Women’s Sports May Be the Next Big Thing — Not Only in the US

President Biden just signed an equal pay law in a victory for domestic women's athletics. America's not the only country pushing them forward.

The US Women's National Soccer Team goalkeeper gives a thumbs up
Fans, brands and even national politicians — here in the U.S. and overseas — are giving a thumbs up to women's athletics
Andrew Hancock/ISI Photos / Contributor, Getty Images

Shortly after the calendar flipped to 2023, President Joe Biden signed the “Cantwell-Capito Equal Pay Bill” into law, ensuring that female athletes who don the red, white and blue in international competitions receive the same pay, medical care and travel accommodations as their male counterparts. It was the crowning achievement of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team in their push for female athlete equality, which included a gender discrimination lawsuit that was settled last year.

The national legislature of the United States is not the only such governing body pushing women’s athletics forward, however. This week, on International Women’s Day, the United Kingdom government announced it will subsidize equal school opportunities for girls to the tune of $710.4 million. Part of the package will include “requirements to offer equal sporting access and a minimum two hours of physical education per week,” per Front Office Sports.

That federal commitment of funds comes after the England Women’s National Football Team, the Lionesses, won the European football championship tournament, the Euro 2022, last July at Wembley Stadium. It was the team’s first-ever major title, and it helped inspire their writing of an open letter to government leaders, asking them to ensure all girls are able to play football in school.

“The success of the summer has inspired so many young girls to pursue their passion for football,” said Leah Williamson, captain of the Lionesses, after the government’s announcement. “We see it as our responsibility to open the doors for them to do so and this announcement makes that possible.”

In 2022, England’s Football Association published data showing that “72% of girls play as much football as boys in primary school but that the figure drops to 44% in secondary school,” per The Guardian. “Only 40% of secondary schools offer girls the same access to football via after-school clubs as boys.”

According to ESPN, an additional $67.5 million will be funneled in the direction of open sport facilities outside school hours, and another $26 million will go to School Games Organisers, a government-funded program that provides students opportunities to compete in sports.

These government bodies aren’t the only entities throwing around money at women’s athletics.

“Now investors and brands are also waking up to the untapped marketing potential of other women’s sports,” wrote LinkedIn News UK in December. “In the UK, there is clear evidence of growing women’s sports fandom. According to a YouGov study, more than 22 million adults in the UK now identify as fans of women’s sports, with 14 million more open to joining these ranks in the future. [This] will attract big-pocket sponsorships coming into female sporting in 2023. “

Back in the U.S., the investors and brands have already shown up. Sponsorship deals in women’s sports grew 20 percent year-over-year in 2022, according to CNBC, in an article covering Ally Financial’s ad buy with ESPN that required 90 percent of its investment be put toward expanding women’s sports across the network. “From Gatorade and Nike to Ally and Hilton Hotels & Resorts, more brands across more sectors are increasing ad budgets directed toward women’s sports,” CNBC wrote on March 4.

Then, on International Women’s Day, March 7, the publication reported that the Sports Innovation Lab, a fan intelligence and market research company fronted by U.S. Olympic gold medal winner Angela Ruggiero, is also partnering with Ally Financial to “create the Women’s Sports Club, a coalition of major brands and media that will work to tackle some of the challenges in buying women’s sports inventory and to elevating investment in women’s sports.”

All this is just a small sampling of the new monetary focus on women’s athletics in the West. The dollars are only expected to grow.

Deadspin also ran a March 7 piece, headlined: “Now Is the Time to Buy a Women’s Professional Sports Franchise.” It was partly prompted by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm $151 million valuation last month, a new record for the women’s basketball league. Over in the National Women’s Soccer League, Deadspin also noted, expansion teams in San Francisco, Boston and Utah could cost $50 million each.

And as the dollars grow, so will the product’s quality…which will probably boost financial commitments even more. Maybe some day women’s sports will even lay claim to the lion’s share. It doesn’t seem like they want to settle for the lioness’s.

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