Women comprise large part of sports audience

What sports do women watch on T.V.? Yes, Abby Wambach in the women’s World Cup and Serena Williams in the women’s final at the U.S. Open were popular picks this year. But soccer and tennis still pale next to football, basketball, baseball and yes, NASCAR. (Men’s versions all, save for the occasional female race car driver.)

Females account for more than a third of 14 million-plus people that tune into major events like the NBA Finals, World Series, Daytona 500, and Stanley Cup Finals, according to data from Nielsen Media Research. And as for the granddaddy sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl, the 2011 figure jumps to 45.9 percent of the game’s 111 million viewers, or some 50 million women cheering on the Steelers or Packers. The NFL shop online puts out an entire line of female-targeted merchandise for every team. Maybe it’s time to lay the term “football widow” to rest.

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In Pictures: The sports women watch

“I don’t think people realize how big a percentage is women,” says Stephen Master, head of Nielsen Sports. And it’s not all that new of a trend – Master notes that women have been a big part of the viewing audience for the better part of the last decade, at least for the major events.

Meantime, 5.2 million women tuned into the Women’s World Cup final between Japan and the U.S. (compared to 8.3 million men), making it the fifth-most viewed sporting event among females. The U.S. quarterfinal match against Brazil also squeezes onto the top 10 list, just head of both the men’s and women’s Wimbledon finals, with 1.2 million female viewers (again, there were many more male viewers). The quarterfinal actually outdrew the U.S. soccer team’s semifinal match against France one round later, which shows the attraction of a powerful opponent. Women’s soccer, though, proved no different than men’s baseball, hockey or hoops – all rely on a solid female audience of 30 percent or so to complement a viewership that’s predominantly male. Even the recent U.S. Open Women’s final , won by Samantha Stosur over Serena Williams, had slightly more male viewers (2.7 million) than female (2.4 million).

The only top-10 female-viewed sport that actually has an overwhelmingly female audience is figure skating: about 70 percent of the 3.9 million viewers drawn to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January. So for the most part, while women aren’t the ones driving sports viewership (not even women’s soccer or tennis), they represent a sizable chunk of the core audience for sports that enjoy overall popularity.

So do advertisers take advantage of the female sports audience? Not really, says Master. The mass audience for big sports events tends to cater to mass consumer goods, many of which can appeal to both sexes. Those Budweiser ads are aimed at men. But with women in charge of the grocery shopping in most households, Pepsico can hawk its soda and Doritos chips mom as well as dad. Mostly, though, a marketer looking to exclusively draw women is better off advertising on WE tv.

“If women are your target audience, there are much more efficient ways to reach them,” says Master.

The list:

1. Super Bowl XLV, 51 million women viewers
2. NBA Finals, 6.3 million women viewers per game
3. Daytona 500, 5.5 million women viewers
4. World Series, 5.4 million women viewers per game
5. Women’s World Cup Final, 5.2 million women viewers
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Updated Friday, Sep 30, 2011