Women’s Sports and Coverage in the Mainstream Media

Mainstream spectator sports are an extremely important component of American society.  Overwhelming amounts of people at least casually watch sports, with an astounding 111.5 million tuning in to watch the 2014 Super Bowl, making it the most-watched piece of programming in U.S. history. If you repeated this fact to most people, chances are they wouldn’t be surprised, as the fact is that mainstream spectator sports have become ingrained in our society. As a result, whether unconsciously or not, what we see on our television screens when watching these sports does have an influence on our values, thought processes, and ideas.

A WNBA game at KeyArena in Seattle

A WNBA game at KeyArena in Seattle

2011 Michigan Wolverines Women's Basketball

2011 Michigan Wolverines Women’s Basketball

This is all the more reason for us to be concerned about the overwhelming lack of coverage of women’s sports in the mainstream media. Turn on any episode of SportsCenter and I would be shocked if more than a couple minutes of the programming is spent on covering women’s sports. In fact, only 1.4% of the show’s airtime is spent covering anything relating to women’s sports. This trend extends to the realm of sponsorship and media coverage as a whole as well. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation reported that in 2013, only 7% of sports media coverage and 0.4% of total sponsorship money was attributed to women’s sports. In my opinion, such a disparity is unacceptable and shows a need for change in our values as spectators and 21st century American citizens. 

Throughout history, there have always been gender norms and institutional barriers that have dictated what you can and cannot do because of your sex, as Professor LaVaque-Manty’s chapter on Being a Women and Other Disabilities notes. Women in particular have historically been prevented from pursuing athletics in the same way that men have, but thankfully this has changed drastically. Now, thanks to Title IX in part and a general upward trend, there are just about as many women as men participating in NCAA athletics. Though participation in women’s sports has gone up, the increase in media coverage has not caught up by any means, as noted above. What does this say about the value that we place on women in sports? If I were to judge our media coverage as any indication, it shows that we as a society do not care enough about making opportunities for women in sports.

Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid female athlete

Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid female athlete

The landscape of women’s sports in the mainstream media needs to change. This lack of coverage of women’s sports in the mainstream media, regardless of whether they are as entertaining to spectators or as lucrative to sponsors as their male counterparts, demonstrates that we don’t care as much about the pursuits of women as men. Often, big-name professional athletes are role-models for children and aspiring athletes. What does this lack of media coverage do to the aspiring female athlete or young women who is looking for a role-model? In my opinion, it discourages them from pursuing the things they want to do. They can often end up with the idea that society doesn’t care as much about what they do as compared to a boy. This type of demoralization is an effect of this lack of media coverage that we need be aware of. We should be taking steps to reduce these barriers for women, not perpetuate them.

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7 comments

  1. haleyzap · October 26, 2014

    As a female student athlete I really appreciated this blog post. I have strong hopes that society will shift toward wanting to watch females compete equally as they want to watch men. But I also think that society is slowly but surely moving toward this. Collegiate women’s athletics did not begin until 1971, while men’s college sports came about in 1852 and both have been growing larger with more sports added since they started. Also, I think it’s important to factor in that at least for college athletics, basketball and football are really the only two revenue earning sports. There is no female equivalent to football and women’s basketball is arguably the most well-attended women’s sports. And for the “non-spectator” sports I have been to see at Michigan, I would guess these events have equal amounts of spectators attend them whether they are men’s or women’s.

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  2. abklee · October 26, 2014

    I had similar thoughts while reading the chapter from Professor Manty’s book. While I wholeheartedly agree with everything in this post, I feel that it will be a while before women’s sports are appreciated on the same level as men’s. Sponsors and media are going to put their efforts where the general public, and effectively, the money, is. No media would spend time covering a women’s sporting event when the men’s sports are much more widely followed and the same goes for companies looking to sponsor athletes and teams. It is a vicious cycle; people pay attention to sports that are popularized by media, but media pays attention to sports popular among the people. I do agree that I would like to see a change in this. Your point about role models for young girls was not something I thought about while reading the excerpt, but it is an excellent point and one to be paid more attention to.

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  3. lauraucros · October 26, 2014

    Just as haleyzap mentioned above, as a female student-athlete I really appreciated your blog and your efforts to analyze the possible solutions regarding closing the gap between popularity in men’s and women’s sports. I personally believe that as you pointed out, the lack of media coverage is a clear alert that something is wrong and changes need to be made. I think the reason why people don’t watch women sports as often as they watch men’s sports is because female athletes’s capacities are still believed to be inferior than the ones men have. Nobody objectively thinks a female runner can sprint as fast a male one, a female swimmer swim at the same speed as a male one, or a female soccer player be as talented as a male one. And even though this might (I’m not saying it is) be true, women’s sports are still highly competitive and female athletes are as virtuous and as skilled as male athletes are. Society should start realizing this and start giving female athletes some more credit for all their hard work.

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  4. mcpatton2014 · October 26, 2014

    I agree with what you’re saying how more emphasis should be put on covering women sports. However, playing devil’s advocate, the information the media portrays is an attempt to reflect the appeals or interests of their audience. ESPN could’ve decided that the vast majority of their viewers would rather see highlights or information relating to male sports instead of female sports. I’m not saying its right or fair by any means, but the sports media attempts to closely reflect what their viewers and interested and cover those specific topics. However, they could do a much better job of trying to influence public opinion by reserving more time for coverage of sports played by women.

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  5. jacobmduska · October 26, 2014

    I agree with what you are trying to get across here, yet it is a tough argument when putting it up against male sports. Male sports have a much higher viewing rate, and therefore it reflects on ESPN. This is just another point that backs up your reasoning that women’s sports need to have more air time to hopefully get people attracted to the respected sport, and make it something more watched on a daily basis. While in some sports it is hard to get as much joy as watching males as watching females play the game. For instance, in male basketball you see 6’5 players slam dunking the ball every couple plays, keeping the fans on their feet. While in women’s barely any are able to slam dunk. While this is a very weak argument, it means that people need to watch the respected sport for the love of the sport, not so much for pure amusement. I liked your post and hope to see more women’s sports coverage in the future.

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  6. lbongi · October 26, 2014

    You’re making a fair argument here – however – I would like you to think about a few questions. Do you ever tune into a WNBA game when it is broadcasted on the ESPN family of networks? Did you watch the College Softball world series? The NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament? If you have, then I would truly be impressed. People watch sports for typically one of two reasons: 1. Because they have money riding on a game in some fashion. 2. Because they have an interest in the sport, love to see a competitive game, and know everyone in the office or at school will be talking about it. Women’s sports typically have very little money riding on them. They don’t generate the same interest as men, and they don’t have the same viewership numbers when they are broadcasted. ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC, etc. do not have a choice of their program to be broadcasted. Unfortunately, they aren’t in the business of showing little girls athletes to look up to, they are in the business of business – making money that is. There is nothing for those networks to be gained by broadcasting women’s sports. Besides Tennis, they know the viewership numbers wouldn’t even be comparable. Some networks even get better ratings from showing Men’s games for 10+ years ago. While I respect women’s athletics to the fullest, and know that many women are equally as competitive, there is no chance the media representation changes unless they create a separate network for women’s sports that has no interest in making money.

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  7. dverdere · October 27, 2014

    I may come across as insensitive with this comment, but I completely understand why women’s sports do not receive the same coverage as men’s sports. For example, think about how much of a big deal was made in the WNBA when Brittany Greiner dunked twice in a game and this was the first time such an incredible feat had taken place in this wonderful display of athleticism, but if you watch an NBA game for 5 minutes you’ll easily see five dunks. Then, look at women’s extreme sports such as skiing. The women’s big air skiiers go off of the same jumps as the disabled men’s skiiers, which further enhances the idea of essentially having a disability in sports as a woman. Why would someone choose to watch a skiier who is doing tricks that are so much simpler than her male counterpart and she is also jumping from a smaller ramp. The fact that men’s sports are played at a higher level and with more intensity in almost every single sport (always going to be a few exceptions such as gymnastics) explains why there are people going to watch the games in person or watching them on TV.

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