Ahead of International Women’s Day 2020, CBC Sports announced they would be committing to gender balanced sports coverage across all of their platforms. This was groundbreaking news, especially considering a 2016 study conducted by the Canadian Women and Sport Foundation. The study uncovered that national sports networks dedicated 4% of their 35,000 hours of coverage to women’s sports. It also found that these networks committed 11% of their coverage to sports showing both genders. All of these numbers in an Olympic year, meant there was a plethora of high quality women’s sport action to choose from.
Once the pandemic hit, there was a heavy uptick in the casual fan’s appetite for women’s sports. Televised sports at the time had become as dry as a desert. The WNBA saw a 15% increase in viewership over the course of their 3 game Championship series. There was also a 493% jump seen by the NWSL for their final game. Certainly these numbers are a result, in part, to this being the first year these games were accessible with a regular cable TV package. Still, it proves that the tides were turning. Over the same time frame, Sport Media Watch found that all other team sports saw a drop off in viewership.
This meant that the NWHL Bubble was happening at an ideal time. The appetite for women’s sports was at an all time high. This is evidenced by the deal the league struck with NBC Sports Network to broadcast the semifinals and final games live on national television for the first time ever. Leading up to that, the numbers from the NWHL Twitch streams were incredibly encouraging as well. NWHL commentator Josh Appel spoke to the benefits of the platform.
“[it] gives a chance for people who may not be seeking that to find an NWHL game, and there you go, there’s another fan,” he explains. “We had a ton of viewers — one of the games I did was on the homepage of Twitch and we were featured on there. We had 30-something thousand people watching one of our games,” Appel recalls.
On the note of the league being able to attract new fans, scholarly research has spoken to the efficacy of this tactic. To grow the game instead of going after the traditional hockey fan.
David Berri, a Southern Utah University economics professor, believes this is the best course of action. Berri says that women’s leagues are wise to be seeking out different types of fans. Ultimately they are targeting a new audience altogether, unlike the longstanding male leagues. His reasoning is that, to be a fan one must be emotionally invested in the team itself. But a man who doesn’t like women’s sports in general isn’t going to make that type of investment.
To hear more, listen to the segment below on women’s sports and the media. This story is the third in a four-part series on women’s hockey.