In the 1800s the only sports you’d be caught seeing a woman participate in were tennis, golf, croquet, or equestrian competitions. Even then it was very exclusive to only women in the upper class. Little by little women kept campaigning to show that they could participate in competitive sports like men. The women’s sports market has grown due to pioneers like Kathrine Switzer, Nadia Comaneci, Ann Meyers, Margaret Abbott, and Billie Jean King. Due to these women’s efforts today women are allowed to participate in sports like basketball, volleyball, softball, swimming, soccer, and even have an impact on the sports industry in other roles!
Before the passage of Title IX also known as the 1972 Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Acts, high school athletic competition was not accessible to everyone, specifically females. After the passage, females had access to all school activities, and this led to an expansion of athletic opportunities for women.
The increasing rate of females participating at a high school level led to an increase in the college level and thus the creation of professional leagues like the United States Soccer Team in 1985, Women’s Professional Basketball Association in 1996, and more.
The Olympic Games is the world’s most famous sporting event, and about 48.8 percent of the athlete participants are females. This is a drastic increase from the 1900 Olympic Games, which was the first Olympics to allow women to participate. At the 1900 Olympics, there were only 22 female athletes allowed out of 997 athletes, which was 2.2 percent of the participation, and there were only five events women could participate in. Now heading into the 2021 Tokyo Olympics roughly 5,000 women athletes will have the chance to qualify for more than 300 events. This year’s Olympics, there will also be a new Olympic Show called On Her Turf which is hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, Lolo Jones, and MJ Acosta-Ruiz which will exclusively cover the women’s games.
Not only has the participation of women in sports increased, but viewership has as well. Roughly 84% of general sports fans have an interest in women’s sports. The percentage was taken from the eight largest sports markets in the wild that include the United States, France, Germany, U.K., Italy, Spain, New Zealand, and Australia. This interest in women’s sports has led to more viewership, specifically the five most popular women sports are soccer, volleyball, gymnastics, basketball, and softball. Turnouts at live female events have also increased at an average of 38%, while viewership has increased and some networks are making an effort to showcase female sports, there is only about 4% of sports media coverage that is dedicated to women’s sports compared to the 96% for men. In fact, on June 9th, 2021 when Simone Biles won her seventh gymnastics title there were zero posts about it on SportsCenter compared to 17 about the Mayweather-Paul fight. This is an area that still needs improvement.
While there has been a positive increase in the amount of women athletes, on the sports industry side there is still room for improvement. As reported by the Women’s Media Center there is only 10% of female reporters that cover sports. For females in the sports industry, some aspects push them away from even thinking about trying to join the industry. According to a research study done by WSF 60% of females said they were paid less than the men that were doing the same job, as well as facing discrimination in the workplace.
Women representation like Simone Biles, Serena Williams, Ronda Rousey, and Lindsey Vonn have helped change the narrative and have inspired girls to participate in sports, the same thing is happening for other important roles. Recently there has been an increase in women coaches in popular male leagues like Becky Hammon in the NBA, along with Lo Locust and Katie Sowers in the NFL. The same goes for a small population of women in the sports business side, like Kim Ng who is an executive in Major League Baseball, and Kim Pegula who is part owner of the Buffalo Bills and Sabers with her husband Terry Pegula. All of these women had to overcome obstacles to get to the position they are in now, they all showed that barriers can be broken going forward into the future.
While there is still room for improvement in the women’s sports industry with having more representation for athletes and women that work behind the scenes, there is no doubt compared to even just five years ago the growth has been a great sign. Women’s sports popularity will continue to grow and hopefully will eventually lead to decreasing the gender gap in positions, pay, and coverage. This process starts with coverage, once women’s sports are more accessible and gain more air time on television, the already positive changes will have an even greater outcome. Overall the outlook for the future is heading in a positive direction as by 2023 the female sports industry could finally reach $1,000,000,000 in generated revenue.