New research released today by the Women’s Sport Trust has revealed that women’s soccer is now the fourth-most viewed sport within the United Kingdom so far in 2023.
In their report ‘Visibility Uncovered’ featuring broadcast insight from Futures Sport & Entertainment, the Women’s Sport Trust, a charity founded in 2012 in the United Kingdom to champion women’s sport at all levels, claim that the average time people have watched women’s sport on linear television in 2023 has increased by 28%.
This massive increase has been primarily driven by the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup played in Australia and New Zealand. The average viewer in the United Kingdom watched 6 hours 45 minutes of coverage during the tournament in which a record 64 matches were played, every one broadcast on free-to-air television.
Of all women’s sport watched on television up to August this year, women’s soccer has accumulated 249 million viewing hours, far in excess of the next best, women’s cricket, which has been viewed for just 34 million. Therefore, a staggering 80% of all viewership of women’s sport so far in 2023 has been for women’s soccer.
This figure also mean that women’s soccer is only just behind both tennis and men’s cricket – both viewed for 323 million viewing hours – as the fourth-most popular sport on television in the United Kingdom. Men’s soccer is by far the most-watched sport with over a billion hours of viewership in the first eight months of the year.
Of all the England players – who followed up their success at last year’s UEFA Women’s Euro by reaching the final of last month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup – goalkeeper Mary Earps has enjoyed the largest increase in awareness amongst the British public due to the Women’s World Cup.
Already voted The Best Goalkeeper in the world by FIFA last year, Earps once more excelled with her performances, saving a penalty in the final itself to help earn her the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper in the tournament.
When asked which women’s player fans had heard of, the recognition of Earps increased by 16% between June and August 2023 meaning almost one in three of all sports fans in the United Kingdom were aware of her. Only Lucy Bronze (31%) is more known in the country, just ahead of Earps, Beth Mead and Alessia Russo (all 30%).
Earps was also most fans favorite England player at the Women’s World Cup. With 37% of fans asked nominating the Manchester United goalkeeper, three times more than the next best, Russo, with 11% and Lauren Hemp, 7%.
With the tournament shown on commercial television (ITV) for the first time, the research also pinpointed the type of advertising used during the matches. 20% of commercials during England matches were for cosmetics and personal care including high-profile campaigns for Sure Deodorant and Gillette Venus razors which featured England players. This compared to 6% of ads in the same category for other programming on the same channel during the same time slot.
This targeted advertising fits in with figures which shows that viewers of the women’s World Cup are not necessarily those who watch all soccer. The research’s data also claim that of the 29.2 million people in the United Kingdom who watched the action for at least three minutes, 17.7 million also watched the men’s World Cup last year in Qatar. This means that 11.5 million people were unique viewers for the women’s World Cup.
Many of those unique viewers were women themselves. The data revealed that female viewership of the tournament is now at 42% of the total audience. This marks an incremental growth compared to a 41% share last year at the UEFA Women’s Euro and 38% for the previous Women’s World Cup in 2019.
Encouragingly, the proportion of u16s viewing the tournament has also increased. 7% of the audience share for the women’s World Cup, which was played in the early morning hours of the British school summer holidays making it more accessible to children, were under 16 years of age. When the tournament had been played in Canada eight years earlier – meaning post-midnight kick-off times in the UK – this number had fallen to 3%.
As expected, the early morning kick-off times did have an affect on overall viewing figures for the biggest matches. The World Cup final, England’s first in 57 years was watched by an average audience of 8.3 million in the United Kingdom on a Sunday lunchtime. These figures pale slightly in comparison to the 8.9 million average who watched the Lionesses’ semi-final defeat to the United States in 2019, a match played on a weekday night in prime-time.