Following new research from the Women's Sport Trust, Editor Emma Ballard looks into how to grow women's golf TV viewership and attendance and Major events

This week the Women’s Sport Trust, a UK charity focused on using the power of sport to accelerate gender equality and stimulate social change, released its latest research that looked into the visibility and fandom of women’s sport in 2023.

The headline stat, from Futures Sport & Entertainment’s data and analysis, included a record-breaking UK broadcast reach in 2023 with 46.7m people tuning in to watch 1+ minute of women’s sport on linear TV, which was almost one million more than the previous high in 2019.

Whilst women’s football dominated the viewing figures on free-to-air channels such as the BBC, it was golf that shone on pay-TV, in this case, Sky Sports. The Solheim Cup was the most watched women’s sport, with 3.1 million tuning in for the final day singles matches. As you can see below, the Day 2 fourballs were also popular.

Women's Sport Trust research

In print, the results were not so thrilling when it came to women’s specific sport coverage with only 3% of mentions in daily newspaper coverage in 2023, down from 4% in 2022.

Looking back to golf, one of the most interesting points to come out of the report was around viewership. Of the 37.8m viewers who watched 3+ mins of women’s sport in 2023, 271,000 did not watch any men’s sport content. This equates to 7% of the overall women’s sport reach.

A unique women's golf audience

When looking at golf, more specifically, The Open versus the AIG Women’s Open, there is a marked difference to the average 7%. In fact, a whopping 57% (stated as 60% below) of people who watched the AIG Women’s Open did not watch the men’s equivalent. A total of 731,000 viewers.

Women's Sport Trust Research

There is a lot to digest from the three circles on this slide and the numbers surrounding the Solheim Cup. With regards to women’s golf, here’s what we know:

  • The Solheim Cup generated a TV viewership that was nearly 2.5 times bigger than the AIG Women’s Open.
  • There’s a large group of sports fans that only watched the AIG Women’s Open and not The Open.
  • The potential to engage with the 5.9 million sports fans who only watched The Open.

The results of this research have also thrown up some questions. Who is this audience that only watched the AIG Women’s Open, how do we engage with them to convert them from watching to attending a major golf event and how do we increase women’s golf viewership beyond the Solheim Cup?

If we combine the above with previous research from the Women’s Sport Trust in partnership with The R&A, which showed there were 2.5 million avid women’s golf fans, it shows that the opportunity to grow the women’s golf audience both via TV and in-person is there for the taking.

What are the next steps?

Firstly, we need to understand more about the audience that is only watching the AIG Women’s Open. My thoughts on this are that this audience is most likely part of the wider women’s sport fan community, which is continually growing, in turn meaning that it is likely to include a higher proportion of female viewers compared to The Open.

Engaging with this audience could be a key driver to increasing footfall at women’s golf events such as the AIG Women’s Open, which provides a perfect setting for anyone’s first experience of watching live golf due to the new festival fan village, better access to viewing play and family-friendly nature of the event. Tapping into event ideas that have worked in other sports such as netball, football and rugby, could enhance the current offering.

Secondly, an easier target market for women’s golf is the audience that is already watching men’s golf like The Open. Increasing the visibility of the AIG Women’s Open during this event via TV, social media and at the Major itself could actively convert those who wouldn’t normally watch. Think along the lines of a teaser trailer of what will be coming a month later.

Also, I’m not one for pitting the men against the women but this year at St Andrews, we’re still close enough to the 150th Open to use as traction to gain wider exposure for the AIG Women’s Open.

Thirdly, building a women’s golf marketing campaign around the Solheim Cup. The biennial event is the most watched women’s golf event, bigger than the Majors. A perfect moment to use the increased exposure and eyeballs on the women’s game to create a campaign that goes beyond the event and gives those watching a reason to want to tune into future tour events and Majors.

The future of women’s golf is really bright and once we gain a better understanding of who actually watches women’s golf, as an industry we can better target marketing campaigns to increase viewers, boost event attendance and ultimately grow the women’s golf fan base.

View the full Women's Sport Trust report - Visibility Uncovered 2023 - The Year in Review here.