Women’s Pro Sports Boom
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is breaking attendance records and growing yet again, from 12 to 16 teams: the league just announced that a Boston team will take the field in 2026, on the heels of clubs added in LA and San Diego in 2022, with a San Francisco expansion club coming as well.
The NWSL isn’t the only league expanding due to demand; the 12-team WNBA is adding an additional two franchises, one of them owned by the Golden State Warriors and another yet to be determined. The 2023 WNBA regular season wrapped up with a thrilling 1-point Aces win to clinch the Finals series, a fitting ending to a season filled with milestones, including the league’s highest viewership in 17 years, with games this year averaging a total of 440,000 viewers, up 18% from last season.
Other high points: the WNBA All-Star Game, which saw its first prime-time appearance draw more than 850,000 viewers on ABC, and Brittney Griner’s return, which garnered over 683,000 viewers on ESPN. The biggest regular season draw? A June game between the Dallas Wings and L.A. Sparks, which had 732,000 viewers on ABC. Game 3 of the WNBA Finals drew a peak of 945,000 viewers—on a Sunday during football season, no less.
In the Future of Sports report, published in 2015, we predicted the expansion – and resulting explosion in value – of women’s sports. The WNBA is not the only women’s sports league making waves; at the U.S Open, 3.4 million people watched American teenager Coco Gauff take home the win, surpassing the 2.3 million viewers that tuned into the men’s final. This rise in viewers is consistent across the sporting world; between gymnastics, WNBA, tennis, and more, there has been an undeniable growth in the popularity of women’s sports. Sponsors and advertisers are taking notice, which will spur them to invest more in women’s leagues and athletes, further popularizing them.