When the sports world came to a halt in March of 2020, women’s sports were on the rise across the globe. No one could have foreseen the devastating impact that the CoronaVirus pandemic would have on the sports world; especially on women’s sports.
Until Corona came along, women’s sports were recording record viewership numbers and big investments were being made. A recent report by The Nielsen Company revealed that 66% of the world’s population is interested in women’s sport and from general sports fans, 84% are interested in women’s sports. The old school argument, that “no one watches women’s sports, that’s why it is not as successful as male sports” no longer holds its ground. In recent years, women’s football has seen record attendances and viewership figures across the globe. Just in November 77,768 football fans watched England play against Germany at Wembley Stadium – a home record crowd.
However, when the Corona Pandemic put the sports world on halt, the success of women’s sport was also stopped. Many women had to fight hard to be in the position as an athlete as they are. Judgement, lack of support and financial matters often mean that women have to fight hard to be given the opportunity as an athlete than their male counterparts. Those preparing to compete at the Olympics and other competitions have now had that taken away from them. Corona has had an immense impact on the sports world, but it has had a greater negative impact on women’s sports. Traditionally, women’s sports do not have the same amounts as money as male sports and subsequently, female athletes earn less and some even live pay-check to pay-check. When female athletes cannot compete and earn money, they begin to experience financial difficulties, something top male athletes will never have to experience.
In the football industry for instance sponsorship, something of high importance to the women’s game, may begin to reduce as a result of the crisis. With the lack of fans in stadiums and physical audiences, sponsorship may no longer be an attractive investment for many companies. On top of that, many companies may no longer be able to afford sponsorship, as they themselves had been hit hard by the crisis. This negative impact can be attributed to all sports, not just football.
Another area of impact is the media coverage of women’s sports. Even before the Corona Virus crisis, female athletes were extremely underrepresented in the sports media, with a mere 4% according to UNESCO. The positive trends of women’s sports gaining more media attention may be eroded as sports competitions begin to be broadcast again, due to the clashing of the many sports events that were previously cancelled. Women’s sports will likely be side-lined by the media who will cover the return of men’s sports instead. This again may have a negative impact on sponsorship opportunities for women’s sports as the exposure that sponsors seek will not be given.
However, it is not just the professional side of women’s sport that is suffering. For many girls and women around the world, sports present a way to escape the daily suffering of domestic violence, stress and a way to enable personal development. Despite living in the 21st century, many women and girls do not have access to the internet and thus lose contact with their friends from their sporting clubs. Even when sports are allowed again, women and girls may not be able to return to their sports due to trauma they have suffered during quarantine, according to the United Nations.
With all the harm that women’s sports have endured over the last months, there are some positives worth pointing out. The WNBA draft for example received record viewership numbers and games from the league are now being broadcast on channels when they would not have been done before. People are thirsty for live sports and with women’s sports being some of the first to return new fans can be attracted. These viewers may never have watched women’s sports had the Corona pandemic not struck. Following the pandemic, it is vital that the clubs and leagues retain these new viewers in an attempt to resurrect women’s sport.
The pandemic may carry on for a while longer and the sports world will continue to be on hold, but already now it is clear that women’s sports will suffer more than men’s sports. However, there may also be some positive aspects, such as attracting new viewers and fans that otherwise would have never associated themselves with women’s sport. When it comes to rebuilding women’s sports after the pandemic, fan engagement, media coverage and awareness are three factors that will be crucial to helping the industry back on its feet. In these aspects, the sports industry can learn a lot from other industries that have had to re-innovate since the beginning of the pandemic.