Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Women's Sports on TV

So things have been slow in the world of women's sports of late. We've hit a middle of the summer type of doldrum. (Though I realize exciting events are on the horizon in many women's sports.)
So I went searching for something to blog about this morning and I found a very interesting study just released and co-authored by Michael Messner, one of the leading sports scholars who does work on gender and sports. The study looked at the amount of coverage women's sports gets on television news and shows that it has actually declined over the years. The year 2004 saw the same amount of news coverage as 15 years ago!
First of all--why was this study released about a week ago and I, a fairly vigilant seeker of news on women's sports, had to do a google search to find it? And while the story was reported on two separate sources, neither of them were major news outlets. Seems even news about the news of women's sports can't get any press. Which is interesting given the amount of coverage the White House flip-flop scandal got a couple of weeks ago. MSNBC had a streaming news clip complete with photos of the flip-flops. But is this really coverage of women's sports? This event actually fits with the findings of the study which shows that even though the amount of trivialization of women in sports has declined it still exists. The way the flip-flop incident was covered is a perfect example of this.
And second--while I believe the findings of the study I still cannot fathom how so little progress has been made. ESPN and ESPN2 cover more women's sports now, certainly. Yet their own Sportscenter refuses to talk about them. And the events and athletes that do get covered seem to show up often (relative to the amount of coverage of course). For example, Michelle Wie is often the token female athlete discussed on a show like Cold Pizza. The study showed women's tennis contributes to over 40 percent of the television news coverage. While I love tennis and am glad it is getting its share of tv time, I wonder what it will take for networks to present a more well-rounded sports segment.
About a month ago I had a weekend where I organized my activities around the women's sports being broadcast: there was the Women's College World Series, some LPGA, some WNBA, and I think some tennis too. I remember thinking about how far women's sports had come that a fan of them could spend much of the weekend just watching women's sports. But this study shows that we still have so far to go when, if you don't have the luxury of devoting hours to your television to see the orginal broadcast, you miss it entirely because major networks and cable stations like FoxSports and ESPN will not even show you the highlights.


EBuz said...

Thanks for hunting down the media study and sharing it with your readers!

Lopsided media coverage--both lack of airtime and the trivialized coverage womens sports often receives--only reinforces the hegemonic masculinity of sports and antinormalizes women's participation therein.

In this new Title IX-regulatory era where women have to express an interest in sports before a university has to even out the athletic opportunties it offers among the genders, the media is not just failing to cultivate women's interest in sports, it is actively contributing to its suppression.

ken said...

I always try to scrutinize the chicken/egg situation that is the media's relationship with American society (and a compelling argument can be made for its global relationships as well but in this case I am referring to the American fan's viewing habits). I dislike the automatic "it's the media's fault" reaction because it fails to take into consideration alternative forms of media, etc. But if we believe in the somewhat symbiotic relationship between the media and the public, then in this case the media is at fault. Given the expanding opportunities for women in sports as well as the imprived game/event coverage, I would have to say the ball is firmly in the mainstream media's court (pun intended) to cover it.

Amateur said...

Actually the full study (as opposed to the highlights) is here, and it's very good. In particular there is a nice examination of the chicken/egg question near the end of the report ("Building an audience ..."). There's some other good stuff in here too, thanks for the tip.

As for complaining about more "well-rounded" television coverage (less tennis, more of everything else), that's not really a gender issue, is it? The study doesn't break down men's sports stories by sport, but I bet that the pattern would be very similar -- substitute basketball, baseball, or football for tennis, depending on the time of year.

ken said...

I agree, amateur, that a a breakdown of men's sports would show the pattern you suggest. But I also think lack of well-rounded women's coverage can definitely be a gender a issue especially when you look at the stars. Women's tennis has grown in popularity, in part, because of its sexy stars. One could make a similar argument for golf: Natalie Gulbis has her own reality show and a very Annaesque calendar. How much coverage did women's softball get before Jennie Finch arrived on the scene? It seems the same standards of what to show are not the same in men's and women's sports.
Thanks for the full link to the study. I will definitely check out the last section.