When studying media in an academic setting, there’s a sort of chicken-and-egg paradox around sports coverage. Do great performances attract good media reporting and hype, or does great media coverage build a better, more profitable sports economy? When a sport pulls in massive amounts of revenue, is it a result of the sport itself, or the ability of the media to make it turn a profit? When looking at the current landscape for women’s sports, it becomes clear which end of the equation isn’t balancing out.
Women’s sports today are more varied and more intense than ever before. From world stage sports like soccer and track to growing sports like ultimate frisbee, the landscape for women in athletics is varied, intensely competitive and fun to watch. The entertainment value is there, yet when it comes time to record a highlight reel, the media has the camera pointed in the wrong direction. Women’s athletics deserves reporting that gets the audience involved, creates emotion and shows in its clearest form the hopes of the athletes and the intensity of their achievements. However exciting the sport, the coverage they receive in comparison to their male counterparts is mere crumbs.
Men’s sports reporting is excellent, plain and simple. The media surrounding men’s sports does an exemplary job of highlighting greatness when it comes to the NBA, the NFL, the MLB and the NHL. Games are reported in detail, access to this reporting is easy and high visibility ensures that media created in the world of men’s sports succeeds. In a way, it represents how the chicken and the egg can happen at once: great sports entertain an audience, while good coverage and accessibility make it successful.
On the other hand, if one was searching for a case sample representing the very worst in media — reliant on clickbait, manufactured controversy, over-sexualization and under-coverage — they would have to look no further than the world of women’s sports media. To the outsider such as myself, it seems as though I can read about everything in the women’s sports world except for the sport itself. Articles reporting on Serena Williams seemingly agree that details of her outfit are much more important for the audience to know than anything about her performance. Articles reporting on Caster Semenya would rather elaborate on the intense (and manufactured) debate on the nature of her gender, and not the impressive performance that she can put down on the track. Media outlets seem to collectively agree that women’s sports coverage isn’t worth it, and this represents a travesty for the sports world as a whole. Women’s sports media would rather rely on tropes meant to garner controversy than those genuinely interested in the sport itself.
It’s clear that the media landscape is still largely managed by males, consumed by males and created under the male gaze. This fact is changing, albeit gradually, and a sign of hope is the increasingly tailored nature of internet reporting. As feeds become more personal, the pipeline of sports coverage will no longer be forced under the dictator-like boot of a male manager. Those interested in women’s sports will view them, and those analytics will encourage further, fairer coverage for women’s sports. For us, as consumers, our voices are heard through that with which we engage. Choosing to seek out women’s sports coverage and consciously avoiding the clickbait and manufactured scandal is the very best way for a grassroots movement to increase media visibility for women’s sports.
Don’t allow media outlets to rely on sexualization and controversy to report in women’s sports. Support fair and consistent coverage, because women’s sports are worth it. If we as consumers can be more conscious with our clicks, the sports world can become just that much more equitable, and those awesome women’s sports highlights can finally make their way to center stage.