Aug 11, 2023 - Economy

She's got game: Women's sports are booming

Illustration of a woman from behind with a dollar sign on the back of her sports jersey

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Not to be left out of the girl power summer, women's sports have been raking in new deals and partnerships in the U.S. and beyond.

Why it matters: If you thought the U.S. national team's early exit in the World Cup meant you wouldn't be seeing women's sports for a while, think again.

State of play: The casual observer sees the USWNT dominate media coverage of women's sports, but other teams and sports are attracting new dollars and eyeballs.

  • The National Women's Soccer League will add new teams next year in Utah and San Jose. Former Meta exec Sheryl Sandberg was part of a group that invested $125 million in San Jose-based Bay FC.
  • "We believe we're at the beginning of the hockey stick effect in the growth of the NWSL," the league's commissioner told Axios during Cannes Lions. For the second year in a row, the league's championship match will air in primetime on CBS in November.

On the basketball court, the epic rivalry between Iowa's Caitlin Clark and LSU's Angel Reese drove record viewership of the 2023 NCAA championship game, and both players return this season.

  • The WNBA meanwhile, is having its most-watched season in more than 20 years, added Ion as its own national TV partner separate from the NBA, and has begun talking expansion.

What's next: More money will start pouring into women's sports.

  • WNBA stars Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier are seeking funding for a U.S.-based league in the WNBA offseason.
  • The NCAA is considering selling its TV rights for the women's NCAA basketball tournament separately from the rest of its championships after its deal with ESPN expires after this coming school year.
  • 776 founder Alexis Ohanian told Axios he wants to invest more in women's golf and bring in female golfers into the Tiger Woods-Rory Mcllroy TGL golf league.
  • "I want to integrate the relationships between the athletes we have in women's soccer and bring them out to the golf course… show this is bigger than just a good ole boy sport," he said during Cannes.

Of note: LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne is one of the highest-paid college athletes.

Yes, but: FIFA's attempts to sell the TV rights for the Women's World Cup for the first time didn't go as well as planned, with the soccer governing body getting only a third of what it wanted.

The big picture: It's not just sports. It's been a billion-dollar summer for women-led entertainment.

  • Mattel's "Barbie" movie has overwhelmed the box office with this year's biggest opening weekend and has commanded the top spot in each weekend since its July 21 release.
  • "Barbie" director Greta Gerwig became the first solo female director to helm a billion-dollar movie.
  • Taylor Swift's Eras Tour is on pace to be the first to gross $1 billion in ticket sales. Meanwhile, Beyonce's Renaissance World Tour is now the highest-grossing tour for a Black female artist.

The bottom line: Girls may not run the world, but they're calling next.

This story has been corrected to note that Sheryl Sandberg was part of a group that invested $125 million in a San Jose team, not that amount's sole investor. The team name is Bay FC (not Bay Area FC).

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