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Less Than 60 Seconds of Airtime for Women's Sports

June 10, 2010

When was the last time you turned on the TV, tuned into a sports or news network and heard some commentary about a male athlete who won MVP, got injured, broke a record, etc?  The answer to this is most likely every day.  Now what about female athletes?  When was the last time you heard anything about a great woman in the WNBA, or a woman in softball who threw a perfect game, or a female swimmer who broke a world record on ESPN? Think back a few days ago when every news network was covering baseballsportscenter_logo star Armando Galarraga’s perfect game, that was taken away from him on an umpire’s error.  You could not turn on a single news channel, let alone sports network without hearing about this every 5 minutes.  While ESPN does fill airtime on its adjunct stations with some women’s sports coverage, there is almost a complete absence of women on its most popular highlight and news show, SportsCenter. Last week, a study released by the University of Southern California entitled, “Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows, 1989-2009” found that sports highlight shows give women’s sports barely 1 ½ percent of airtime.  That means in an hour long show, female athletes get less than 1 minute of coverage. According to the study, before the inaction of Title IX in 1972, 294,000 high school girls played a varsity sport.  In 2009 that number has increased exponentially to 3.1 million girls, and likewise, women’s sports and the number of female athletes across the country are rapidly growing.  So why haven’t we seen a growth of stories on women’s sports?  Something must be done. ESPN argues that they choose what sports, athletes and events to cover according to the favorites among their fan-base. But how would their audience know if they are fans of women’s sports if they are never exposed to them?  These highlight shows set the agenda for viewers, and until they increase their attention towards women’s sports, the audience of women’s sports will remain much smaller than that of men’s sports.  As Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post writes, “Sports highlight producers may be…underestimating the audience. By failing to respond to cultural shifts and narrowing their coverage, they risk boring us. Market forces are one thing; poor editorial choices based in stubborn entrenchment is another. Their only obligation is to seek to expand the sports audience, not contract it by deprivation.”
Tags: Media, Sports