Chelsea vs Arsenal WSL match at Stamford Bridge

Online searches for WSL skyrocket as women’s sport continues to thrive

The Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL) recorded the biggest increase in global internet searches for sports leagues and competitions in 2023, Redtorch’s SportOnSearch report shows.

The elite women’s football competition in England recorded a 258% increase in internet searches, and is indicative of how much women’s football is growing in this country and beyond.

Six of the top ten increases were in women’s events, double that of last year’s report, whilst two were mixed and two were men’s.

Jess Reus, head of communication and women’s sports lead at Redtorch, put the growth down to increased investment, sponsorship and media coverage in women’s sport.

She said: “The future is looking bright for women’s sport. Based on the numbers we have seen, I think it will only continue to grow.

“It’s really refreshing to see women’s sport being invested in. We hope this will increase participation at grassroots too, and also show people they can make a career out of these sports.

“From a wider viewpoint, seeing this increased interest in women’s sport reflects more societal shifts in gender equality and diversity which is really encouraging to see.”

Redtorch’s SportOnSearch report looked at how many times people were searching for sporting leagues and competitions, using Google trends from 2023 and comparing the results to the previous four-year average.

Every women’s event in the study achieved an increase in searches, with the data showing that searches for women’s leagues in 2023 have risen by more than 77%, compared to less than 15% for men’s leagues.

Overall, the sports that saw searches grow the most were athletics, football and basketball.

Of the six top performing women’s sports leagues, three were football, two were basketball and one was rugby, with Reus suggesting that a driving factor in their growth was narrative-led stories.

She believes the football leagues were helped by the FIFA Women’s World Cup, propelling lots of female players into the global spotlight, resulting in growing interest in domestic leagues. 

Zambia and Ireland made their World Cup debuts, and search results for the WSL in those countries increased significantly.

The Reggae Girlz’ historic World Cup run, captained by Manchester City’s Khadija Shaw also saw WSL searches soar in Jamaica.

For basketball, Reus credited American personalities such as Caitlin Clark and Alexis Morris in driving growth of the sport, whilst the Women’s Six Nations Championship was helped by sponsorship and coverage. 

TikTok sponsoring the event enhanced the online profile and record crowds for women’s rugby made it hugely searched with the BBC’s coverage and investment further enhancing this.

Karishma Riar, senior research and insights manager at Redtorch explained why measuring search interest is useful.

“Whilst search interest is not the only indicator, it is an important reflection of brand health,” she said. 

“Understanding their discoverability online will help these sports leagues understand where their brand is going and how it’s benchmarked against other global brands.

“When we see stronger brand health, they can charge more, grow at a faster rate, then have more of an influence and stay relevant within the eyes of their audiences.”

This growth in women’s sport, especially football, at the elite level is translating to increased opportunities for girls. 

Around 20,000 schools now offer equal access to football for girls, up from 3,000 just four years ago, a statistic confirmed by Tom Corbett, Group Head of Sponsorship at Barclays.

The increased interest in the WSL is translating to more fans, something Kerrie Evans from the Chelsea Women Supporters Group has seen first hand.

Chelsea Women Supporters Group flag waving at Stamford Bridge

Evans said: “Our group was set up ten years ago because there was just no information about women’s football in general, especially Chelsea, so we wanted to form a community.

“Two people formed the group with around 50 members but we’re now at more than 9,000 followers and we’ve noticed a huge surge in numbers over the past year.

“When I used to go to games, there were only a couple of hundred people who would attend. Now we have a match with more than 30,000 at Stamford Bridge – it’s amazing!

“Emma Hayes has been brilliant and has played a huge part in connecting us with Chelsea, and the club funded our big flag for Stamford Bridge games.”

The 2023/24 season of the WSL has already set a new season attendance record with six rounds of matches still to play and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Kelly Simmons OBE, former director of the women’s professional game at the FA, believes the only way is up for women’s football.

She said: “Women’s football, in my lifetime, will become the second biggest sport, after men’s football, but it’s vital to commercialise properly as women’s football grows.”

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