Women’s Soccer Dominates on the Field and TV Advertising

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) crushed it on and off the field in 2019, defeating the Netherlands 2 to 0 in the Women’s World Cup Final. Despite the success in gameplay, TV eyeballs, and social media, the issue of pay inequality casts a long shadow over the women’s team.

A frequent contention by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) is that women’s soccer generates less revenue than men’s. When looking through the lens of ticket sales only, this is partially true (since 2016, women’s sales have exceeded men’s). When you include marketing, broadcast, and sponsorship agreements, the position gets more tenuous. The USSF bundles men’s and women’s marketing, broadcast, and sponsorship agreements together, and the arrangements represent about half of the over $100 million in revenue generated each year. An understanding of the relative contribution to TV broadcast revenues would provide insight into the differences between the two squads. Enter iSpot and our ability to measure TV audience sizes (impressions) and reach by program and ad.

To help determine the impact USWNT has on TV ad generated impressions and reach, the data science team at iSpot compared the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cup Finals. Looking at a variety of other U.S. sports leagues and their tent pole events, iSpot can evaluate the financial impact marketing and broadcast rights have to the USSF. Even though some professional sports leagues don’t have women-specific confederations televised nationally, they still represent valid cohorts.


For advertisers, the Women’s World Cup Soccer Final represented similar value to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final, and a higher average value than the MLB All-Star Game, the MLB World Series, and the Men’s World Cup Soccer Final.

Dieta Hanson, Ph.D.

As a starting point, iSpot first looked at the total number of ad impressions each sporting event generated (Figure 1):

Figure 1 – Total Impressions

The obvious outlier is the Super Bowl, which stands alone, dominating in total ad views. Comparing women to men World Cup soccer, the women generated almost 17 million more impressions. The same trend holds for tennis, with the U.S. Women’s Open generating 43 million more total impressions versus men.

But total impressions are only a small part of the story. If a sporting event has a large number of ads played that each generates a relatively low number of impressions, a network can’t charge as much for the spots. As an example (Figure 2), the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Country House, ran the course is just over 2 minutes. In contrast, 145 ads aired during the national coverage of the horse race! When compared to the Women’s World Cup, the Kentucky Derby had more spots by a ratio of six-to-one. Additionally, the reduced number of spots for soccer is, in part, due to the limited number of potential ad pods within a soccer game.

Figure 2 – Number of Ads During Play

Equipped with this data, we can build a clearer picture of the relative ability of Women’s World Cup soccer to produce impressions per ad. This creates a better view, which is aligned with how ad time is sold (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Mean Impressions per Ad

For advertisers, the Women’s World Cup Soccer Final represented similar value to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final, and a higher average value than the MLB All-Star Game, the MLB World Series, and the Men’s World Cup Soccer Final.. This validates the hypothesis that the USWNT has outstanding impressions by ad. However, the iSpot data science team also wanted to quantify reach. Reach is the percent of the total TV audience that tuned-in to an event. iSpot defines the TV audience in two different ways; active TVs that are on during an event (concurrent), and the TVs that were active within the 30 days starting one month before an event (monthly).

Figure 4 – Reach by Concurrent and Monthly Active TVs

Looking at reach (Figure 4), the Women’s World Cup outperformed the men’s and exceeded every other sports event cohort except the Super Bowl. The picture is now clear; women’s soccer has more reach than men’s and significantly more reach than many other sporting events.

Which advertisers were also winners? Business and legal advertisers came out on top with brands such as Wells Fargo, Visa, and SoFi advertising during the Women’s World Cup Final. Interestingly, business and legal advertisers are the largest advertisers proportionally for three of the four major women’s sports events – golf, soccer, and tennis. In contrast, vehicle and life and entertainment advertisers were under-represented (Figure 5).

Several advertisers produced spots featuring the USWNT, including Coca Cola, Volkswagen, and Nike. Of the three, Nike stood out with a pair of social awareness ads that highlighted gender equality (Dream with Us) and the representation of women in sports (Never Stop Winning).

Figure 5 – Proportion of All Ad Categories by Event

So, does women’s soccer generate less revenue than men’s? Indeed, gender pay equality is a complex issue. For the USSF, this represents a question that is working its way through the legal system. When iSpot applies data science methodology to the best TV ad data available, it becomes clear that the playing field is more than equal. It is likely that women’s soccer is having a larger impact on the TV ad revenue bottom line.

iSpot Marketing would like to thank the data science team and Dieta Hanson Ph.D., for her analysis.,

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