Tampa Bay Times

Big growth potential seen for women’s sports


During a meeting of women’s basketball coaches with NCAA president Mark Emmert on Wednesday, Georgia Tech’s Nell Fortner issued a plea. Instead of treating her sport like a cost to minimize, the NCAA should see it the way many others increasing­ly do: as an opportunit­y for growth.

“We’re a huge potential revenue stream,” Fortner said. “Our athletes stay (in college) for four years. They garner new fans, they get more attention and will continue to. I think we’re going to miss a huge window if we don’t change things now.”

The virtual meeting came after weeks of complaints of gender inequity that Emmert and the NCAA have met with apologies but also rationaliz­ations purportedl­y rooted in economics. In a document distribute­d to news outlets, the NCAA said the women’s tournament loses millions every year and has to be subsidized by the men’s event.

Fortner’s appeal comes at a time when there is a growing belief across sports that women’s events are some of the best investment­s in the industry. Ratings are up. Female athletes are steadily commanding more attention from fans and marketers. And brands and venture capitalist­s are pouring money into women’s sports.

As a result, TV and sponsorshi­p revenue for women’s sports are expected soon to eclipse $1 billion globally, according to a report by the accounting firm Deloitte. About $467 billion flow through men’s and mixed sports, but that figure includes events such as the Olympics and tennis Grand Slams, where women bring much of the value.

“The stakeholde­rs on the commercial side of sports are constantly searching for the next frontier, the next growth play,” Dan Cohen, who leads sports marketing company Octagon’s media rights consulting division, said in an email to the Washington Post. “It is clearly women’s sports.”

The finances of the women’s basketball tournament presented by the NCAA say less about the event’s popularity than they do about the way the organizati­on thinks about women’s sports, according to four media executives and industry consultant­s. The NCAA casts the tournament as an economic burden, but it has made little attempt to maximize its revenue, they said.

In 2010, the NCAA sold broadcast rights for the men’s tournament to Turner and CBS in a 14-year deal worth $10.8 billion, and it extended the deal for another eight years and $8.8 billion in 2016. The women’s tournament is packaged with about two dozen college championsh­ips, including baseball, softball, hockey and wrestling. In 2010, ESPN paid $500 million to broadcast those championsh­ips over 14 years, an average of about $35 million a year.

An NCAA spokeswoma­n, citing a third-party analysis the associatio­n commission­ed, said women’s basketball is responsibl­e for just over 15 percent of that deal. By that math, the women’s tournament brings in an average of $5.7 million a year in TV revenue. The NCAA said last week that the tournament loses $2 million a year.

Three people who have worked on media deals involving the NCAA, including two who worked on the ESPN deal, told the Washington Post that the women’s basketball tournament is the prize of the package, delivering about a third of the deal’s value, which would make it worth closer to $12 million annually.

The NCAA declined to comment to the Post.

The booming interest in women’s sports can be attributed to a confluence of factors. The infrastruc­ture for women’s sports has improved over generation­s. The cost of entry to stream or broadcast women’s sports remains relatively low. The players are deftly marketing themselves, often on social media, proving their viability to advertiser­s at a time when consumers, especially young ones, value supporting women’s empowermen­t.

The proof is in the steady stream of new business deals, from new TV rights deals to sponsorshi­ps, marketing opportunit­ies and programmin­g that supports women’s sports.

Then there is the growing power of social media.

Tony Pace, president of the Marketing Standards Accountabi­lity Board, said he had an “aha” moment when he began researchin­g the athletes that brands may want to partner with.

“I was astonished to find that at Nebraska the biggest social media influencer with the largest following is not a football player,” he said. The most popular athlete at the university is volleyball player Lexi Sun, who has 77,000 followers on Instagram and 11,900 on Twitter.

A new company, OpenDorse, calculated last week that of the players in the men’s and women’s basketball tournament­s rounds of 16 with the largest and most monetizabl­e social media followings, eight of the top 10 were women, Axios reported.


First female jockey wins Grand National

Rachael Blackmore broke down one of the biggest gender barriers in sports by becoming the first female jockey to win the grueling Grand National horse race. Blackmore, 31, from Ireland, rode Minella Times to victory at odds of 11-1 Saturday at Aintree in the 173rd edition of the famous steeplecha­se run at Liverpool, England. “I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human,” Blackmore said. “This is just unbelievab­le.” Female jockeys have been allowed to enter and race in the National only since 1975, when the Sex Discrimina­tion Act was passed. Blackmore was the 20th female jockey to compete in the race.


U.S. women end win streak with tie

The U.S. women’s 16-match winning streak was snapped with a 1-1 draw with Sweden at Stockholm.

Lina Hurtig put Sweden ahead off a set piece in the 38th minute. Megan Rapinoe’s penalty kick pulled the United States even in the 87th. The draw extended the U.S. team’s unbeaten streak to 38 games. Rapinoe’s goal was her sixth this year to lead the team.

Rapinoe said the scare will help the United States as it prepares for the Olympics this summer. “Even throughout the whole game, I was kind of thinking, ‘This is exactly what we need.’ We didn’t play well. We were very sloppy. Tactically we needed to be a lot better, and just individual­ly,” she said. “But those are the games where you kind of have to dig in.” The Americans have not lost since January 2019.

Carli Lloyd played her 300th national-team game. The others to appear in 300 or more games are Kristine Lilly (354) and Christie Pearce Rampone (311).

ENGLAND: Premier League leader Manchester City lost 2-1 to visiting 10-man Leeds on a stoppage-time goal, but City’s fourth league defeat should only delay the inevitable as it closes in on regaining the title. It leads by 14 points with six matches remaining, though second-place Manchester United has two games in hand. Chelsea jumped to fourth after a 4-1 win at Crystal Palace. U.S. national-team player Christian Pulisic scored twice for Chelsea. Before games, there was two minutes of silence for Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, who died Friday at 99. Players wore black armbands, and flags at stadiums were lowered to half-staff.

SPAIN: Host Real Madrid defeated Barcelona 2-1 to return to the top of La Liga. The victory in pouring rain left Madrid tied on points with Atletico Madrid, but Real leads on the head-tohead tiebreaker. Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead.


AUTOS: Rain forced the postponeme­nt of the NASCAR Cup Series BlueEmu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsvil­le (Va.) Speedway after 42 laps, setting up a doublehead­er today. At noon is the completion of the Xfinity Series Cook Out 250, which was suspended after 91 laps Friday night. The Cup race is to resume at 4 p.m. Both races are to be shown on FS1.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: Filip Lindberg had 25 saves and UMass beat St. Cloud State 5-0 to win the program’s first NCAA men’s title in Pittsburgh. UMass (20-5-4) made its third tournament appearance. St. Cloud State (20-11-0) was in its first title game.

TENNIS: Veronikia Kudermetov­a of Russia and Danka Kovinic of Montenegro play for their first WTA title today in the Volvo Car Open title match at Charleston, S.C. Kudermetov­a, seeded 15th, beat Paula Badosa 6-3, 6-3 in the claycourt event. Kovinic, unseeded, defeated No. 12 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-3, 6-2.

 ?? SCOTT HEPPELL | Associated Press ?? THE FIRST: Rachael Blackmore celebrates becoming the first female jockey to win the famed Grand National.
SCOTT HEPPELL | Associated Press THE FIRST: Rachael Blackmore celebrates becoming the first female jockey to win the famed Grand National.

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