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20 x 20: If she can’t see it, she can’t be it

By Lynsey Douglas, Women’s Sport Global Lead & Head of Brands (UK), Nielsen Sports

Nielsen Sports, and myself personally, were proud to provide measurement to the 20×20 movement in Ireland to champion girls and women in sport. As a business we believe in the power of Women’s Sport to enhance lives, to empower females as well as it being one of the most exciting areas of growth for the sports industry.

In 2018, 20×20 set out to create a measurable shift in the perception of women in sport in Ireland, calling for a 20% increase across media coverage of women in sport, female participation, and attendances at women’s games and events by the end of 2020.

Though the Covid-19 pandemic prevented 2020 measurement, after just the first year (the first half of the campaign) participation had grown by 13% and attendances and women’s events by 17%. Within the media, online coverage of women in sport had risen by 50% and print coverage of women in sport had increased by 53%.

Despite this progress, women’s sport still lags far behind men’s sport. From Nielsen research at the outset of the campaign, we found that just 4% of sport’s online coverage and 3% of sport’s print coverage was dedicated to women’s sport. By the end of 2019, this had grown to 5% for print and 6% for online.

Other key findings included the fact that 73% of the general population (and 80% of sports fans) agreed that ‘greater visibility of women’s sports and athletes is crucial to grow women’s sport’, with over 3 in 4 of the general population believing sponsors should invest in both versions of sport. Watch more on the 20×20 story here.

Below is a snapshot of the results:

1)     Participation and Attendance

Overall from 2018 to 2019 (first half of campaign) there has been an 13.1% increase in participation across three areas: National Sporting Governing Body (NGB) Membership, NGB female focussed programmes and participation in female targeted Local Sports Partnership (LSP) programmes.

Whilst attendance has grown by 17% in the first half of the campaign. This was driven by major events such as the All Ireland Intercounty Camogie and LGFA Finals.

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2)     Media Coverage


Overall, all media types except TV experienced a larger percentage share than in 2018, with Print experiencing the largest increase, with a 120% rise in article space dedicated to women’s sport.

Despite seeing a decrease in hours of coverage of Women’s Sport on TV, there was a substantial increase in the TV audience of Women’s Sport from 7% of the total sports audience in 2018, up to 18% in 2019 This was a result of prominent sports featuring on RTE and TG4.

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Online Coverage

  • The top online publication, in terms of both number of women’s sport articles and % share of women’s sport articles, was
  • The next three were, and
  • Both Broadcaster and Broadsheet sites had a higher level of women’s sport content with 9% and 7% respectively, compared to Tabloid which only generated 1%.
  • On average, 6% of articles on sport were related to women’s sport, with Broadsheet sites generated 51% of the total number of articles for women’s sport.

Print Coverage

  • The top three print publications, in terms of both number of women’s sport articles, and % of women’s sport article space, are Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and Irish Times.
  • There has been an overall increase in number of women’s sport articles generated, increasing by 60% since 2018. With this there has been an increase in article space dedicated to women’s sport which increased by 120%, meaning that the articles which have been featured are taking up more space than they did in 2018.
  • Interestingly, all publications increased their percentage of women’s sport articles YoY, with an overall increase from 3% to 5%.

3) Fan Interest and Perceptions

To understand the level of fan interest and perceptions around Women’s Sports Nielsen carried out two waves of consumer research to a nationally representative sample (N=1,000). The first wave took place in September 2018 and the second in August 2020.

Team Awareness / Interest

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Attitudes to Women’s Sport

There was greater agreement in the second wave that female athletes can be role models, as well as greater awareness that female and male sports teams / events receive unequal media coverage.

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There were noticeable increases in the attributes Competitive, Skilled, Inspiring and Progressive in the second wave compared to the first.

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Almost 3 in 4 of the General Population believe sponsors should invest in both version of sport and believe sponsorship should support Women’s Sport. 

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