Aug 20, 2022 - Economy & Business

Women's sports commanding bigger rights deals

Illustrated collage of a bouncing soccer ball with money.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

U.S. women's sports are becoming a hot investment vehicle for networks. Soccer and basketball in particular are becoming hot-ticket rights packages.

Why it matters: For decades, women's sports were largely neglected by the media. Now that they're cultivating bigger audiences, the appeal is beginning to widen.

Driving the news: Record-breaking attendance (87,192) last month at the UEFA European Women's Soccer Championship set a new standard for the commercial power of women's sports.

  • The event didn't just set a new attendance record for a women's championship event, but it beat the record for men's as well. Over 500,000 people attended the tournament.
  • Huge audience numbers are also attracting record ad dollars. This year saw the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Tournament pull its highest ratings since 2004, helping Disney, which airs the championship series across its ESPN networks, sell out of ad inventory for the entire event.
  • Overall, ESPN said last year's 2021-2022 NCAA women's sports season across all sports broke records.

Yes, and: The UEFA success comes amid a momentum streak for women's soccer that has led to huge valuation increases.

  • Angel City FC was valued at $100 million in its most recent fundraising round, a franchise record.

Between the lines: The GIST, a digital sports media company that’s run by a group of 17 women, is capitalizing on the momentum that women’s sports is seeing.

  • The Toronto-based company, founded by three women, covers both men's and women’s sports equally but speaks to an audience of underserved fans who are majority female.
  • “Women’s sports are trending upwards by almost every metric, hitting genuinely impressive markers of success along the way," said Roslyn McLarty, Co-Founder and Head of Operations & Finance at The GIST.
  • The GIST now boasts over 500,000 email subscribers across three free newsletters.

Yes, but: A historic equal pay milestone for the U.S. women's national soccer team in May has triggered a broader conversation about the value women's sports bring to the overall media landscape.

  • A report out last year found that the NCAA has undervalued women's basketball by over $100 million.
  • ESPN currently pays the NCAA roughly $34 million for women’s basketball rights, in conjunction with over two dozen other sports championships rights. That deal expires in the 2023-2024 season.
  • The report, conducted by a third-party law firm and commissioned by the NCAA, estimates that the annual broadcast rights for women’s basketball alone will be worth between $81 and $112 million in 2025.
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