Every day, the WPS Director of Communications, Rob Penner (in the pic above with me), sends out the Daily Clips to the league office staff. Today’s clips included a story called, Continued apathy by sports media toward women’s sports a bigger problem than first meets the eye.
The article references a study from researchers at the University of Southern California and Purdue University titled, “Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows 1989 to 2009?. Their findings, the latest installment of a 20-year tracking effort, finds coverage of women’s sports lower than ever in 2009, down to 1.6 percent of airtime on local TV stations and ESPN’s SportsCenter.
According to the article, the study unearths a litany of depressing numbers:
- 100 percent of the shows surveyed started with a story on men’s sports.
- 72 percent of all coverage focused on just three sports, men’s basketball, football and baseball.
- The highest proportion of coverage occurred ten years ago, when local TV stations spent 8.7 percent of airtime on women’s sports (SportsCenter was still at 2.2 percent).
- Reporting on the most popular women’s sport, basketball, was often shunted to the rolling “ticker” at the bottom of the TV screen.
But what may be most surprising is the reaction to the study: Apathy. A handful of media outlets reported on the study when it was released last week, and comments on various blogs and Internet message boards offered the same insulting rationalizations:
- This is what the sports audience wants.
- Broadcasters are focusing on the most interesting sports.
- Most female-centered sports are no good, anyway.
According to the study, as the gap closes between numbers of girls and boys participating in high school and college sports, the gap in coverage has widened. At the college level, the average number of women’s athletic teams per NCAA school has risen 4 times since 1972, to 8.64 teams.
The article concludes by suggesting that “the gap won’t really improve until sports journalists see the disparity as an essential journalism failure – a continuing and worsening inequality that is distorting how sports fans see female athletes and women in general, continuing a cycle that intensifies their marginalization in a vibrant marketplace”.
Jockeying for Position
I work at Women’s Professional Soccer, a female sports league vying for market share in the aforementioned grim media marketplace, and I can definitely attest to the fact that we struggle to get placement in major media outlets. Rob Penner is an absolute rock star, and gets us plugs all the time, but where we may get a graphic or side-bar mention in USA Today, most headlining stories are about men’s sports – it really is just a sad fact.
However, at WPS we have developed a digital strategy that targets our unique audience, with the longtail hope/intention that the metrics demonstrate a value proposition to major media, especially as they begin to turn their attention/focus online. The WPS digital strategy is a unique combination of TV (WPS Sunday on FSC every week), Social Media (our Twitter followers top 240,000), Search Engine Optimization (to rank in search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo), and multi-media content creation with a heavy focus on video.
To provide you with some context, the New York Times recently referred to WPS as The iLeague, Goal.com says WPS Dominates MLS In Online Media Strategy, and SI.com says the Twitter craze is rapidly changing the face of sports.
Dr. Marie Hardin, PHD, the associate director for research in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University, recently wrote an article titled, Does ‘New Media’ Bring New Attitudes Toward Women’s Sports?. She states:
We have new tools and platforms for our advocacy. Social media, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, have changed the way sports news and commentary is presented and consumed by fans. The “transmission model” for sports coverage, where media professionals were the gatekeepers for what did (and did not) get ink or airtime, has disintegrated. Coverage and commentary is now much more user-driven and community-oriented.
The Tucker Center, an interdisciplinary research center leading a pioneering effort to examine how sport and physical activity affect the lives of girls and women, their families, and communities, has created the following video to demonstrate the change in communications for female athletics:
Who’s to say what all this non-traditional media coverage will entail? Despite how the current facts and observations in the research at the beginning of this article trend, I don’t believe all our efforts at Women’s Professional Soccer are without hope.
On April 18, I participated on a Conference Call with other Women Talk Sports bloggers called, The State of Women’s Professional Soccer, but more specifically it was about the state of media coverage for women’s soccer – in America and around the world. In general, we agreed that media coverage of men’s sports far outweighed that of women’s sports, but non-traditional media outlets (blogs, social media, etc.) are creating opportunities for women’s sports to get more exposure, and perhaps go mainstream.
With Commissioner Tonya Antonucci placing a huge emphasis on digital media from the launch of the league, we got an early jump on the new media marketplace. We’ll see where this lands us in the years to come. Truthfully, if anybody can break through, I believe we can.
Sidenote: My ultimate goal would be for http://www.womensprosoccer.com to rank #1 in a Google search query for the keyword “soccer”. (Nerd.)