The 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 Wednesday, offering 24/7 streaming of original programs, competitions, documentaries and a daily “Game On” studio show.

The Women’s Sports Network is a free ad-supported network featured on streaming services including Amazon.comit’s Freevee, Fox Corp.’s FuboTV and Tubi, together with smart TVs. The new network comes at a time when investment and viewership for women’s sports are on the rise, but women receive only a fraction of the media coverage.

“It’s a significant step towards closing the gap in media coverage 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 is on the board. of administration of the new network.

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

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 World Surf League, among others. He plans to air the games starting in January.

Fast Studios was founded in 2020 by longtime advertising executive Stuart McLean with a focus on ad-supported streaming TV services. Fast Studios has also launched streaming networks focusing on car racing and Spartan obstacle racing races.

Last year saw a steady increase in the number of spectators for women’s sports. The WNBA postseason has seen a 22% increase in viewership year over year. Collegiate-level athletes are also proving winners in the NIL era, winning deals with brands including 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 from the University of Southern California and Purdue University.

“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 statement announcing the network’s launch.

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

“There is pent-up demand for women’s sports, but women’s sports are generally under-invested, under-supported, undervalued, because the underlying ecosystem hasn’t really been built,” Ruggiero said. “We don’t have enough 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 aren’t getting the ratings,” Ruggiero added.

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

“Each men’s championship has had decades of a leap forward from traditional women’s championships,” Ruggiero said. “These female sports properties are still quite early in their life cycle and anything early in their life cycle requires more investment to build the brand, increase awareness, increase audience, build the platform. And it’s on the commercial side, not just the performance side, “he 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.

—Jessica Golden of CNBC contributed to this report.