Rose Lavelle, Hilary Knight, Gwen Jorgensen and Dana Rettke.
If these names don't ring a bell, here’s a brief introduction. Lavelle is a FIFA World Cup Champion, Knight has won back-to-back Olympic ice hockey gold medals, Jorgensen is an Olympic gold medal triathlete and Rettke is a Volleyball National League (VNL) champion.
If you're not familiar with their names, you’re not alone.
All four women graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with illustrious college careers as tens of thousands in the audience cheered them on. However, once they left to begin their professional journeys, their names were all but forgotten. Countless fans who watched every minute of every game and tournament are reduced to a handful who religiously tune in to follow their pro careers.
Women's sports at UW-Madison have a rich history, featuring NCAA Championships in volleyball, ice hockey and cross country. These teams are consistently in conversation and the spotlight, whether to celebrate their achievements or bemoan the fortunes of the football team.
The Badgers volleyball team is currently ranked third in the country and averaged 6,000 ticket sales per home game during the 2022 season. Alumni like Rettke and Lauren Carlini have earned spots in the VNL and on Olympic rosters, and they currently play for elite Italian clubs Milano and Scandicci, respectively.
The women’s hockey team is no different. The Badgers took home their third national title in five years earlier this year, averaging over 3,000 people per game. This included the second-highest NCAA women’s hockey attendance ever during Fill the Bowl night with 14,430 spectators. The record for highest attendance for a women’s ice hockey game is also held by UW-Madison for a 2017 matchup against St. Cloud State.
Women's sports are experiencing a significant surge in popularity. In the United States, the National Women's Soccer League witnessed an 18% increase in viewership during the 2022 season. The USWNT is the most successful women’s federation in history with four World Cups.
The WNBA also enjoyed a 21% growth in viewership in the 2023 season and is actively exploring opportunities for rapid expansion in the upcoming years.
The trend is undeniably upward. Investors recognize the immense potential within the women's sports market and are injecting substantial capital into clubs and leagues. This has resulted in higher transfer fees, expanded salary caps, rising ticket prices and record-breaking attendance figures, all of which have dominated headlines over the past couple of years. Access to games has never been easier, and there's no longer a need to resort to dodgy sports betting streams to watch these exceptional athletes in action.
UW-Madison has an incredible women’s sports culture. But what could elevate it even further is extending that support to athletes once they graduate.
If you’re a fan of Badgers volleyball, watch Rettke play for the United States. If you celebrate Wisconsin being the reigning NCAA hockey champions, think about backing the recently established Provincial Women’s Hockey League.
Ultimately, sports are as much about emotion and connection as they are about witnessing extraordinary athletes accomplish remarkable feats. The reason we tune in to watch the Badgers is because we form a deep bond rooted in commonality. There are similar connections outside college sports if you look for them.
Women’s sports are on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream sporting culture. If you have the chance to support it and the Badgers who graduate and eventually join professional leagues, do it.
You won’t regret it for a second.
Hadeel Manimaran is a freshman studying computer science. Do you agree that women's sports are on track to be more mainstream? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org