The Race Is On For The First $1 Billion Women’s Sports Franchise
This year, India broke sports headlines when its cricket Women’s Premiere League became the highest-valued women’s league in the world. Its average team valuation of $114 million is nearly three times greater than WNBA team average of $43 million and more than two times that of the highest-valued team in the National Women’s Super League.
While outsiders may say India’s population or rabid cricket enthusiasm explains this high price tag, this growth in women’s team valuation is part of a global trend. From sold-out WNBA games to double-digit viewership growth for the women’s NCAA tournament and the growing celebrity of soccer stars like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and other world-class NWSL players from across the globe, people everywhere are tuning in to women’s sports.
And that’s good for business.
With a series of broadcast rights set to expire in the next few years, women’s sports may finally see the exponential revenue growth enjoyed by men’s leagues over the last 30 years. From rising throngs of social media followers to an increase in streaming viewership, let’s break down the numbers on why we foresee the first 9-digit franchise valuation for women’s sports in the next decade.
Sweet Streams (Are Made Of This)
Last year, the WNBA had its most-watched season in 14 years, with an average of 379,000 viewers tuning in per game in the regular season. This was a 16% bump over the 2021 season—edging out MLS’s ESPN viewership— and even coming within striking distance of the NHL’s all-network average of 460,000 viewers.
The price to broadcast those WNBA games? $33 million. The price for the men’s MLS and NHL games: an estimated $250 million and $625 million respectively.
Why the disparity? Timing.
Unlike the MLS and NHL — which brokered their broadcast deals in the last two years — the WNBA is at the tail end of a 13-year contract, made long before the streaming wars of today. Now, platforms like Apple TV+ and ESPN+ (which bought the MLS and NHL rights, respectively) have bid up the value of a dedicated sports viewer base, seen as the perfect audience for user acquisition. As a result of this increased competition, both leagues saw a roughly 250% revenue jump from their previous contracts.
The idea that women’s leagues could fetch this kind of revenue isn’t just plausible—it’s happening. Viacom recently paid a record $1 million per game to broadcast cricket games for India’s newly launched women’s Premier League. Charlie Baker, the NCAA’s new president, thinks the women’s NCAA hoops broadcast rights can fetch up to $85 million per year in 2025.
With the WNBA broadcast deal expiring at the end of the 2024-2025 season, many expect it to set the tone for how women’s sports are valued moving forward. And with rumors that WNBA insiders are targeting a broadcast deal of $100 million a year, it’s safe to say the price is going up.
Players and Followers
The most popular college athlete on Instagram? It’s not reigning college hoops Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe or Heisman winner Bryce Young. It’s LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne.
Dunne (whose 4.1 million-follower audience dwarfs many pro athletes’) isn’t an anomaly. In basketball, generational phenom and consensus projected #1 pick Victor Wembenyama has 1.3 million followers. Angel Reese, the standout star of the NCAA champion LSU women’s basketball team, has 1.8 million.
These aren’t just vanity metrics either. This year when Ms. Reese faced 3-point sensation Caitlin Clark in the NCAA women’s tournament, a record 12.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the game. This is double the top number from the year before.
The social-media-to-viewer correlation holds true for individualized sports. When Serena Williams (whose 14.3 million Instagram audience beats out even Tom Brady’s) played her farewell at Flushing Meadows, 4.6 million viewers watched on ESPN—a record for any tennis match on the network. Similarly, Ronda Rousey (the most popular female athlete on Instagram) has two of the top ten most-viewed UFC fights in history—a feat only surpassed by Connor McGregor.
While it’s a known truth that star players drive fan interest, social media platforms accelerate that phenomenon. Data shows female millennials and Gen Z fans are the most likely of all age groups to feel more attached to their favorite athletes than to teams. As younger generations connect to their favorite athletes on Instagram, they’ll likely follow them from social media to the big stages of broadcast and streaming —in turn drawing increased business interest.
Player Today, Fan Tomorrow
Between 1981 and 2021, men’s participation across all collegiate sports grew by 64%. Not bad. The growth rate for women? A whopping 195%.
As a result of Title IX and evolving attitudes on both women’s college and sports participation, women’s sports have grown to be an integral part of most colleges (and high schools). Not only has this germinated a larger and more experienced talent pool with which to feed professional leagues, but it’s also fostered a generation of women fans who relate to being athletes themselves.
Furthermore, the prevalence of women athletes has helped earn male viewership as well, with a 2018 Neilsen survey finding that 51% of women’s sports fans were male. This was on full display at the 2015 and 2019 women’s World Cup Finals which rivaled and even beat the US viewership for the men’s games—pulling in over 25 million viewers.
This trend in participation translates to viewership habits. According to research by NYU, younger generations of women were associated with “stronger and more frequent fan behaviors” than older female fans. Cumulatively, 47% of American women today report watching sports on a monthly basis—with women now making up around 40% of both the NFL and MLB fanbase.