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Whether it’s March Madness or not, Women’s elite sports is slam dunk for Florida economy

Michigan v Villanova during the NCAA tournament in 2022.
Michigan v Villanova during the NCAA tournament in 2022.

She shoots, she scores

Interest in women’s sports has been growing over recent years, with viewership up to 41% from 34% for the 2023 World Cup, according to Nielsen.

Nielsen also reports that last year’s NCAA tournament drew nearly 10 million viewers for the final game between LSU and Iowa -- up 103% from 2022.

Randall Croom is an Associate Professor at Stetson University.
Randall Croom
Stetson University
Randall Croom is an Associate Professor at Stetson University.

Randall Croom, an Associate Professor of Management at Stetson University, said interest in women’s sports is growing in Central Florida as well.

“For example, Grant Hill and Tamia, one of my favorite R&B singers ever, have both invested in Orlando Pride. So we're seeing people recognize that it just makes good business sense to invest in women's athletics, and we're certainly beginning to see more of that even here in Central Florida.”

Croom said Central Florida’s economy benefits from investments like this into local professional women’s teams, the Orlando Pride and Orlando Valkyries, by creating jobs and boosting revenue for local businesses.

“There are spillover benefits to the local community in terms of people stopping by a restaurant or a bar before or after a game. Even on a smaller level, people who have homes in that area will sometimes sell parking spaces in their yards even just to make a little bit of extra money on game day.”

Beyond investment to the local economy, Croom said investment and growth of women’s elite sports in Central Florida will benefit local student athletes looking to further their careers.

“For example, one of the University of Florida's former women's volleyball players, who was actually from Canada, is now playing on the inaugural season and team of the Orlando Valkyries. So before she may have returned to Canada or played internationally, and now we have a place where there's a fan base that already knows who she is.”

Men's vs Women's

Although popularity in women’s sports is growing, there are still significant differences when it comes to men and women professional athletes.

Men are often paid higher, but Croom said that’s starting to change.

“For Orlando pride, for example, Barbara Banda has now received one of largest transfer fees in the history of our Women's Soccer League. It was somewhere north of $700,000. Still a far cry from what someone like Lionel Messi at Inter Miami would make but it does point to a positive trend.”

Research firm Deloitte predicts that revenue from women’s elite sports in the U.S. will surpass $1 billion for the first time ever in 2024, a 300% increase from 2021.

Croom said that a boost in revenue should mean a boost in salaries for women’s elite sports.

However, men’s teams are often valued at a higher price than women’s teams.

According to data from Sportico, the Orlando Pride was worth $45 million in 2023. Meanwhile, analysis by Forbes shows that Inter Miami is worth $1.03 billion.

Croom said much of Inter Miami’s high valuation could be attributed to Lionel Messi, even though the Orlando Pride did not see significant increases in revenue when the team had World Cup winners like Alex Morgan.

“(Messi) is someone who brought in tons of international fans with him and this super established career. I think one of the unfortunate things is that Americans are still growing their love for soccer compared to what's happening internationally.”

Growing Interest

Among the various reasons interest in women’s sports is growing across the country, Croom said there may be a unique push in Florida due to online sports betting being legal in the state since 2023.

“You might actually see people also getting excited about women's sport because they have something on it. And it's actually become much easier and also more culturally accepted for people to gamble on sports in general.”

According to the American Gaming Association, sports betting revenue grew across the country by more than 40% in 2023, increasing to $10.92 billion from $7.56 in 2022.

The Associated Press reports that the state of Florida’s share of revenues this year from sports betting is already over $120 million.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to Central Florida Public Media. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Psychology. While at UCF, she was an intern for Central Florida’s public affairs show, Intersection. She joined on as Morning Edition Host in 2019. In 2022, Ms. Blake was appointed to the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist’s board of directors.
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