baseball diamond / Dmytro Aksonov

Between the initial success of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, the imminent launch of the Northern Super League, and the expansion of the WNBA to Canada, professional women’s sports is having a moment. And the payoffs go beyond pure economics, says BMO Capital Markets.

In a report, the bank said revenues from elite women’s sports worldwide are estimated to hit US$1.3 billion this year, with 52% coming in North America.

“The rapid expansions (both realized and planned) of these leagues suggest momentum is tilted towards further growth,” the report said.

The broader economic impact of this trend is harder to quantify.

“The reality is that these tickets and merchandise represent new options within existing household spending budgets, which is a good thing, but nets little new spending — that hockey ticket might now be a foregone night at the theatre,” the report said. “And, that is especially true at a time when lingering inflation and high interest rates have already taken meaningful chunks out of discretionary spending budgets in North America.”

That said, the benefits of increased professional opportunities for female athletes go beyond the raw economics, the report said.

“While very difficult to quantify, it’s safe to say that there are significant positive social and economic benefits from youth participation in sports, an area that has seen girls somewhat underrepresented. More exposure and role modeling through professional sports, and the break out of new ‘superstar’ athletes, could be a trigger for increased participation if fostered correctly,” BMO said.

Already, girls’ participation in sports lags that of boys, and sports participation overall has suffered from increased competition for kids’ attention from more sedentary activities, such as screen time. The payoff for boosting participation in sports comes in improved physical and mental health, the report said.

For girls who play sports, “more than 90% report benefits in mental health and wellbeing, as well as physical health. More than 70% report improved confidence and leadership development,” the report said.

This, in turn, translates into benefits such as reduced childhood obesity and lower long-term healthcare costs.

“Improved mental and physical health can clear the way to improved outcomes outside of sport itself, such as education. And, confidence and leadership gains among girls can provide lasting benefits that extend to the workplace, where female participation, especially in higher-level roles, is encouraged,” the report said.

“As female professional sports continue to grow, a positive economic benefit should be seen, even if the precise impact is very small and clouded by shifting spending patterns,” the report concluded. Beyond that, “more choice is always good for consumers, and more opportunity for elite female athletes is enthusiastically welcomed.”