Men’s sports have traditionally dominated mainstream sports media coverage. In 2015, a study entitled “It’s Dude Time” found that L.A.-based network affiliate sports news programs devoted only 3.2% of broadcast time to women’s sports. In the years since, women have slowly been gaining ground, and several promising studies have recently emerged to paint a picture of just how much work remains until media coverage achieves gender equality.
There is no doubt that 2018 saw some remarkable progress for female sport coverage. The 2018 Olympic women’s gold medal hockey game between Team USA and Team Canada delivered NBCSN’s best-ever late night rating, and the 773 media credentials issued at the 2018 Women’s Basketball Final Four were an all-time record for the tournament. Viewership ratings for the women’s final of the 2018 U.S. Open were higher than the men’s.
On the flip side, the WNBA Finals —the Finals — were broadcast primarily on ESPN2, greatly restricting public access. According to our recent report on the status of women in the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games, four major online websites (ESPN, NBCOlympics, New York Times, and USA Today) published only 34 articles about Paralympians. Of those, 44% were about male athletes, 21% about female athletes, and 35% about both male and female athletes. As a whole, regular season women’s games were pushed to the smaller, offshoot channels — if they were televised at all — in favor of MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL or NCAA men’s sports.
Studies published this year by TicketMaster and Nielsen Sports however, postulate that the lack of media exposure is not a result of lack of interest. The Nielsen report, which surveyed eight major markets across the globe including the U.S., U.K. and Australia, found that 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sports. Confirming this trend, the TicketMaster study, which focused on the state of sports in the U.K., found that three in five responders agreed that female sports are “on the rise,” and that 46% would watch a women’s sporting event if it was on television.
Clearly, the interest is there, not just in the U.S., but globally. So why are women’s sports still lagging behind in the media?
Money and sponsorships were focal points of both studies, which acknowledged that there are valuable opportunities for companies to invest in women’s teams and leagues. According to the Nielsen report, three-quarters of responders who said they are interested in women’s sports could name at least one brand associated with women’s sports. In a panel accompanying the release of the TicketMaster study, field hockey Olympic gold medalist Kate Richardson-Walsh discussed the potential that many brands are missing.
“Once companies start investing more money in women’s sport, the growth will be massive and immediate,” she said. “A little bit of sponsorship goes a long way. In short, everyone wins.”
Clearly, the interest is there, not just in the U.S., but globally.
The sentiment expressed among responders to the Nielsen study parallels Richardson-Wallace’s point. Per the findings, 63% of responders felt that brands should invest in both men’s and women’s sports. Perhaps if sponsorship of women’s teams and leagues grew, media coverage would quickly follow.
Additionally, the TicketMaster research found that younger fans — specifically those under the age of 35 — are the most optimistic about and the most interested in women’s sports. The older demographic (primarily older males) are the least likely to feel that women’s and men’s sports should receive equal attention. Thus, if media outlets want to reach a broader, younger, more diverse audience, scheduling women’s sports is the way to go.
As the number of girls and women playing, coaching and working in sport continues to increase, media coverage needs to reflect that growth.