Women Athletes Continue To Be Ignored By Sports Media

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


It has been 16 years since the US Women’s Soccer team won the 1999 World Cup, 18 years since the WNBA was born and 42 years since Title IX mandated equal opportunities for women’s sports in federally funded schools. Throw in the fact that participation by girls in high school sports increased for the 25th consecutive year in 2012-13 and you would expect the popularity of female sports to be moving into its prime. However, according to new research, media coverage of women’s sports, both professional and amateur, makes up less than 5% of the total saturation of sports programming. 

Even with the popularity of the Olympic games in London and Sochi, coverage of women athletes and sports by the major networks and media outlets dropped off quickly once the closing ceremonies were over. One reason may be that there are so few women sports journalists, with a survey of UK writers reporting only 3% are female.

In a recent study by Dr. Claire Packer of the University of Birmingham, reviewed six national UK newspapers on three weekend days in consecutive years. In 2012 (prior to the London Olympics), out of 876 sports articles, only 39 (4.5%) dealt with the women’s side. However, in 2013 (post Olympics), that number decreased to 2.9% (22 out of 755). Article length was also lacking with only 1.3% of the total space dedicated to women’s sports.

“The gender imbalance in reporting and its potentially negative impact on women's participation in physical activity continues, despite a high profile gender neutral event such as the Olympics,” wrote Dr. Packer. “This is an important concern as the health benefits from increasing physical activity, including an increase in physical and mental well-being, as well as the wider social benefits of participation in organized sports, are not being realized by a significant proportion of our population.”

Dr. Packer believes that if there was more attention paid to women’s sports, it would inspire women to continue an active lifestyle that they once had when they played sports in school. However, studies have shown that 34% of women are physically inactive as compared to 28% of men.

In a very similar report that was published last Fall, University of Huddersfield lecturer Deirdre O'Neill looked at the UK’s seven major newspapers for one full week six months before and after the 2012 London Olympics. In addition, they examined the same papers for a week in 2002 to gauge progress over the last decade. Once again, coverage of women’s sports in 2012 accounted for less than 5% of all sports stories with little change over the last ten years.

“However the results are viewed, coverage of women's sport has not changed significantly in more than a decade," wrote Ms. O’Neill.

Of course, this lack of coverage leads to a downward spiral for women’s sports. With little coverage there is less sponsorship money which keeps team spending down. Without proper programs for development, the quality of athlete development is slower which limits the growth and quality of play. Without a competitive game on the field, coverage will remain low.

To emphasize this issue in a media friendly format, the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, produced a documentary film, “Media Coverage and Female Athletes,” to give a research-based perspective. The full video can be viewed here.

“It is a common argument that nobody is interested in women sports,” said Dr. Nicole LaVoi, Associate Director at the Tucker Center. “Media does not want to cover them because no one is interested, but the more you see something, the more interested you will be. What if we see 50 percent of sports coverage in women’s?”

It is an interesting question similar to those asked when Title IX sought to level the playing field for participation. Now, we need to level it again for awareness and support.

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Feb 18 2015

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