Press release

3 Jun 2024 London, GB

Gender gap is narrowing in Gen Z adult sports engagement

The gap between female and male engagement in sport is narrowing, with Gen Z adult female engagement figures on the rise, according to the EY Sports Engagement Index.

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Seetle Dool

Senior Manager, Media Relations, Ernst & Young LLP

Highly experienced media relations specialist. Mum of two. Passionate about diversity.

  • The EY Sports Engagement Index compares levels of engagement and participation in over 150 sports across demographics and identifies new trends
  • Of the 4.2 million Gen Z adults (18-24 years old) engaging in sport, nearly half are female
  • Women’s sporting formats are helping to attract more female engagers, however most sports are still dominated by a male engagement base
  • The five top sports for female Gen Z adult engagers are: football, badminton, dancing, Formula 1 and basketball

The gap between female and male engagement in sport is narrowing, with Gen Z adult female engagement figures on the rise, according to the EY Sports Engagement Index. 

The EY survey of over 4,000 UK adults uses comparative data to identify engagement levels across a range of sports by measuring the number of adults actively participating, following a sport on TV, online, or social media, or attending sporting events.

Most recent analysis of the data from the first edition of the Index suggest that almost half (49%) of females in the UK engage with sports in some form. When broken down by demographic, it found that 66% of Gen Z adult females (18–24 year-olds) are engaging with sport compared with 79% of Gen Z males. In comparison, female figures for the aged 55 years+ demographic sit at only 37% compared to 66% for males, indicating that the gender gap is closing with the younger generation. If this trend continues as the Gen Z demographic matures, this could represent a significant shift in the sporting landscape. 

In the UK alone, the Index suggests that 13 million women either follow, participate in, or attend some form of sport, compared to 18 million men. Female engagers are also becoming very important contributors to most of the UK’s top 20 sports. For example, they constitute over a third of the engagement base in football and nearly 30% in sports like Formula 1 and Rugby Union.

Female engagers are also a key driving force behind endurance and lifestyle sports like running, with women comprising 39% of running’s engagement base. Cycling (36%) and racquet sports such as tennis (44%) and badminton (46%) also have high levels of female engagers. Women also dominate the demographics in wellness sports (64%) and gymnastics (72%), defining these activities’ direction and popularity.

There are only a few sports that are not yet fully resonating with female engagers. Despite strong engagement from their core fanbase, sports like cricket, snooker, and Formula E have fewer than 20% female engagers. Other sports such as MMA, American football, boxing and weightlifting are also heavily male driven with females making up 25% of their engagement base or less.

Young female adults are shifting the trends in sports engagement 

Football, badminton, dancing, Formula 1 and basketball come out on top with female Gen Z adults. When compared to the total female engagement base, badminton, dancing, basketball and boxing move up the rankings, pushing cycling, rugby union, wellness sports and tennis lower down the list with the Gen Z adult engagers.

Table 1: EY Sports Engagement Index - Top 10 female engager rankings


Top 10 sports by size of total female engagement base Top 10 sports by size of Gen Z females only engagement base
1 Football Football
2 Running Badminton
3 Formula 1 Dancing
4 Tennis Formula 1
5 Cycling Basketball
6 Rugby Union Running
7 Wellness Sports Tennis
8 Gymnastics Rugby League
9 Rugby League Gymnastics
10 Dancing Boxing

Participation is an important element of the female sports engagement narrative. The Index shows that amongst the top 20 sports for female engagement, 11 are also leaders in female participation. Female participation often focuses on sports with low barriers to entry like running, cycling, hiking, wellness, aerobics and dancing. These are all accessible sports, with physical health benefits, many of which also foster community experiences. By contrast, few traditional team sports rank highly on the female participation charts, with netball as the exception.

Tal Hewitt, Sports Strategy Lead at EY-Parthenon, said: “The latest analysis from the Sports Engagement Index suggests that Gen Z behaviour is markedly different to other demographics. Our understanding of Gen Z leads us to believe that it’s possible more of these younger female engagers will remain engaged with sport as they mature. Over time this is likely to impact not only how sports need to engage with their fan bases, but also which sports will top the leaderboards in terms of popularity.

“Sports organisations must recognise and adapt to the needs of their current and future female audience to avoid being left behind. By nurturing female participation, attendance and followership, they can ensure that this vibrant fanbase continues to grow and evolve, retaining engagement throughout women's lives, and ultimately, reshaping the industry for decades to come.”

Women’s sports are helping to attract female engagers, but are currently driven by male engagement

Women’s sports are helping to shift the dial in female engagement figures, but there is still progress to be made. According to the Index, men currently drive most of the engagement with women’s sporting formats, except for cycling, gymnastics, badminton and skiing. Cycling and badminton’s women’s formats show the highest gender shift of all the sports considered, as both pivot from being male driven for the male format to female driven for the female format.

Women’s sporting formats in cricket, Rugby Union and boxing are particularly male driven. However, of the three, boxing appears to be the most successful in attracting a higher proportion of female followers to its women’s format.

Given the high degree of focus recently on women’s football, it is also interesting to note that only 40% of its engagers are women, albeit this is a higher number than for men’s football, where women only make up 34% of the engagement base.

Furthermore, the Index highlights the importance of mixed gender formats in driving participation. This is particularly true for tennis and badminton, with 17% of tennis engagers only engaging in the mixed format of the sport. 

Tom Kingsley, Sports Industry Group Leader at EY, said: “If sports attempt to properly understand female sports engagers, they can better serve, grow, and monetise this engagement base more successfully. Sports, such as tennis, that successfully engage a female fanbase not only give themselves a larger market to target, but a better chance of winning when competing for family time, attention and budget. By doing so, they also extend their appeal to a broader range of commercial partners. 

“Understanding the opportunities that lie within the female sports engagement population, including the evolution of women’s sporting formats and the new trends being set by Gen Z, will help to plan for future growth and engagement strategies. Ignoring these shifts could mean missing out on substantial segments of the audience poised to shape the future of sports.”