Study: Coverage of Women’s Sports Falls Short

In this week of the US Women’s Open a study has arrived from USC that shows women’s sports barely registered on either ESPN or the three local television affiliates studied. ESPN should be given credit for providing two days of coverage of that event, but apparently they’re falling down in other areas. According to the study:

♦  Women’s 
sports 
were 
underreported 
in
 the
 six 
weeks 
of 
early 
evening
 and
 late
 night
 television
 sports 
news 
on 
the 
three 
network 
affiliates 
sampled
 in 
the 
study.
 Men’s
 sports
 received
 96.3%
 of
 the
 airtime,
 women’s
 sports
 1.6%,
 and
 gender
neutral
 topics
 2.1%.
 
 This
 is
 a
 precipitous
 decline
 in
 the
 coverage
 of
 women’s 
sports 
since 
2004, 
when 
6.3% 
of 
the 
airtime 
was
 devoted 
to 
women’s 
sports, 
and 
the
 lowest 
proportion
 ever
 recorded
 in
 this 
study.

♦ ESPN’s
 nationally‐televised
 program
 SportsCenter
 devoted
 only
 1.4%
 of
 its 
airtime 
to 
coverage 
o f
women’s 
sports, 
a 
decline 
in 
their
 coverage
 of 
women’s 
sports 
compared
 with 
1999
(2.2%) 
and 
2004
(2.1%).

♦ ESPN
 and
 two
 of
 the
 network
 affiliates
 (KNBC
 and
 KCBS),
 continually
 ran
 a
  scrolling 
ticker 
text 
bar 
at 
the 
bottom 
of 
the 
screen, 
reporting 
scores
 and 
other 
sports
 news.
 The
 proportion
 of
 “ticker
 time”
 devoted
 to
 women’s
 sports
 on
KNBC
 and
 KCBS
 was
 4.6%,
 more
 than
 triple
 the
 thin
 airtime
 they
 devoted
 to
  women’s 
sports 
in 
their 
main
 broadcasts. 

SportsCenter 
devoted 
2.7% 
of 
its 
ticker
 time 
to 
women’s 
sports, 
down 
from
 8.5%
 in 
2004.


This in spite of the fact that participation in women’s sports likely is on the rise, as witnessed by the ever-increasing numbers of applicants to the US Women’s Open. Indeed, 3.1 million high school-aged girls and 4.4 million high school-aged boys played sports in 2009, compared to 1971 figures of 294,000 girls and 3.7 million boys. In approximately the same period, the number of women’s sports per NCAA school went from an average of 2 per college to 8.64 per college (presumably mostly due to Title 9).

The big difference in coverage may be that there really are no women’s professional sports to speak of. There’s the LPGA, the WNBA, women’s tennis, beach volleyball, and a small women’s soccer league. I suppose there are others—professional gymnastics, skating, etc., but they don’t register on my radar at all. It would be hard to say whether there’s no interest in women’s sports because there’s no coverage, or no coverage because there’s no interest.

The lack of college coverage, I think, is in part due to the lack of professional sports. One of the reasons to follow college football, basketball and baseball is to see the future professionals. Women’s college sports just don’t have that connection. This may be borne out in another of the study’s conclusions:

When
combining
all
main coverage
 and
 ticker time, the three men’s sports of football, basketball, 
and 
baseball received a combined 71.7% of all coverage. Men’s golf was a
 distant fourth,
receiving 5.6%
 of the 
coverage. Nineteen other men’s sports shared 18% of the total 
 coverage.
 Meanwhile, 
basketball 
was 
the 
only 
women’s 
sport 
to 
receive 
anything 
close to
 substantial
 attention,
 garnering 
1.5% of the overall
coverage.
 


If there’s a bright spot for the authors of the study, it’s that coverage of women’s sports is becoming more respectful:

In 
past 
studies ,
we 
pointed 
to 
commentators’ 
common 
practice 
of 
using sarcastic 
humor 
in 
portraying
 women 
athletes 
(and
 sometimes
 women
 spectators)
 as
 objects
 of 
ridicule, 
as participants in laughable “gag
sports”
 (e.g.,
 a woman’s
nude bungee jump in 1999,
and a “weightlifting granny”
in
2004),
 and/or
 as
 sexual
 objects. In
 2004,
we noted
 a
 decline 
in 
disrespectful 
or 
insulting 
treatment 
of 
women, 
compared
 with 
previous 
years. 
In 
2009, 
we
 saw
 even less 
of 
this 
sort 
of 
sexist 
treatment
 of 
women,
 though
 this 
may 
in 
part
reflect that
 women in
 any form 
were absent from the 
broadcasts.


From my own experience, however, I don’t think women’s sports are actually getting any more respect. My sports fan friends (women included) generally dismiss the female athletes (golf, basketball) as being substantially less talented, and thus not worth of watching. This, in spite of the fact that the top 150 LPGA or WNBA players could kick any of their butts in competition.

The authors of the study are fairly discouraged by the declining coverage and suggest news organizations and sports franchises must make additional efforts to reach out.

One important source of such change within the mass media would involve an affirmative 
move 
toward 
developing 
and
 supporting 
more 
women
 sports 
reporters
 and 
commentators.


and

Sports organizations 
too
 can
 contribute 
to 
change by 
providing 
the 
sports 
media 
with more
 and 
better 
information
 about 
women 
athletes.

But I think that if there was a way to make money from women’s sports, the sports media would have figured it out over the past 30 years. It’s an interesting conundrum. Without coverage, there is no interest. But without interest, there can’t be any coverage.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Study: Coverage of Women’s Sports Falls Short”

  1. Maybe the college-to-the-pros angle works for most people, but it doesn’t work for me. I enjoy watching college football, and I do pay attention during the draft to where some players go. But I don’t track the players once they go on, and for me, the NFL is, at best, background noise.

    I might watch more women’s sports—OK, golf—if it were available more frequently, but I do have my limits. For example, on the men’s side, I rarely watch any golf aside from the four majors.

    Reply
  2. Miranda—I think you’re on to something there. Without its international superstar, the LPGA has suffered. I also think its interesting that Creamer, Kerr, et. al. have not been able to capture media attention. They’re more telegenic than Sorenstam.

    Reply
  3. I guess I could be part of the problem because I just don’t watch. For the little time that I watch sports I tend to focus on names and teams I am familiar with. However, there are some great women players out there. I just haven’t found the interest yet.

    Reply
  4. I was just thinking about the Women’s US Open and the tv coverage this weekend. I don’t watch much women’s golf these days because most of the players who are playing well have names I can’t pronouce and unfortunately the announcers never pronounce them the same way twice. If I watched women’s golf regularly, I might be able to follow these players and develop an interest in them, but with promotion of women’s golf at an all time low (except for majors, most of the time it’s on the Golf channel and not well promoted), I’m not likely to remember women’s golf is on tv, let alone make an effort to watch it.  And that’s sad really.  For all of the impact Annika Sorenstam had on women’s golf, it’s a shame to see it slip backwards the way it has. But it just goes to show you what happens when the media, tour and tournament people put all of their eggs in one basket instead of promoting the whole package.  The PGA Tour needs to seriously pay attention to this.

    Reply

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