Women underrepresented in sports media

By pleclown (Lillehammer 2016 Hockey skills women) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Theresa Schafzah by pleclown (Lillehammer 2016 Hockey skills women)


In the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, there has been great progress in women’s equality. We can vote. We can be heads of households, and we’ve learned that the term “like a girl,” can be discouraging and damaging to a young woman’s self-esteem.

However, when it comes to the media coverage of sports, women are still not getting the coverage they deserve. According to a study conducted by graduate students at Syracuse University, women are underrepresented in sports media, which effects their careers in the long term.

To conduct the study, the researchers interviewed 21 female college athletes:

  • 7 field hockey
  •  4 ice hockey
  • 2 basketball
  • 2 volleyball
  •  3 softball
  • 2  gymnastics
  • 1 soccer

“We started the interview with some easy questions about how they started to play the sports, and then we asked questions about how their sports career achievement was usually reported by the sports media, what observation they have regarding women’s sports media and portrayal of female athletes, and how that affects their own career choice,” the study read.

Once all of the interviews were conducted and analyzed, several themes began to emerge.

Theme 1: Little or biased coverage of women’s sports in media

“All interviewees mentioned that they find it disappointing that there isn’t a lot of coverage of women’s sports in the mainstream media and this affects the whole sports world. They felt neglected. Especially, interviewees who are born outside of America and play in the U.S. college teams mentioned that they find it hard that their parents can’t watch it at home, sometimes not even digital,” the study read.

“I feel like we are very underrepresented, a lot of the media comes to cover men’s division one sports and men’s top 10 and stuff like that. And that can be quite disappointing at some times,” said one of the interviewees.

The authors added that in general, “women’s sports only get 2-4 percent  of the media coverage, while 40 percent of the athletes in the U.S. are female athletes.”

Theme 2: Women’s sports are confined to university/college level

“Most of the interviewees pointed out that only when they have success will they have some coverage, like winning a game during a major event, and it doesn’t last long enough for people to become familiar with the sport and cultivates further interests among the audiences,” the study read.

“During the Olympic games the national team will be covered of course, but after that, it’s gone,”one of the gymnasts said in her interview.

One of the interviewees also added that even though they did pretty well for the season, the local news only covered them for once or twice while the local news cover university men’s football team all the time, even though “they did barely as well.”

Theme 3: Female athletes as role models

“Another common theme that showed up after analyzing the interviews is the limited choice of role models for female athletes at a college level. Names such as Ronda Rousey and Serena Williams were mentioned a couple of times. One of the criterias of selection is the effort these athletes make in guaranteeing a fair portrayal by breaking down the gender barrier. These female athletes are media savvy, they refused to answer questions that renders them feminine and they refused to conform to the traditional feminine traits as well. Ronda Rousey was considered among our interviewees as the paradigm of how a female athlete could compete at the same level as men,” the study read.

One interviewee said, “She (Ronda Rousey) is extremely intense and I think she would hold her own against probably a lot of guys and I think that is amazing, something that you don’t really see very often.”

The researchers concluded that:

“From the female college athletes’ point of view, the reason the media doesn’t cover female sports is because the media’s perception of female sports is that there’s little interest in female athletes competing on a high level. But what the media doesn’t know is that, there is an enormous untapped market of people who are desperately interested in women’s sports. Because the media thinks there is no interest from viewers or sport fans, they automatically don’t cover women’s sports (2-4% of the sports coverage in the U.S.). Research over the past twenty years shows that the coverage of women’s sports on television over the past twenty years declined while women’s sports has gained popularity within that same timeframe. This could also be turned around, if there is a lack of media coverage, there won’t be a creation of a fan base.

Moreover, media is a very big source of money for sport leagues. Most leagues are created because there is a lot of money in that sport and therefore the influential people in that market are able to pay clubs to play in a new league. But without the money no new leagues are being created. As a result, there are simply no leagues to play in as a professional female athlete after university. Most of the interviewees pointed out that they are beyond disappointed and sad that there is nothing left for them after graduation.”

So, Renaissance Women, we still have a long way to go. But, at least we know folks out there are studying this and bringing it to our attention. Because, with information like this we can bring about change. 

Feature image: By pleclown (Lillehammer 2016 Hockey skills women) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons