Uefa World Cup 2019 England squad (Credit: Ailura/Creative Commons) 3.0 Austria (CC BY-SA 3.0 AT)

The growth of women’s football in the UK: record-breaking TV viewing figures and match attendance

Women’s sport is breaking records almost every month with match attendances at an all time high and unprecedented audiences breaking TV viewing figures from home.

It’s hard to ignore the noise women’s sport is creating.

Equal payment agreements, record audiences and broadcasting deals are spotlighting female athletes like never before and people are starting to take interest on a level that has been seldom seen before in women’s sport.

Last year was the most watched year on TV for domestic women’s sport in the UK for which football accounted 75% for in 2022 with the start 2023 being the most watched January to April ever for women’s sport with 20.6 million viewers reached.

A graph showing the growth of TV audiences over the years

The viewing figures overall have been increasing year by year but a decline can be seen as a result of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

This was quickly reversed as 2022 broke all previous TV viewership records in the first four months of the year and again in 2023.

Viewing figures and viewing times

This growth can also be seen through engagement figures and is calculated through (AVT), average viewing time per person.

AVT was growing before the pandemic and in 2019 the AVT was 5 minutes and 55 seconds.

The number declined in 2020 and 2021 but came back strong in 2022 when AVT hit eight minutes and 44 seconds which is a 68% increase on 2019. These figures are showing a significantly more engaged women’s sport audience than before.

Many people may believe that female viewers are driving the numbers up for women’s sport, however, audiences are predominantly male and the biggest female sporting campaign’s in the UK such as the EURO 2022 and FA Women’s Super League can show this.

A graph showing TV audiences split by gender

Although the audience for the Women’s Euros was male dominated it was the fourth most watched sports property in the UK in 2022 coming before Wimbledon and the Emirates FA Cup.

This led to the 2022 Euros being the most-watched women’s European football championship in history.

Sirayah-Shiraz is a sports presenter who specialises in exploring the impact of culture and inclusivity within football.

She said: “Football is predominantly a male engaged sport, and I’m not surprised by the amount of men who enjoy viewing women’s football on TV. 

“Women’s football is more communal and inclusive as a sport due to the fact the games are scheduled on a different timetable to the men giving all football fans more game time to enjoy.”

The final between England and Germany became the most watched women’s football game ever in the UK, reaching a peak television audience of 17.4 million on BBC.

Match Attendance

The final between England and Germany claimed another record as the 87,192 fans who attended the final established a new record for a women’s international game in Europe.

The fixture is now the third highest-attended UEFA women’s football match of all time and this helped push the championship towards another record.

The record was for the best-attended women’s EURO ever, with a total attendance of 574,875. This was more than double the previous record set in 2017.

A graph showing the growth in major tournament attendance

Sirayah said: “The Euros had a massive advertising push, the women had sponsors giving tickets to schools, female academy players and young women who had never attended a match before.

“There was a massive emphasis on driving up female attendees and coverage in the UK and seeing the lionesses lift the trophy at home leading into a campaign with a letter sent to the prime minister showed how valuable football is to women with further success to follow.”

Positive results can also be seen in the crowds of domestic competitions as this year’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United at Wembley beat the previous record and set a new world record for attendance in a domestic women’s competition with an attendance of 77,390.

The new season is just around the corner and with the women’s 2023 World Cup starting next week it will be interesting to see how much further the women’s game will grow.

Featured Image Credit: Ailura/Creative Commons – 3.0 Austria (CC BY-SA 3.0 AT)

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