April 27, 2024

Situational awareness: Axios has partnered with Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment to launch a global event series called "TN50: The business of women's sports."

  • Why TN50? As 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the partnership explores the the trends shaping the next 50 years of the business of women's sports.
  • ✉️ Subscribers to Axios Media Trends will get four special editions of the newsletter this year that highlight TN50.

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1 big thing: Money meets the moment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amid historic levels of viewership and engagement, investors are finally taking notice of the business opportunity around women's sports.

Why it matters: "This is not just like an investment for a mission or investment because it's the right thing," said U.S. soccer legend Megan Rapinoe.

  • "You can actually make a lot of money and you should do it now. Not tomorrow or the next day," she added at Axios and Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment's TN50: The Business of Women's Sports Summit in New York last Tuesday.

Driving the news: More money is flowing faster into women's sports, and some of those investments are already paying off.

  • The National Women's Soccer League's (NWSL) landmark four-year $240 million TV rights deal is already helping ESPN attract younger audiences, the network's vice president Rachel Epstein said on stage.
  • U.S. women's soccer team sales are surging, which is helping to finally address decades-long inaccuracies in team valuations, said Jess Smith, President of WNBA Golden State at the event.

Between the lines: While interest in college hoops and soccer is getting a lot of attention, investors are focusing on other women's sports opportunities that seem poised for disruption.

  • Alexis Ohanian, founder of venture capital firm 776 announced at the event that his firm will support an all-female track event called the 776 Invitational in September.

What to watch: More brands need to get on board the women's sports rise, said New York Liberty CEO Keia Clarke.

  • The biggest challenge, Clarke said, is getting brands to understand that partnering with the league "is not a fly by night" moment. "It's not a helicopter event," she added.

Bottom line: "We're not just here to talk women's sports — we're here to invest," said Deep Blue founder and CEO Laura Correnti.

Go deeper.

2. Sue Bird: Society "finally caught up"

Sue Bird during the Business of Women's Sports Summit presented by Deep Blue Sports and Axios on April 23 in New York City. Photo: Jules Slutsky

Retired basketball legend Sue Bird, arguably the greatest WNBA player in history, said the business community is finally beginning to catch up to the rest of the world on the importance of women's sports.

Why it matters: Bird was part of negotiating a major collective bargaining agreement in 2019 that set the stage for big changes for players, including raising players' salary cap by 30%.

  • "We've been trying to get people to pay attention, to see what we've all seen behind closed doors," she said, "and now it feels like society finally caught up with us."

🎧 Listen to the full interview.

3. 📺 Coming to a TV near you

Data: Nielsen; Note: 2020 tournaments canceled due to COVID ; Chart: Axios Visuals

TV networks that have historically undervalued women's sports are now scrambling to get their hands on rights.

Why it matters: "Female audience expansion is where the growth is," said ESPN's vice president Rachel Epstein at the Business of Women's Sports Summit.

Be smart: Attention to women's sports reached new heights last month, when — for the first time in NCAA history‚ the women's basketball final garnered more views than the men's championship game,

Zoom in: That milestone comes on the heels of a slew of historic new rights agreements between women's leagues and networks.

  • The NWSL inked its landmark four-year $240 million TV rights deal with ESPN, CBS Sports, Amazon Prime Video and Scripps Sports last year.
  • ESPN's new NCAA TV deal valued the women's college basketball tournament at $65 million a year, tripling the annual value from its last deal.

The big picture: Already, the TV networks are reaping the benefits.

  • ESPN's first three NWSL games attracted a 50-50, male-female audience when the network historically skews 70-30, male-female, Epstein said.
  • "We skew a little bit male. We skew a little bit older. Clearly 180-degree difference here," CBS Sports executive vice president Daniel Weinberg said.

What to watch: In breaking the NCAA's all-time scoring record across men's and women's basketball last month, Iowa's Caitlin Clark seems poised to propel newfound interest in the WNBA, which is currently negotiating for a new TV contract beginning in the 2025 season, Axios' Tim Baysinger notes.

  • Clark's arrival coincides with WNBA television rights negotiations, creating an urgency for the 27-year-old league to capitalize on a once-in-a-generation opportunity
  • The WNBA hasn't had a game draw more than 1 million viewers since 2008.

4. Exclusive: First audio platform ever dedicated to women's sports

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

iHeartMedia and Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment announced Tuesday that they are launching the Women's Sports Audio Network (WSAN), the first-ever audio platform dedicated strictly to women's sports.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign of the huge momentum in women's sports — and the expansion in media to capitalize on it, Axios' Erin Doherty writes.

Driving the news: The Women's Sports Audio Network, which will be free, is set to include podcasts, sports reports and feature athletes' stories on and off the field.

  • The free, ad-supported network will include podcasts, daily sports reports, social content, promotion and events. It will be available across iHeartMedia's broadcast, digital and podcast platforms and everywhere podcasts are heard.

Bottom line: "This partnership effectively moves the coverage of women's sports from 15% to 90% overnight through the power of audio," said Laura Correnti, Founder and CEO of Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment.

Go deeper.

5. NEW: 776 Invitational, an all-female track event

Photo: Jules Slutsky

Alexis Ohanian's venture capital firm 776 will host a women's only track event in September called the 776 Invitational, he announced at the TN50: The Business of Women's Sports Summit on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The event is intended to bring more attention to track outside of the Olympics, Axios' Kerry Flynn writes.

Zoom in: "776 is committing to the biggest purse ever for an all-female track event. We're going to make sure that these female athletes are getting their due," Ohanian said at the event, produced by Axios and Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment.

  • Olympic sprinter Gabby Thomas, who was onstage with Ohanian, will be the first partner.
  • "If I were to invest in track and field right now, it would be [in] accessibility and visibility to the sport," Thomas said.
  • Thomas said track athletes are not "really incentivized as athletes to compete at every track meet" because the majority of her peers' income comes from brand partners.

Go deeper.

6. New era for college athletes

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The NCAA's adoption of NIL has dramatically changed the college sports landscape, allowing students to make millions off of their "name, image and likeness" (NIL) through brand deals and sponsorships, Axios' Erin Doherty writes.

Yes, but: Brands, athletes and coaches are still working to navigate the new landscape, said Cori Close, UCLA Bruins head coach.

  • "Brands don't quite know how to enter into this NIL space and I think there's incredible potential," Close told Bird at The Business of Women's Sports Summit.

Zoom out: For agents representing young female athletes, the goal should be to protect the name, image and likeness of their stars, not exploit it, said Fara Lef, chief operating officer at Klutch Sports Group and a partner at the United Talent Agency.

  • Memorabilia and merchandise are two opportunities that help college athletes authentically preserve their identities, Lef and SMAC Entertainment co-founder and CEO Constance Schwartz-Morini agreed on stage.

What to watch: There's a reason college women's sports are often outpacing their male counterparts with NIL deals, Lef said

  • "They answer their emails," she noted. "Women care about details."

7. 1 fun thing: How fans differ by city

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Women's sports audiences vary dramatically based on geography, said Kim Stone, CEO of the NWSL's Washington Spirit.

Why it matters: Building women's sports franchises requires players, teams and leagues to tap into the unique cultures of each community.

Zoom in: To understand those differences, look no further than the most-sold game-day drinks at venues in the four markets where Stone has worked:

  • 🍹Miami: Double-shot Bacardi Rum
  • 🚰 Washington DC: Water or Pepsi
  • 🍺 Long Island: Beer
  • 🍷 San Fransisco: Wine