Comparison of Women's and Men's Professional Sports: TV Viewership and Rating
- In 2021, the viewership of the women's final of the tennis U.S. Open outperformed the men's for the fifth time in just seven years.
- The women's U.S. Open finale recorded 2.44 million viewers and a 0.38 rating against 2.05 million and a 0.35 rating for the men's.
- In 2022, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships' women's free skate category averaged 2.39 million viewers and a 1.5 rating on NBC, against the men's free skate average of 1.13 million viewers and a rating of 0.7. Historically, women's figure skating has been dominating men's for years.
- MLS seems to be struggling in 2022 while NWSL's television ratings are soaring.
- This report focused on comparing the TV viewership and ratings of women's and men's professional sports. The research's focus was on basketball, soccer, golf, swimming, figure skating, and tennis. While television viewership numbers were mostly readily available, ratings were missing for some categories. Also, required statistics for swimming were unavailable.
Summary of Findings
NBA vs. WNBA
- In the 2021-22 season, the NBA recorded a 19% increase in its overall average domestic viewership from the previous season and 3% from 2019-20. The audience for regular games in the 2021-22 season averaged 1.6 million television viewers across ESPN, ABC, and TNT networks.
- The six-game NBA Finals in 2022 averaged 12.402 million viewers with the last game averaging 13.992 million viewers. The 2022 NBA Finals received a 6.0 television rating.
- Additionally, subscriptions to "NBA’s OTT League Pass" increased in the 2021-22 season by 30% from 2020-21. Also, the NBA's social media stats increased in 2021-22 with its YouTube and TikTok platforms recording 13 billion and 480 million views.
- Overall, WNBA games on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and CBC averaged 321,000 viewers during the regular season. This was 51% higher than in 2020 and represented WNBA's most-watched season since 2008. This is despite confusing TV schedules and merchandise inaccessibility.
- Also, the four-game 2021 WNBA Finals averaged 548,000 viewers across ABC and ESPN, which was a 23% and 42% increase compared to the 2020 and 2019 finals, respectively. Game 1 had 456,000 average viewers (peaking at 547,000) and Game 2 had an average of 789,000 viewers (peaking at about one million). Game 3 recorded 524,000 viewers, while the final game was watched by about 417,000 Americans, peaking at 623,000 viewers.
- In the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons, the average television viewers of regular WNBA games were 246,000, 205,000, and 306,000 on ESPN, respectively.
- The number of average viewers on ESPN in 2021 was 49% and 24% above those recorded in the 2020 and 2019 regular seasons, respectively. Also, the most watched 2021 WNBA game (Seattle Storm vs. Chicago Sky) was viewed by about 755,000 people in the U.S.
- The WNBA Draft, held in April 2022 on ESPN, recorded an average of 403,000 viewers, which was 20% above 2021's draft. On a positive note, in 2022, WNBA's sponsors count increased to 38, the number of games played by each team rose to 36, and the league's valuation increased to $1 billion.
Men's and Women's Golf
- Information on other leagues, other than PGA and LPGA, has been provided to offer more insight. Also, because LPGA statistics were limited.
PGA and Other Leagues
- The final round of the 2022 PGA Championship averaged 5.27 million viewers and a rating of 3.1 on CBS. This was a drop of 21% in viewership and 20% in ratings from 2021 levels (6.66 million, 3.9). Notably, viewership during the 45-minute playoff averaged 9.06 million viewers.
- In comparison, the 2022 U.S. Open finals, part of the PGA Tour, recorded an average viewership of 5.41 million on NBC. This was a 5% drop in average viewership compared to the 5.67 million viewers who watched the finals in 2021.
- Also, the viewership of the final round of the 2022 "PGA Tour Heritage tournament" averaged 3.68 million viewers and a 1.9 rating on CBS Sunday. This was the largest television audience for the tournament since 2003. The event peaked at 5.04 million, rising by 20% and 43% in ratings and viewership compared to 2021 stats.
LPGA and Other Leagues
- Although exact figures for the overall 2022 LPGA tour viewership was unavailable in the public domain, Golf Channel announced that the viewership for the 2022 LPGA tour increased 32% and 69% compared to 2021 and 2020, respectively. Since recent statistics for the tour are unavailable, statistics for two LPGA tournaments as well as for the Augusta National event have been provided.
- The 2021 golf U.S. Women's Open averaged 600,000 viewers in 2021 across Golf Channel and NBC Sports, which was a 62% year-over-year improvement. This was the highest average viewership figure since the 2016 tournament. Also, while 2022 viewership and ratings are unavailable, the 2022 U.S. Women's Open purse more than doubled to $10 million, which is quite close to the 2021 Men's Open's $12.5 million.
- LPGA's 2021 ANA Inspiration tournament, recently renamed Chevron Championship, garnered 32% more daily average viewers than the 200,000 viewers recorded in 2019. This would put the average viewership figure at approximately 264,000 (132% X 200,000).
- The 2021 "Augusta National Women’s Amateur" (ANWA) event, LPGA's competitor in the U.S. women's golf scene, averaged 996,000 viewers on NBC. The 2021 ANWA also received a 1.0 overnight TV rating on Saturday night of the event.
Men’s Tennis vs. Women’s Tennis
- After comparing the top tennis tournaments in the U.S., the research focused on the U.S. Open since it is the most prestigious tennis event in the U.S. and its viewership/rating data points were more readily available.
- In 2021, the viewership of the women's final of the tennis U.S. Open outperformed the men's for the fifth time in just seven years. The women's U.S. Open finale recorded 2.44 million viewers and a 0.38 rating against 2.05 million and a 0.35 rating for the men's.
- In 2020, the viewership of the women's final of the U.S. Open averaged 2.15 million viewers and a 1.3 rating during the "two-hour match window." The entire three-hour coverage averaged 1.86 million viewers and a 1.1 rating. The 2 020 U.S. Open men's final averaged 1.48 million viewers and rated 0.9.
- Also in 2019, the women's U.S. Open dominated television viewership averaging 3.22 million viewers and a rating of 2.0. The men's championship averaged 2.75 million viewers and a 1.6 television rating. Notably, the number of viewers for the women's U.S. Open finals dominated the men's since 2017 to 2020.
Men's Soccer vs. Women's Soccer
- To provide a comparison of women's and men's television rating and viewership in soccer, the research team considered the most popular men (Major League Soccer) and women (National Women Soccer League) leagues as well as the national teams.
- In 2021, viewership for the regular season of Major League Soccer (MLS) averaged 276,000 viewers across ESPN channels. That was an improvement to 2020's average of 233,000 viewers. The MLS Cup (final) match in 2021 averaged 1.14 million viewers on ABC, peaking at about 1.6 million viewers, which was an improvement to 2020 and 2019 averages of 1.07 million and 825,000, respectively.
- The United States Men's National Soccer Team's (USMNT) 2021 season averaged 745,625 viewers on English-language television, which was a 294% year-over-year increase. Across Spanish-language television, the USMNT viewership averaged about 1.061 million viewers.
- Only nine National Women Soccer League (NWSL) games were broadcast in 2020 with the average viewership at 434,000. While 2021 average viewership figures are unavailable for the league, the season finale recorded 525,000 television viewers peaking at 571,000 in the second half.
- Notably, MLS seems to be struggling in 2022 while NWSL's television ratings are soaring. As of April 2022, aired NWSL matches attracted over 450,000 viewers while MLS matches recorded an average of 283,000 viewers per game. Only one MLS game drew more viewers than NWSL games, which led some experts to believe that NWSL's current media rights deal of $1.5 million annually is undervalued.
- In 2021, the United States Women's National Soccer Team (USWNT) recorded an average television viewership of 401,913 viewers in the U.S. This was an improvement from 322,667 viewers, on average, in 2020. USWNT's match against Sweden was the most-watched in 2021 with 713,000 viewers on FOX.
- Importantly, the U.S. Soccer Federation agreed to pay members in the men's and women's national teams equally in May 2022. However, soccer league teams are yet to do the same.
Men’s Figure Skating vs. Women’s Figure Skating
- For this part, the research focuses on statistics from the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, the national figure skating tournament organized by U.S. Figure Skating. While there are various completions leading up to the championship event, only viewership and rating statistics the latter are available.
- In 2022, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships' women's free skate category averaged 2.39 million viewers and a 1.5 rating on NBC, which was 11% higher than in 2021 (2.15 million viewers, 1.4 rating). The women's short program averaged 468,000 and a 0.29 rating.
- The men's free skate averaged 1.13 million viewers and a rating of 0.7, which were year-over-year improvements of 41% and 32%, respectively. The short program for men attracted 1.43 million viewers and received a 0.9 rating.
- Historically, women's figure skating has been dominating men's for years. In 2017, for example, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships' women's free skate event garnered a rating of 1.8 and about 2.8 million viewers. The men's event recorded a rating of 1.1 and about 1.6 million viewers.
Men’s Swimming vs. Women’s Swimming
- After reviewing several national swimming events in the U.S., it was apparent that while they have categories for men and women, they do not have separate competitions for men and women and competitions for both genders usually are held simultaneously. Being that only overall viewership and ratings statistics are available, the research team has provided several available statistics for the Swimming Olympic Qualifiers and the Swimming Pro Swim Series.
- The "2022 USA Swimming Pro Swim Series" drew 537,000 viewers on ABC, according to Nielsen. The eight-night of the "2021 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials" averaged "2.7 million viewers per finals session on NBC."
- The regular season of the 2021 NFL recorded an average of 17.1 million viewers (TV and digital). Also, about 112.3 million viewers tuned in to the Super Bowl.
- Unfortunately, like most other women sports in the U.S., the growth of women's professional football is limited by lack of television coverage. After signing a media deal with ESPN2, the Women’s Football Alliance managed to garner 146,108 viewers and a rating of 0.12 for its PRO National Championship match in July 2022. The Women's National Football Conference is yet to secure a television deal.
This research focused on comparing the TV viewership and ratings of women's and men's professional sports. Our focus was on basketball, soccer, golf, swimming, figure skating, and tennis. The research team searched through the public domain for news articles and relevant sports-focused publications for the data. While only leagues for basketball and golf were specified, we had to identify top leagues/championships/events/teams for the rest since there were no overall stats for entire sports. This has been explained within the findings.
To provide the required data, we leveraged relevant sources such as CNBC, Yahoo Sports, Statista, Sportmedia Watch, Sports Video, Front Office Sports, and Sports Pro Media, among others. We also explored the websites and publications for associations, such as PGA and USA Swimming, to gain more insights on specific sports. While television viewership numbers were mostly readily available, ratings were missing for some categories. Our research determined that Nielsen provides these ratings. However, performing a targeted search for any Nielsen publications for ratings for specific categories of interest was not fruitful. It seems that the Nielsen rating only covers major categories.