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Watching the Women’s World Cup

6 August 2019

BARB’s Doug Whelpdale looks at how the viewing figures for England’s Women’s World Cup semi-final match compare to those for this year’s other sporting highlights.

Earlier this year, sports broadcaster Kelly Cates contributed an article to our annual Viewing Report that looked at how sport and television work together.

In her piece, she touched on why the sporting events that we choose to broadcast are important, with reference to Sky’s coverage of women’s sport and the Lionesses’ bid to become Women’s World Cup winners in particular. Sadly, the Lionesses fell at the semi-final stage, defeated 2-1 by eventual winners, the USA. Nonetheless, the game achieved impressive audience figures: an average audience of 8.9m watched the match, with a peak of 11.8m tuning in at the end. The game reached more than 18 million individuals in all.

A peak of 11.8m and reach of more than 18m are striking figures in their own right, but also in context. They beat those for the Champions League final (6.4m peak and 7.4m reach), the Cricket World Cup final (7.8m peak and 13.7m* reach) and the Wimbledon men’s final (10.4m peak and 15.1m reach), making the Women’s World Cup semi-final comfortably the biggest sporting broadcast of 2019 to date.

The relative pain and joy of these viewing experiences, merits of refereeing, umpiring and VAR decisions are for another article, but what is clear is that the Women’s World Cup was more than competing with other big TV sporting events in 2019. In fact, it may be more accurate to say that the other events struggled to keep up.

The closest comparison might be with the Men’s World Cup in Russia last summer. The England v. Croatia semi-final achieved a peak of 26.7m and a reach of 31.1m on ITV. However, as a longer, more established tournament with a greater number of teams with some of the Premier League’s superstars, it doesn’t seem like an entirely fair comparison.

The women’s tournament as a whole has reached a remarkable 35.7 million individuals over its course, which compares well with the 53.1 million who watched some part of the men’s tournament, considering the far lower number of women’s games broadcast. When we look at the demographics of the audience, we can also see that the women’s tournament achieved the kind of broad appeal that will please those trying to grow the game, as well as catching the eye of potential future advertisers.

The table below shows that the audience profile for the England v. USA Women’s World Cup semi-final was similar to that of the other sports broadcasts. Only the Wimbledon men’s final achieved a greater proportion of female viewers, with 56% of its audience being women as opposed to 40% of the England v. USA audience. In terms of age profile, the Wimbledon men’s final skewed older, while the Champions League final skewed younger – potentially aided by the streaming of the game on BT Sports’ YouTube channel. Overall, these profiles show that in composition as well as in size, the audience for the Women’s World Cup semi-final wasn’t small or niche, but mass.

For the UK, it was a shame that neither the Scottish or English teams could go the distance and bring the trophy home, but they have achieved something significant for women’s sport. They have again proven that there is a large and diverse audience that wants to watch women play. As Kelly said in her article, this should help women’s sport get closer to that virtuous circle of increasing revenue, leading to increasing investment in talent and rising standards circling back to increased interest and revenue. BARB data will be there to chart the rise.

Doug Whelpdale, Insights Manager, BARB

* Peak figure is the sum audience from Channel 4 (5.3m), Sky Sports Main Event (1.34m) and Sky Sports Cricket (1.17m) at 19:29 – the peak minute on Channel 4 and the minute in which the final was decided. The reach figure considers viewing to these channels as well as Sky 1 and More4 which also broadcast parts of the final.