2022 was a record-breaking year in which women’s sports consistently exceeded attendance, performance, and participation records. At the start of the year, Beijing hosted the most gender-balanced Olympic Winter Games to date – where women accounted for a record 45% of the total athletes and competed in more events than ever before. Five months later, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games made history as the first major multi-sport event to have more medal events for women than men.
Competition firsts and new records were also established across single-sport tournaments. In Cycling, the Tour de France Femmes made its debut to bring the women’s cycling event closer to the men’s multi-stage format. In cricket, the Hundred set a global record with 271,000 people attending the women’s competition and all eight venues across the UK exceeded their previous best attendances for domestic women’s games. And in Rugby, the delayed Rugby League World Cup 2021 saw women’s matches run alongside the men’s and wheelchair competitions for the first time in the tournament’s history.
“The Rugby League World Cup has been a powerful platform to accelerate growth in the Women’s game across various aspects. Equal participation fee and prize money was awarded to the Women’s nations. Every match was broadcast live on the BBC for the first time. The Women’s opening doubleheader between England and Brazil and Papua New Guinea v Canada attracted 9,000 fans at Headingley Stadium – the highest-attended women’s Rugby League match ever in the northern hemisphere. I am proud of the work that went into this year’s World Cup and look forward to seeing the Women’s game reach new heights of success going forward.”Upneet Thandi, Head of Marketing, Rugby League World Cup 2021
Women have made huge strides on the pitch in 2022, not only as players but also as referees. This year saw the first female match official to referee a men’s Rugby League World Cup match, as well as the first all-female team to officiate a rugby test match involving a team from the men’s Six Nations. In another momentous breakthrough, an all-female refereeing team took charge, and centre stage, for the first time in the 92-year history of the men’s football World Cup when Costa Rica faced Germany in Qatar.
In July, the Lionesses’ historic victory in the Women’s Euros final, in front of 87,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, catapulted women’s sport into the spotlight. As well as becoming the most-watched women’s football match ever on UK television, the final now holds the UEFA record as the all-time most-attended men’s or women’s Euros final.
While national games remain the most attended matches, average attendance at women’s club football has grown exponentially this season; Women’s Championship games have increased by 85% this season, and Women’s Super League attendances are up by 200% on the 2021/22 season. In September, the Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur North London Derby was played in front of a record-breaking crowd at The Emirates Stadium. This match currently stands as the highest-attended game in Women’s Super League (WSL) history, as well as the most-watched WSL match ever on TV.
“Since the EUROs, there has been a wave of positive sentiment towards our leagues and the brilliant players within them, and I feel their personalities, talent and abilities have shone through during the first half of this season. More matches in the men’s stadiums has been incredible to see, helping to grow attendances and the popularity of the teams. And the reach and availability of watching live matches across the BBC and Sky Sports has also played an important part in attracting new audiences to our game.”Kelly Simmons, Director of the Women’s Professional Game, FA
“At Arsenal, we have a long-term commitment to women’s football and will play at least six matches at Emirates Stadium this season, having set a new Barclay’s WSL record attendance in September when we sold over 53,000 tickets for the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur. After an unforgettable summer that introduced more people to women’s football than ever before, our responsibility now is to drive sustainable growth through new commercial partnerships and consistently increased attendances – both of which we have already seen this year.”Vinai Venkatesham, CEO, Arsenal
TV viewership of women’s sports doubled in the UK between 2021 and 2022, with over 36.1 million people watching between January and July this year. This number continued to grow throughout the autumn, as 2 million fans tuned in to watch the Shields vs. Marshall fight in October – making it the most watched women’s professional boxing event in history. The historic all-female fight also holds the record for the largest audience for a live women’s sport event ever shown on Sky Sports.
“It has been an incredible year for BOXXER – and a monumental 12 months for the legacy of female boxing in the UK. We’ve had so many memorable nights, showcasing some of the world’s premiere female fighters, over the past 12 months in a number of great cities across the country. Our historic October night at The O2 in London, headlined by Claressa Shields vs Savannah Marshall, stands out. It was an unforgettable and groundbreaking, landmark event as the first-ever all-female card and headline fight, staged in front of a completely sold out arena of 18,000 fans. The atmosphere was unbelievably special too. We introduced the sport to a whole new audience that evening, for an event that will forever be cemented in boxing history. I cannot wait for many more spectacular shows in 2023.”Ben Shalom, CEO, BOXXER
There is a long way to go to establish gender parity in sports broadcasting. However, coverage hours dedicated to showing women’s events on BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, and Sky Sports increased from 9% in 2021 to 16% this year. Due to greater visibility on TV and streaming platforms, the number of regular viewers of women’s sport rocketed from 26% in 2021 to 57% in 2022. Reflecting on a longer time frame, the phenomenal viewing figures this year have contributed to women’s sports viewership growing seven-fold in 10 years.
As attendance and viewership continue to grow, brands are taking notice of the change in consumer behaviour. In 2021, Guinness ran a campaign to highlight the lack of visibility for women’s sport, specifically the representation of women in rugby, with the tagline ‘Never Settle Until Everyone Belongs in Sport’. One year on, ITV became the first UK broadcaster to show all the Women’s Rugby World Cup games live on free-to-air television this autumn as the Red Roses battled to the final.
“Whilst the Red Roses have been breaking records on the field, we’ve seen unprecedented growth off it with 1.8 million people tuning in to watch the Rugby World Cup Final on ITV, a surge in engagement on social media and record-breaking crowds during the Six Nations. 2023 is looking just as promising with our first ever Red Roses standalone fixture at Twickenham having already sold more than 20k tickets, breaking the current TikTok Women’s Six Nations.”Sally Sheppard, Senior Campaigns Manager, RFU
“I have witnessed first-hand the growing appetite for women’s sport this year. From a marketing perspective, women’s sport is higher on the agenda for clubs, and I’m proud to have managed numerous campaigns dedicated to increasing the visibility of women’s games, including some of the record-breaking fixtures previously mentioned. Building on the momentum of 2022, I’m looking forward to seeing fan attendance at women’s matches and tournaments grow as we continue to raise the profile of female athletes.”Lucy Culpin, Digital Marketing Manager at Ticketmaster Sport