• WSL currently has an average of 114,000 viewers on Sky Sports and 501,000 on BBC
  • Women’s teams Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United register 22% growth rate on Facebook and Instagram since the start of the 2020/21 season
  • 35% of WSL fans aged 16 to 30, compared to 26% in the Premier League

New nationwide broadcast deals with the BBC and Sky Sports could see the Women’s Super League (WSL) attract a total audience of 14.5 million in the UK, according to a study by Nielsen Sports.

That figure would see England’s top women’s football become the UK’s fourth most-watched domestic league. According to Nielsen, only the Premier League and the Championship, the first two levels of English men’s football, as well as men’s cricket competition The Hundred, would have a higher audience if the WSL maintains its current pace.

Figures from the data specialist show that the WSL sees an average of 114,000 viewers per game on the Sky Sports pay-TV network so far this season. In the 2020/21 campaign, when the league was broadcast by Sky’s pay-TV rival BT Sport, the WSL matches only attracted 37,000 viewers.

In addition, Nielsen says that the audience for live matches on the public service broadcaster BBC averaged 501,000.

If these viewership figures hold for the remainder of the 2021/22 season, the WSL is well on its way to surpassing total viewership figures for Premiership Rugby, Rugby League Super League, Women’s Hundred and the Super League Netball.

Nielsen notes that previously, nearly 90 percent of WSL audiences came from Free Streaming (FTA) highlights.

The WSL’s audience surge comes in the first season of its three-year rights deal with the BBC and Sky, which is reportedly worth around £ 15million (US $ 20.3million) annually. ).

The additional eyeballs released have also helped WSL clubs achieve significant growth on social media, Nielsen said. On Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United women’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram, the growth rate has been 22% since the start of the 2020/2021 season, reaching 14.4 million total followers.

Nielsen consumer data also shows that the existing fan base of men’s soccer teams is a “captive audience” for female counterparts. Ahead of the 2021/22 WSL season, more than half (56%) of fans said their interest in the WSL team was driven by the men’s team.

While a club’s men’s team has a big impact on following a WSL team, Nielsen states that there is still a significant proportion (24%) who do not claim to follow a particular club, which means that those fans could be converted to fans of a particular club.

In addition, the WSL has a younger age profile compared to the established men’s competition, the Premier League, according to Nielsen. Thirty-five percent of WSL fans are between the ages of 16 and 30, more than the 26 percent of Premier League fans in the same age range. Seventy-two percent of WSL fans are also 45 and under.

Nielsen data also shows that currently 32% of UK football fans follow both men’s and women’s football, or only women’s football, suggesting that there is a large fan base who could be fans. potentials of women’s football.

Additionally, Nielsen’s findings reveal that nearly three-quarters of the general UK population believe that female athletes can be role models for society. This figure rises to 84% among women aged 35 to 44.

From a brand partnerships perspective, Nielsen says that female football fans are an extremely attractive audience for commercial sponsors. Nilsen’s research indicates that 47% of male and female soccer fans say they would choose a sponsor’s product over a rival brand if the price and quality were the same. This compares to just 34 percent of male football fans alone.

“It is an exciting time for the players, brands and fans involved in women’s football. For clubs it is essential to understand your fans and create a strategy to engage new fans with the women’s team, ”said Lynsey Douglas, Global Leader in Women’s Sport at Nielsen Sports and Head of Brands (UK) .

“Clubs are starting to capitalize on the opportunity that exists to generate new exposure, and marketing themselves in the right way will be crucial in reaching these ‘untapped’ fans. Targeting younger fans, engaging with male soccer fans, and continuing to promote positive female role models will all be important considerations for long-term growth.

Douglas added: “Women’s football fans are open to engaging with brands, and with a larger audience and growing social media profiles, there is a unique opportunity to invest and activate around the world. WSL. “

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