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

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press
Report: 17 million Canadians consider themselves fans of women’s sports

TORONTO — Allison Sandmeyer-Graves always suspected there was a large fan base for women’s sports in Canada, and now she has proof.

Sandmeyer-Graves, the CEO of Canadian Women & Sport, led a panel of luminaries in women’s sports on Monday that reviewed a new report commissioned by the non-profit organization.

Among other things, the report titled “It’s Time: Unlocking the Power of Pro Women’s Sport Fans,” found that two in three Canadians between the ages of 13 and 65 — approximately 17 million people — consider themselves to be fans of women’s sports.

“If we’re going to convince businesses in Canada to make confident decisions, having that Canadian data can really make a big difference, so that they’re not trying to guess at what it might look like here in Canada,” said Sandmeyer-Graves, noting that previously all data about support for women’s sports was from the United States.

“Having confidence that some of the trends that we’re seeing globally are happening here, but more than that, there are 17 million Canadians who are already describing themselves as fans can give more confidence to the strategies and the decisions made by businesses.”

Monday’s study was commissioned by Canadian Women & Sport with its research partner IMI Consulting. The study was conducted in October 2023 with a representative sample of over 2,000 Canadians aged 13-65.

It also found that two in five Canadians aged consider themselves “avid fans” and regularly watch women’s professional or elite sport. That includes tuning in for major events like the Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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

The research was led by IMI Consulting and presented by Canadian Tire Corporation, with support from Women and Gender Equality Canada and oversight from a Canadian Women & Sport advisory group composed of leaders representing media, corporate brands and sport properties.

“From the get-go, the ‘It’s Time’ initiative has been geared toward talking to investors,” said Sandmeyer-Graves at Illuminarium Toronto in the city’s Distillery District. “We heard on the panel today that there’s long been a strong social case (for women’s professional sports). It’s the right thing to do, it’s a good thing to do, but professional sport is business.

“So we need to be talking to the business leaders, we need to be presenting them with information that is useful to their processes, and inviting them into the conversation.”

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

Jayna Hefford, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who is now the PWHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations, said that the league’s success less than five months into its inaugural season is thanks to the talented business people it has behind the scenes.

“We’re really aligned in what we were trying to do, which was to really disrupt in many ways, be open to do things a little bit differently, not be stuck within the boxes of what we all know in professional sport,” said Hefford after speaking on the panel. “But also be traditional to the game and not really change the way we play the game but look for other opportunities to be a bit different.

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

The Women’s National Basketball Association will be the next women’s pro league to push the envelope in Canada with an exhibition game at Edmonton’s Rogers Place on May 4. Hamilton’s Kia Nurse will lead the Los Angeles Sparks against the Seattle Storm in the showcase.

Her older sister Tamika Nurse, who was an NCAA basketball star before becoming a broadcaster with TSN, said that WNBA merchandise sales are already a driving in force in Canada even though there is no franchise in the country yet.

“That orange WNBA hoodie went crazy and everybody wore it,” said Nurse. “I think that should show you how much power women’s sports actually have, and the WNBA in particular.”

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

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