Just as ticket prices appear to impact the public’s opinion of women’s sports, so does the sports media. There is little to no coverage of women’s athletics and that leads to a lack of investment, interest and education on the part of the public. It becomes extremely difficult to generate support when the big influencers in sports media disregard any important events that happen in the female athletics world. In fact, the only time there is any significant coverage of women’s sporting events is during the Olympics and the World Cup.
This becomes more obvious during March Madness. The men’s and women’s tournaments run side by side yet the men’s tournament receives all of the media attention. In fact, I cannot recall a single time during the tournaments when I turned on ESPN and they were talking about the women’s tournament. For example, Sister Jean and the Loyola men’s basketball team received an extreme amount of media attention and were constantly in the conversation while the Notre Dame women’s basketball team received no attention despite the fact that they beat an undefeated UConn team in the Final Four, and Arike Ogunbowale went on to hit a buzzer beater to win it all. Of course, the Loyola team and their chaplain deserved attention as they were a fantastic Cinderella story, but perhaps some of the time spent covering them could have been better spent on the women’s tournament.
As I am certain most of us remember, Jordan Poole hit a buzzer beater to beat Houston and send Michigan to the Sweet 16. That shot was highly publicized and everyone was talking about it. When Ogunbowale hit a buzzer beater to win it all, I don’t think I even saw a single video of it. This kind of media deficit is crippling to all women’s sports.
Another issue that accompanies the lack of media coverage is that it becomes very difficult to find articles and news about women’s sports. Even if someone is interested in reading articles and news on female athletics it takes at least five to 10 minutes of digging to find something interesting or relevant. For example, women’s sports receive only 4 percent of all sports media coverage and big sources like SportsCenter only devoted 1 percent of their on-air time to women’s athletics. It is very discouraging to many young athletes and sports fans when they have to go digging to find something that interests them.
There is already a deficit between interest in men’s and women’s sports and it certainly isn’t helping when you have to spend a bunch of time looking for something interesting about women’s sports. This lack of representation becomes a huge problem for young female athletes as well. With so little media coverage, young girls struggle to find role models in their various sports. It is important that young athletes have someone they can look up to and relate to who encourages them to keep going and proves to them they can accomplish big things, and because this is so absent for female athletes, it may make it harder for young girls to feel like it’s worth it to continue to pursue their athletic careers. This leads to a higher rate of young girls who stop playing sports, and therefore lose the many benefits that come from playing a sport such as higher self-esteem, positive body image, and lower anxiety levels.
The argument has become that women’s sports don’t have a lot of media coverage because they are not mainstream and popular, but as Cheryl Reeve, head coach of a WNBA team, said, “The more women’s sports are covered, the more popular and mainstream, they will become.” I understand that most media outlets are in it for the money. They want to cover the events that bring them the most profit. However, they appear to be missing out on a huge market here. About half of all athletes are women, which means that sports media is ignoring about half of their potential income.
If they were to cover more female sports, they would make more money while simultaneously building up the public’s interest in female athletics, which would result in more money for them later on. So, if we want to take the fact of pure, unjustified inequality out of it and only consider the financial aspect, it seems as though it would make sense for media outlets to cover women’s sports far more often than they currently do.
All sports were unpopular at one point or another. It all comes down to exposure and marketing. Once women’s sports are given more coverage and the public becomes more exposed to the women’s sports world, these sports will become more popular. When women’s sports become more popular, people will become more educated on the topic. When people become more educated on the topic, the ability to close the pay gap and other inequality is no longer an impossible task, but rather a goal that can be accomplished. When sports media starts to devote more of its time to female athletes the fight for equality will become far less difficult and burdensome.