The 2022 NCAA Gymnastics Championship set records as the most-watched gymnastics meet on ESPN with 1.1 million viewers.
This increase in viewership of women's sports came on the heels of the Women's College Basketball National Championships when it broke records not only as the first women's tournament in history branded with the “March Madness” name, but also had the most viewership for a college basketball game on ESPN, men’s or women’s since 2008 with 4.85 million viewers and it peaked at 5.91 million.
This is an important step in the women’s sports movement and is a testament to what the movement embodies — growing viewership and raising visibility. Back when the WNBA was in the “Wubble” due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, its viewership in 2020 grew 68 percent. The NWSL also saw an increase in viewership at 500 percent in its inaugural season.
That same year in 2020, more people were watching the College Softball National Championship over a Stanley Cup playoff game. With the future looking bright, it is still important to remember where these growing viewership numbers started.
Some of the first female athletes to be on television were Olympic athletes. Wilma Rudolph dashed for bronze and three gold medals at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, respectively. Once Title IX was passed in 1972, 90 million people watched Billie Jean King take down Bobby Riggs on television in the infamous “Battle of the Sexes” the following year. The first-ever golf tournament ESPN ever aired was the LPGA Sahara Open in 1979. In 2019, the LPGA had 968,000 viewers turn on the television for the Solheim Cup, the largest amount that the event has ever pulled in.
Today, there is more access than ever before to watch women’s sports. However, there is one snag in the setup. The time of the games. Many fans and players remember how “embarrassing” it was that the NWSL championship game was played at 9 a.m. PT back in 2019.
Even with no primetime coverage for women's sports, the future for women's sports is bright. Viewership is up, contracts with broadcasting companies continue to get renewed, and players are on television to show the visibility of women in sports. So, the next time someone wants to talk to you about sports, don't let them tell you nobody watches women compete.
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