Female athletes now have their own sports network

Finding women’s sports just keeps getting easier.

The first-ever network to focus on women athletes, the Women’s Sports Network, launched Wednesday, offering 24-hour streaming of original programming, competitions, documentaries and a daily studio show, “Game On.”

The Women’s Sports Network is a free, ad-supported network featured on streaming services such as Amazon.com‘s Freevee, Fox Corp.’s FuboTV and Tubi as well as smart TVs. The new network comes at a time when investment and viewership for women’s sport is increasing, but women are only getting a small portion of media coverage.

“This is a significant step in narrowing the gap in media coverage of female athletes and women’s sports,” said Angela Ruggiero, CEO and co-founder of the Sports Innovation Lab and a four-time Olympic ice hockey champion who is on the advisory board of the new network.

The network was first announced in February by Los Angeles-based Fast Studios.

The Women’s Sports Network has partnerships with the Women’s National Basketball Association, Women’s Football Alliance, Ladies Professional Golf Association, US Ski and Snowboard, Sports Innovation Lab, and the World Surf League, among others. It is planned to start broadcasting games from January.

Fast Studios was founded in 2020 by veteran advertising executive Stuart McLean with a focus on ad-supported streaming TV services. Fast Studios has also launched streaming networks focused on auto racing and spartan obstacle course competitions.

Over the past year, viewership for women’s sports has steadily increased. The WNBA postseason saw a 22% year-over-year increase in viewership. Female collegiate-level athletes are also proving to be winners in the NIL era, signing deals with brands like Nike now that collegiate athletes can be paid for their name, image and likeness.

However, according to a recent study by the University of Southern California and Purdue University, women’s sports receive only 5% of media coverage.

“The Women’s Sports Network is exactly what athletes, fans and sponsors have been asking for,” said Mollie Marcoux Samaan, commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, in a press release announcing the launch of the network.

According to a study conducted by the National Research Group and Ampere Analysis, 39% of Gen Zers watch more women’s sports than they did a year ago, along with 29% of Millennials. But according to the study, the hurdles remain high: 79 percent of US sports fans still state that they do not actively follow women’s sports. Meanwhile, 74% of fans cannot name a single corporate sponsor of a major women’s league.

“There is a pent-up demand for women’s sport, but women’s sport is usually underinvested, undersupported and underappreciated because the underlying ecosystem hasn’t really been built,” Ruggiero said. “We don’t have enough women writers. We don’t have enough female broadcasters. We don’t have enough female producers. The media ecosystem is still quite male dominated and women don’t get the ratings,” added Ruggiero.

Traditional networks have made little effort to promote women’s sport, with the National Research Group and Ampere Analysis finding that US broadcast networks spent 0.2% of media rights budgets for women-only sporting events (excluding events with both men’s and women’s sports). women’s sports such as the Olympics).

“Every men’s league has gotten off to a good start versus traditional women’s leagues for decades,” Ruggiero said. ‚ÄúThese sports offerings for women are pretty early in their lifecycle and anything early in their lifecycle requires more investment to build the brand, build awareness, build audience, build platform. And it’s on the business side, not just the performance side,” she said.

The network’s studio show, Game On, is hosted by former Harlem globetrotter and social influencer Crissa Jackson, sportscaster Taylor Felix, sports influencer and former college basketball player Jenna Bandy, and sportscaster and producer Jess Lucero.

– CNBC’s Jessica Golden contributed to this report.

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