Gender Inequality: A Sports Media Perspective on Sports Media

By Meghan O.

Sports are highly valued in the world we live in. In 2014, Forbes claimed that the North American sports industry made over 60 billion dollars and projected it to climb to 73 billion by 2019. This money is made through sports merchandising, sponsors and media coverage. These industries include the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL, all of which are  dominated by a common factor: men. Sports coverage in the media is mainly centered around men rather than women’s participation. This perpetuates the traditional notion that men are strong, athletic and women are not. Studies have shown that females are more likely than males to stop participating in sports as teenagers (Kjartan, 2016). To at least some extent, this can be attributed to the absence of women as role models in sports media. With this being the case, young females are missing out on well-known benefits associated with sports participation: higher self-esteem, positive body image and lower levels of anxiety (Slater et al., 2011).

From my own observations of the media,  the exposure of female athletes in the media improves during events like the Olympic Games and World Cup Soccer. However, these events do not lead to continuous long-term exposure for female athletes. Even with the increased coverage during these times, broadcasters will target women’s appearances or even worse, their male partners. This needs to be improved on by TV companies by taking responsibility for the importance of women’s coverage. These companies should have policies in place to inform their employees of the implications of focusing on only these aspects of women. By overshadowing a woman’s athletic performance with what they are wearing or what hair accessories they are using, it gives the idea that no matter how successful their performance, they are only as good as their outfit. It seems as though no matter how well women perform and provide that “entertainment value”, the media continues to refuse to give them more air time. Male athletes continue to take up most of that time on in sports media. And it would be absurd if anyone were to comment on a male athletes outfit!

Another way to improve women’s representation in sports media is through commercials and sponsorship. There has been some progress in this area, but commercials aired with sports media still remain mainly male. This gives young males role models to look up to and aspire to be like. If young girls had the same amount of athlete role models, they could potentially be more interested in sport and consequently reap its benefits. There are also more ways people working directly in sports media need to improve. TV companies should be focused on supporting both men and women’s participation. It is, however, clear that this media has one thing in interest: money. These companies believe that they are providing for their audience by airing mainly male sporting events. I strongly believe this is a huge mistake. By not providing for the women who do have an interest in watching women’s sport leagues, they are missing out on money that could be made from this kind of coverage. If these TV companies produced a “sister” company for women’s sport coverage, it would benefit them financially, but it would also make strides to positively impact young girls.

References:

Ólafsson, K. (2006) Sports, media and stereotypes – Women and men in sports and media. Akureyri, Centre for Gender Equality.

Lopiano, D. A. (2008). Media coverage of women’s sport is important. Sport Management Resources. N.p., 2008. Web. 22

Slater, A., & Tigerrmann, M. (2011).  Gender differences in adolescent sport participation, teasing, self-objectification and body image concerns.” Journal of Adolescence 34(3), 455-463.

Lamoureux, A. (2012). How the media portrays female athletes. Retrieved from:  https://aimeelamoureux.wordpress.com/

Heitner, D. (2015). Sports industry to reach $73.5 billion by 2019. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2015/10/19/sports-industry-to-reach-73-5-billion-by-2019/#6ea3e9ce1585

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8 responses

  1. Great post Meghan! I definitely agree with you. It’s annoying to turn on any sports broadcast, or sports recap show and have the focus almost solely be on men and mens sports. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching these sports.. but why can’t we have women’s sports broadcasted in the same light? When they are covered, women’s sports seem to be broadcasted like some sort of a joke, such as you said, focusing on what they’re wearing, how they look, sexualizing them or who their partner is. I also like that you pointed out men would never be covered this way, they’re actually taken seriously and therefore their reporting reflects it.

    I definitely agree that we need to have more positive female role models for young girls growing up, and possibly having this contribute to higher levels of female sport participation. It is the responsibility of media outlets and broadcasters to cater to more than the 18-40 male demographic, we obviously know they aren’t the only ones watching sports. If they broadened their audience and covered more of a variety of sports, including women’s sports, they could open to a wider audience; like you said providing a “sister” network of some sort could be a way to do this. As of 2011, North America actually had 5 million more females than males, so why aren’t we accommodating them as much as we are the males when it comes to broadcasting and availability?

    Once again, good job!

    Paige H

  2. I too agree with your blog post, it is unfortunate that the media is limiting female coverage and sponsorship because they are in it for the money. Although bylaws, regulations, policies, etc., are a great first step in starting change, it will not be the solution that gets us to the desired end goal. I am unsure what the whole bigger picture is but I am certain that we vote with our dollars. TV companies and other media sources supply demand, and if there is no demand they will not waste time or money. I think we need to start thinking about how they work and think, and then create the demand to create the supply. Perhaps it is on small solution that could build onto a bigger solution. In the end, change needs to happen, and by recognizing the faults and issues like your blog post does, we are moving in the right direction.

  3. Great post, I agree with your blog! Being a female sports fan can be so frustrating when sports media is male dominated to the point where barely any female coverage happens. Covering more female sports in basketball would inherently provoke more female audiences. Women in sports media are not portrayed fairly as interviewers and commentators focus deviates from the sport and their athleticism. When a women’s appearance is being discussed rather than her athletic ability it takes away from her professionalism and therefore should be looked as a demeaning act. I like that you covered how different it is for men to represented compare to women; it shows how only one gender is truly taken seriously.
    More positive role models in any athletic profession is beneficial for grass roots and adolescent participation. When considering the gender divide in sport it seems even more crucial to have female representation as respectable coverage of women is not yet constant in our society. Society needs to have more demand for female coverage in sports media. The supply will eventually meet the demand; however, sports media currently caters to a male demographic ages 18-40. Without a variety of female sports covered, it is challenging to engage a wider audience of females.

  4. First off, awesome post Megh! Proud of you 😉
    I loved your take on gender equality in sports through the perspective of sports media. I completely agree with every point that you had made regarding women in sports. Growing up I was an avid sports player and loved watching sports. But I found it discouraging only being able to watch men’s basketball or hockey games – besides the olympics of course. The only way that I ever got to experience women in sport was going to watch local high school sports. To this day, even though I have become more savvy with finding female programming – I can list off 10 male athletes for ever 1 female athlete I can recall.
    This post makes me think even more about my blog entry concerning CrossFit and gender equality. CrossFit is truly breaking ‘gender norms’ for sports participation and the norms of sports programming/promotion. Equal numbers of female and males come to compete at the games, interview questions are based solely on performance for both genders, commentators/coaches/judges/media teams are well mixed and air time is even split between the men and women. I can list even amounts – actually if not more, women than men in CrossFit due to the promotion, availability and celebration of their competitions!
    In respect to clothing, the CrossFit games outfit all their athletes – men and women. Both genders are given a wide range of uniforms to choose from based on preference… In say, volleyball – women are made to wear spandex… But at the games, women are given the choice of leggings, shorts, spandex, sports bra, tank top, t-shirt or long sleeve. Perhaps due to the provided gear the interview questions are steered away from wardrobe – but then again, outside of the games during every day promotions/interviews/videos there is focus on more what the women’s bodies can do, not what the body is wearing or looks like – it’s ability over aesthetic.
    I feel that if more companies took CrossFit’s approach to coverage and promotion, they would bring in that much more money, like Meghan has mentioned, and help young females in sport have people to look up to!
    I wish CF had been around when I was younger so that instead of having to watch and idolize men in sport I could have had a female role model!

    Kelsie P.

  5. Great post Meg!
    Growing up, I was heavily involved in figure skating and soccer. When you are young and in sports, you always want to have a role model to look up to and aspire to be. Because figure skating is more a female dominated sport, I think it was easier to chose a role model. Compared to other female sporting events, figure skating competitions get a decent amount of TV coverage so it was easy for me to watch and want to be like the skaters I saw on TV. Finding a role model for soccer was completely different. I didn’t know one big female soccer player name that I could look up to. I used to say that Mia Hamm was my favorite soccer player when I was younger. Sadly though, I had just known her name through research of soccer players on the internet. In reality I had never once watched her play in a game on TV or seen a highlight reel of her. When I was younger I didn’t see this as a gender injustice that female sporting events are less televised. If female sporting event were more televised, I believe that more females would participate in sport and like you said in your post would reap its benefits.
    Amanda K

  6. Great post Meghan! I completely agree with what you’re saying. The media does largely neglect female sport, and when you look at the comparison between male and female coverage, the gap is overwhelming. The issue surrounding clothing and actual sporting success has also become a problem for women. So much of the media now judges women on their performances due to how they look, if a woman performs brilliantly, it is their talent shining through, but if they go through a rough patch, questions will be asked about what they do off the field, not that they may be having a rough run of form, something that happens to every athlete in the world. This kind of reporting would only ever effect male athletes if they were known to have off the pitch issues, it would never happen on a regular basis like it does to the top female athletes. It is vital that women get more media time based off of their performances so that they can bring in more revenue and sponsorship for the sport, and for themselves. As you said, it is vital that this happens so to introduce sports to young girls, by doing this it will only make the situation better for the future of female sports.

  7. Great post Meghan! I completely agree with your blog post. The media’s representation is very biased in how female athletes are discussed. I also think an added perspective may be to have more female broadcasters in order to demonstrate that there is an interest from women and girls in sport. Although this may perpetuate the focus on women’s appearance rather than what she has to say or her athleticism.
    I really liked your point about having more female sports being televised as it would give the opportunity for young girls to have athletes to look up to. I think having a role model in the same way that young boys do with male athletes, like you said will keep girls interested and continuing on with sport through their teen years and beyond.
    Marie O.

  8. I couldn’t agree more meghan. There are millions of women out there like myself who enjoy sports just as much or even more than any man out there. Women with voices like yours should strive to make a change for all of us. There is definitely huge opportunities for the media to begin targeting women and benefit from it.

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