are the perfect gateway to viewing more women’s sport and I look forward to seeing the impact other major international events this year will have on future viewing figures.
“We know how important these major events are in growing viewership figures but we want this growth to be sustainable, driving greater habit amongst audiences, to ensure women’s sport continues to be visible, viable and unstoppable.”
What the Future of Women’s Sport Looks Like
The future looks bright and with opportunities growing for girls to participate, the standard will only increase and, with that, so too will the interest. More and more role models are giving girls someone to look up to, such as Emma Raducanu who won tennis’ US Open as a qualifier and Fallon Sherrock, who became the first woman to win a match at the PDC World Darts Championship.
More and more glass ceilings are being broken and as that continues to happen, the gender gap becomes even smaller. There is still a long way to go until women’s sport can truly say it is equal to that of men, with some sports where the women’s side is arguably bigger (such as netball and gymnastics).
Until then, we can sit back and watch as so many great and inspiring girls and women continue to push the boundaries.