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Report: 17 million Canadians consider themselves fans of women's sports

Report: 17 million Canadians consider themselves fans of women's sports

TORONTO – Alison Sandmeier-Graves always suspected there was a large fan base for women's sports in Canada, and now she has proof.

Sandmeier-Graves, CEO of Canadian Women and Sport, led a panel of prominent figures in women's sports on Monday that reviewed a new report commissioned by the non-profit.

Among other things, the report, “It's About Time: Unleashing the Power of Women's Professional Sports Fans,” found that two in three Canadians between the ages of 13 and 65 — nearly 17 million people — consider themselves fans of women's sports. .

“If we want to get companies in Canada to make confident decisions, having Canadian data can make a really big difference, so they're not trying to guess what it might look like here in Canada,” Sandmeier said. Greaves, noting that all data related to support for women's sports previously was from the United States.

“Confidence that some of the trends we're seeing globally are happening here, but more than that, there are 17 million Canadians who already describe themselves as fans can give more confidence to the strategies and decisions companies are making.”

Monday's study was commissioned by Women and Sports Canada with its research partner IMI Consulting. The study was conducted in October 2023 with a representative sample of more than 2,000 Canadians between the ages of 13 and 65.

It also found that two in five older Canadians consider themselves “avid fans” and regularly watch professional sports or elite women's sports. This includes following major events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as the FIFA Women's World Cup.

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Six in 10 fans responded that brands should do more to support women's sports in Canada, with four in 10 likely to support brands involved in women's sports.

The research was led by IMI Consulting and provided by Canadian Tire Corporation, with support from Women and Gender Equality Canada and oversight by a Canadian Women and Sports Advisory Group comprised of leaders representing media, corporate brands and sports properties.

“From the beginning, 'It's About Time' was geared toward talking to investors,” said Sandmeier Greaves of Illuminarium Toronto in the city's Distillery District. “We heard on committee today that there has been a long-standing strong social case (for women's professional sports). It's the right thing to do, it's a good thing to do, but professional sports is a business.

“So we need to talk to business leaders, we need to give them information that is useful for their operations, and invite them into the conversation.”

The report was released two days after the Bell Center hosted a Professional Women's Hockey League game between Toronto and Montreal with 21,105 fans in attendance. A sold-out crowd surpassed the previous record of 19,285 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Feb. 16 to set a new crowd record for a women's hockey game.

Jayna Hefford, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who now serves as senior vice president of hockey operations for the PWHL, said the league's success less than five months into its inaugural season is thanks to the talented entrepreneurs behind the scenes.

“We're really aligned with what we were trying to do, which is to make a real difference in a lot of ways, and to be open to doing things a little differently, and not being stuck inside the boxes of what we all know in professional sport,” he added. Hefford said after he spoke at the panel. “But we also have to be traditional in the game and not really change the way we play but look for other opportunities to be a little bit different.

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“When you have passionate, enthusiastic people, you can do a lot in a short period of time.”

The National Women's Basketball Association will be the next women's professional league to cross borders in Canada with an exhibition game at Edmonton's Rogers Place on May 4. Nurse Kia Hamilton will lead the Los Angeles Sparks against the Seattle Storm in the show.

Her older sister Tamika Nurse, who was an NCAA basketball star before becoming a broadcaster with TSN, said WNBA merchandise sales are already a driving force in Canada despite the country not having a franchise yet.

“The WNBA’s orange hoodie went crazy and everyone wore it,” Nurse said. “I think this should show you how powerful women's sports are, especially the women's basketball association.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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