Despite the increased interest in women’s sports today, fewer games are being televised. Broadcast agreements for certain sporting events have withheld coverage of women’s athletics from many American viewers. These same television contracts also created a system where men’s events generate more revenue than women’s athletic tournaments.
It has been proven that there is an audience for women’s sports. When the WNBA television contract was up for renewal back in 2004, it came at a time when viewership numbers were down. And as viewers began to tear their attention away from WNBA games for other sports offerings such as Major League Baseball or NASCAR races, the league was just coming off of a successful ’04 Olympic year in which Women’s basketball brought home gold to the USA.
Yet the league only received a small fraction of what MLB was given by ABC/ESPN. The NBA’s TV deal with ESPN is worth $657 million per year, while the Women’s NBA receives just $12 million annually.
What’s behind this is what Martha Bissen, vice president of marketing for Women Athletes Now calls “unconscious bias”—a form of discrimination that happens when people are more likely to select men than women without even realizing it. “It has nothing specifically to do with intent, but everything connected with impact,” she says. As part of its research, the Tucker Center also looked at five states plus Washington D.C., finding that while news outlets covering state politics devoted 24 percent of their stories to women topics (defined by the center), only 13 percent of all statewide elected officials were women. And women’s sports teams play in just 31 percent of the states.
The good news is that awareness about this media bias has led to action, and that’s continued with the #CoverTheAthletes campaign, inspired by Minnesota United FC soccer star Samantha Johnson. While most professional female athletes are still not getting regular mainstream coverage—even during high-profile championship games—there do seem to be some signs of change. Writer Jessica Luther put it well when she wrote last year on ESPNW: “It’s easy to talk about the importance of covering women fairly without actually doing it but implementing these changes has more tangible benefits for readers than any gala or social media trend can provide.”
As part of its research, the Tucker Center also looked at five states plus Washington D.C., finding that while news outlets covering state politics devoted 24 percent of their stories to women topics (defined by the center), only 13 percent of all statewide elected officials were women. And women’s sports teams play in just 31 percent of the states.
This issue has been going on for decades and will continue if nothing changes. In order for change to happen, there must be support from media platforms such as ESPN for this movement. ESPN the power in deciding how much exposure a sport gets, so if they started to pay more attention to women’s sports it would give them a greater chance at getting coverage. In order for change to happen there needs to be an effort from both media sources and colleges/universities. If these two things come together in society, the exposure given to female athletes will increase which will further support their efforts of growing this industry that is full of passion.