Following a year’s postponement, the UEFA Women’s Euros starts on July 6th, 2022 when England take on Austria at Old Trafford, and Futures Sport & Entertainment predicts that it’ll become the most watched Women’s Football tournament on linear TV in the UK. We think there are four main considerations that will result in this tournament breaking the record:

  • The success of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup (2019 WWC)
  • The recent growth of women’s sport and in particular, the Women’s Super League (WSL)
  • The favourable broadcast schedule of the UEFA Women’s Euros on Free-to-Air
  • England’s position as host nation and second favourites to win the tournament

It was widely reported that the 2019 WWC – when England finished fourth – broke numerous audience records in the UK, with 28.1m people watching BBC’s coverage on both television and online. England’s semi-final loss against the USA remains the most watched Women’s Football game on UK TV. Whilst the development of women’s sport after the 2019 WWC was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been promising signs of growth recently. Our research with the Women’s Sport Trust shows that 2021 was a new record for domestic women’s sport in the UK with just under 33m people tuning in. The boost was driven by the introduction of The Hundred and the new broadcast deal for the WSL, which saw games aired on both Sky Sports and BBC for the 2021/22 season.

The increase in televised games – a minimum of 35 on Sky and 18 on BBC1/BBC2 – resulted in a significant and impressive rise in viewing hours from 8.8m in 2020/21 to 34m in 2021/22. Encouragingly, just under half (46%) of viewers watched the WSL on more than one occasion in this most recent season, which is not only an improvement on the 31% in the 2020/21 season but also an indication of habitual viewing that could result in increased fandom. The repeat viewership has also helped 2022 break records, with 15.1m watching any women’s sport content on linear TV in the first quarter – the previous high was 10.2m in 2019.

The 2022 Women’s Euros Will Be the Most Watched Ever

Despite the encouraging start to 2022, there is room for further growth and exposure for women’s football and women’s sport more broadly with the UEFA Women’s Euros 2022. In the UK, the tournament is set to be broadcast on the BBC, with all but three matches airing on their linear channels of BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4. 28 matches airing on linear TV is a marked increase from the 17 which aired on Channel 4 and More4 for the previous edition of the tournament in 2017, as well as a higher proportion of the total matches than the 2019 WWC – 60% of matches aired on linear TV in 2019, which is increasing to 90% for the Women’s Euros this year. There is also just one match airing on BBC4, compared to eight in 2019, with the channel a periphery of the BBC’s conglomerate and typically receiving lower audiences than the prime stations of BBC1 and BBC2. For the 2019 WWC, audiences on BBC4 were 21% lower than those on BBC1 and BBC2, outside of England matches, highlighting the impact of its lower position on viewers’ TV guides. All matches also airing on BBC iPlayer presents further opportunity for growth, particular among younger age groups.

It is clear from the broadcast schedule that the BBC are doing all they can to ensure maximum eyeballs on this year’s tournament, and our audience predictions highlight that it is likely to do just that. We created a linear regression model using UK audience data from the 2019 WWC to determine the driving factors in women’s tournament football viewership and their relative importance. This model was then applied to the 2022 Women’s Euros UK broadcast schedule, with factors considered ranging from day of the week, start time, and channel to England’s involvement and their progression in the tournament. Given the tournament will be hosted in England, a ‘host nation uplift’ was then applied to the figures, with previous Futures research highlighting that a market’s audiences at an international tournament increase by, on average, 15% if hosting the event.

The below chart shows total predicted live hours viewed across the 2022 Women’s Euros, with four different scenarios depending on England’s success in the tournament. Providing England make it out of the group stage, which the odds and recent form in the warm-up games suggest is very likely, the tournament is set to be the most watched women’s football tournament on record in the UK, surpassing the previous linear TV high for the 2019 WWC.

Source: BARB

All of England’s group games are set to air on BBC1, with the projected average audience ranging from 4.2m to 4.9m. The table below shows where England’s matches could place in the all-time most watched women’s football matches on linear TV, with the final set to become the highest on record if England were to make it.

Figure 2: Top 5 Most Watched Women’s Football Matches on Record, inc. 2022 Women’s Euros Predictions

Rank Tournament Match Avg. Audience
1 UEFA Women’s Euros 22 Final: England v TBC 10.8m
2 FIFA WWC 19 SF: England v USA 8.9m
3 UEFA Women’s Euros 22 SF: England v TBC 8.5m
4 FIFA WWC 19 QF: England v Norway 6.1m
5 UEFA Women’s Euros 22 QF: England v TBC 5.9m

Source: BARB

Turning Attention into Retention

While the projected numbers are a positive story in their own right, the key to long-term audience success of the tournament will be its ability to not only maintain those viewers but also turn those new viewers into fans of women’s football, and women’s sport more broadly. Our research from the 2019 WWC shows that the tournament was able to draw in large swathes of people who had not previously watched women’s sport prior to the start of the tournament. Of the 37m in the UK reached from that tournament, 21m were new to women’s sport. And of those 21m, 8m went on to watch other women’s sport programming following the end of the tournament, highlighting the tournament’s ability to not only reach new viewers but also retain them for the remainder of the year. Since we are expecting the Women’s Euros this year to reach the same, if not better, heights as 2019, the likelihood of a similar catalyst effect is high.

Figure 3: New viewer pyramid for Women’s Sport in 2019 from the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, based on 3+ min reach

Source: BARB

Expected Rise in Attendances

Whilst linear TV audiences continue to break records, attendances are also extremely encouraging with UEFA announcing that a record 500,000 tickets have been sold – over double the previous record (240,000 for the 2017 tournament in the Netherlands). Although the positive broader impact of the 2019 WWC on women’s sport viewership is clear, the attendances of that tournament highlight an area where the 2022 Women’s Euros can improve. Just three days into the 2019 WWC, FIFA officially revised the number of matches that sold out from 20 to 14 amid coverage that England’s opening game against Scotland was nearly sold out but in reality, just over 13,000 fans – or 37% of the Stade de Nice capacity – attended.

Although the attendances for the 2019 WWC did not fulfil the hopes set ahead of the tournament, there was an encouraging knock-on effect for WSL 2019/20 attendances before the pandemic triggered the cancellation of that season. The previous WSL record attendance of 5,265 was broken in September 2019 and then again in November 2019 as 31,213 and 38,262 fans respectively watched the women’s domestic league. Whilst these games were held at the Premier League (EPL) grounds of Tottenham and Liverpool, Chelsea Women’s home match against Manchester United at Kingsmeadow also broke the record for a WSL game not taking place at a Premier League stadium with a crowd of 4,790 in November 2019.

The recent success story of attendances for Barcelona Women’s team at Camp Nou presents an opportunity for WSL teams next season, given 11 Women’s Euros matches will be held at EPL grounds. Barcelona Women’s team broke the world record for women’s match attendance in March 2022 and then again in April, further demonstrating the potential for women’s attendances when games are scheduled at the men’s stadium. The solidarity between Barcelona’s Men’s and Women’s teams has since continued, with a double header pre-season event at Camp Nou scheduled for this summer.

The partnership between men’s and women’s teams also extends beyond stadia and has already occurred prior to the tournament, with the German and Belgian Men’s teams electing to wear the shirts of their female counterparts in their UEFA Nations League matches. In another example of male allyship to raise awareness for the upcoming Women’s Euros tournament, Ed Sheeran wore the Lionesses shirt during the encore of his Wembley Stadium concert in June 2022 to increase the profile of the England Women’s team. This increased collaboration between male allies and women’s football is a key aspect driving constructive change in the perception of women’s sport in the UK.

Ensuring a Long-Term Legacy

The significant reach of Free-to-Air broadcasting and hosting at large venues is just one piece of the puzzle. UEFA’s pre-tournament impact report highlights the desire to promote positive social impact and perception of the host cities, as well as to increase both perception and participation of women’s football in the UK. The FA’s two aims for the tournament were also succinctly put by Baroness Sue Campbell recently, “to deliver a record-breaking tournament and a legacy to grow the women’s game.” While we are projecting many records to be surpassed at the tournament, with some already broken for ticket sales, the legacy impact also requires attention. Our monthly consumer research tracker in the UK shows that there is certainly work still to be done on the interest, perception, and participation of women’s football.

Futures Market Landscape Tracker surveys 1,000 nationally representative respondents across the UK monthly and, for the purpose of this topic, is useful in identifying current opinions and interest in women’s football. Our questions on football in general over the last 12 months show a spike in interest last July during the Men’s Euros, highlighting a major tournament’s ability to captivate the nation and justifying some of the positive figures UEFA are predicting in their pre-tournament report. However, our tracker also illustrates that football is lagging behind other sports in the UK when it comes to parity between men’s and women’s interest. As the chart below shows, 34% of respondents so far in 2022 stated that they only follow male football, the highest proportion of any of the most prominent UK sports.

Source: Futures Market Landscape Tracker

While more parity is perhaps expected from sports that have multi-gender events such as tennis and athletics, football also sits behind its more similarly structured counterparts such as cricket and rugby union. This gap clearly shows work is needed to convert existing male fans to women’s football, and the Women’s Euros this year presents an excellent opportunity to do so. The recent attendance records by Barcelona Women flagged earlier certainly show the potential conversion rate of this low hanging fruit.

A similar male/female gap exists when we look at awareness and interest of specific football competitions. The chart below shows the number of UK fans per male and female football competition, based on a 5 (very interested) answer on a 1-5 interest scale question in our Market Landscape Tracker. 10% of UK respondents stated that they are currently interested in the Women’s Euros, equating to 6.4m people, 12m fewer than those interested in the Men’s Euros. This disparity further highlights the potential size of the prize if existing men’s football fans are reached during the tournament.

Source: BARB

Source: Futures Market Landscape Tracker

UEFA’s impact report for the tournament also expressed a target of doubling the number of women and girls playing football in UEFA’s member association to 2.5m. Our Market Landscape Tracker data highlights there is certainly work to do in this domain too, with just 7% of female respondents in the last 12 months stating that they play football regularly compared to 26% of male respondents.

These figures on interest and participation sit in an axiom with the high media and venue reach, termed the ‘virtuous cycle of sport,’ and often quoted by key stakeholders as the key to success across all facets of a sport. The notion that more eyes on a property means greater sponsorship opportunities, equalling greater participation, equalling more elite success is a simple concept, but one that we are seeing in action already for women’s football, with the FA Women’s Super League. First came the “game-changing” domestic TV rights deal on Sky and BBC for 2021/2022, worth around £15m per season. That deal was followed by record audiences for the first season of this deal and in December last year, a £30m Barclays sponsorship deal, the largest commercial investment in women’s sport ever in the UK.

Figure 6: The Virtuous Cycle of Sport

UEFA’s – and BBC’s from a UK perspective – investment into this year’s Women’s Euros highlights that many of the key stakeholders are clearly placing women’s football on the pedestal it deserves and providing the platform needed to continue this ‘virtuous cycle’ for women’s football. Looking at Google Search Interest for the Women’s Euros in the UK, search volume has already hit a higher peak in the final few days building up to the tournament than during the 2017 Women’s Euros. This opportunity suggests that UEFA’s target of using the tournament to change the perception of women’s football, as well as increase its number of fans and participants, is well within reach.

One tournament will not radically shift the needle quickly, a feat which UEFA also acknowledges by setting a timeframe of 2024 for results. However, even if just 20% (3.7m) of Men’s Euros fans in the UK were to also become Women’s Euros fans following the tournament, the total avid fan base for the women’s tournament would surpass 10m in the UK, a number that will almost certainly spark further appetite and crucially, more sponsors, to the women’s game.