Female athletes now have their own sports network

Finding women’s sports is about to get easier.

The first-ever network to focus on female athletes, the Women’s Sports Network, launched on Wednesday, offering 24/7 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 including Amazon.co.ukit’s Freevee, Fox Corporation.’s FuboTV and Tubi, as well as smart TVs. The new network comes at a time when investment and viewership for women’s sports is on the rise, yet women receive only a small fraction of the media coverage.

“This is an important step toward closing the media coverage gap for female athletes, for women’s sports,” said Angela Ruggiero, CEO and co-founder of Sports Innovation Lab and four-time ice hockey Olympian, who makes part of 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 plans to broadcast matches starting in January.

Fast Studios was founded in 2020 by longtime advertising executive Stuart McLean and focuses on ad-supported streaming TV services. Fast Studios has also launched streaming networks focused on auto racing and Spartan obstacle course competitions.

Last year saw a steady increase in viewership for women’s sports. The WNBA playoffs saw a 22% increase in viewership year over year. Female athletes at the collegiate level are also proving to be winners in the NIL era, enter into agreements with brands such as Nike now that college athletes can be paid for their name, image and likeness.

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

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

According a study conducted by the National Research Group and Ampere Analysis, 39% of Gen Zers are watching more women’s sports than a year ago, along with 29% of millennials. But the study found that the hurdles remain high: 79% of sports fans in the United States still say they don’t actively follow women’s sports. Meanwhile, 74% of fans cannot name a single corporate sponsor of a major women’s league.

“There’s a pent-up demand for women’s sports, but women’s sports are generally underinvested, undersupported, undervalued because the underlying ecosystem hasn’t really been built,” Ruggiero said. “We don’t have enough female 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,” Ruggiero added.

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

“Every men’s league has seen decades of progress over traditional women’s leagues,” Ruggiero said. “These women’s sports properties are still pretty early in their lifecycle, and anything early in its lifecycle needs more investment to build the brand, grow awareness, grow audience, build platform. And that’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, sports journalist Taylor Felix, sports influencer and former college basketball player Jenna Bandy, and sports journalist and producer Jess Lucero.

— CNBC’s Jessica Golden contributed to this report.

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