If I asked you to think of an athlete, who would you photograph first?
A horse or a dog?
What we think of sport is at least partially shaped by the media that covers sport. Once upon a time, sports fans mostly inquired about a newspaper delivered to their homes or purchased from a newsstand. Today, sports news is mostly found online. According to eBizMBA, here are the eight most popular sports websites:
The organization of these sites has obvious similarities. Each has a home page that reports the main current stories in sport. Then, each site has additional pages dedicated to specific sports and topics.
For example, NBC Sports has pages dedicated to NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, Soccer, College Football, NASCAR, Olympics, National Dog Show, Golf, Motorsports, Cycling , men’s college basketball, horses, rugby, sailing, tennis, boxing, mixed martial arts and an outdoor page that seems primarily devoted to fishing.
This may sound like a pretty comprehensive list of sports. NBC not only covers major pro and college sports, it even dedicates coverage to horses, dogs and fish! It just seems that one thing is missing.
Of course, women are mentioned when it comes to the Olympics and tennis. But NBC Sports doesn’t have a single page dedicated to women and sports. There is no dedicated page for women’s college basketball or the WNBA. No page for varsity softball. On the golf page – which is linked to NBC’s Golf Channel – there is a lot of coverage from the PGA and Tiger Woods but not much from the LPGA (although the Golf Channel definitely covers the LPGA).
So yes, it looks like NBC Sports is paying more attention to animals than to women.
This lack of coverage suggests that women don’t really exercise. However, it is reported that in 2015-16, 3.3 million girls participated in high school sports and 42% of all high school athletes were girls. The NCAA also reported for 2014-15 that 212,474 women participated in varsity sports and that women made up 43% of all varsity athletes.
Additionally, women in the United States now have professional leagues in sports such as basketball (WNBA), softball (National Pro Fastpitch), football (National Women’s Soccer League), and hockey (National Women’s Hockey League). . And women also compete professionally in golf, tennis and mixed martial arts (among other sports!).
But even though NBC Sports does air some of this on NBC and its affiliates, NBCSports.com does not have pages dedicated to women’s sports.
NBC isn’t alone either. I went through the page listings for each of the top eight sports sites. Here is what I found:
- All eight have pages dedicated to the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college football, soccer, and golf. So these are clearly the most popular sports covered.
- Seven sites have additional pages dedicated to boxing, mixed martial arts and tennis while six sites have pages dedicated to men’s college basketball and NASCAR.
- Other popular sports include the Olympics (5 pages), Formula 1 racing (4 pages), horse racing (4 pages), professional wrestling (4 pages) and cycling (3 pages).
When it comes to women’s sport, however, we don’t see much.
Like NBC Sports, four other sites – Fox Sports, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated, and SB Nation – don’t have a single page dedicated to a women’s sports league or women’s sport (of course, Sports Illustrated continues to have a dedicated page. to women in swimsuits – but this is obviously not a sport).
The other three sites seem to be doing a bit more. Bleacher Report has a page dedicated to the United States National Women’s Football Team. Yahoo! Sports has separate pages for College Women’s Basketball and the WNBA. But the coverage of Yahoo! Sport is a bit lacking. For example, the women’s college basketball stats site reports a series of links that are supposed to take you to stats but (at least when I clicked on them) just take you back to the main Yahoo! Sports site. Statistics for the WNBA could be found on Yahoo! Sport, but only for the 2017 season and only for teams. The links for the leader list didn’t seem to do anything (again, when I clicked on it).
Like Yahoo! Sports, ESPN appears to have separate pages for College Women’s Basketball and the WNBA. But the two links lead to a page dedicated to women’s basketball. ESPN has been reporting stats for every WNBA team since 2007. But for women’s college stats, it appears only leaders are being reported. At least, unlike what we see at Yahoo! Sports – the links at ESPN for executives seem to be working.
Compared to what we see for men’s sports, statistics for women’s sports are clearly lacking. For example, let’s say you wanted to know who was the 10th leading scorer on the Southern Utah University men’s basketball team in 2014-15? You can go to the ESPN.com website and learn that Christian Thompson – one of my alumni – scored 3.3 points per game for the Thunderbirds that season. But imagine you wanted to see statistics for the women playing at the University of Connecticut – the number one team in college women’s basketball – today? The ESPN site for women UConn does not have a link to individual player stats. Yes, you can learn more about SUU men’s basketball in the past than you can learn more about UConn women today.
A similar story can be told about college baseball and softball. ESPN broadcast the decisive match of the 2017 Men’s College World Series. ESPN.com also reported the full box score for this game. But although ESPN also broadcast the Women’s College World Series, ESPN.com does not report box scores for women’s softball. It should be noted that the Women’s College World Series received higher ratings (compared to men) in 2015. ESPN.com, however, does not cover the two events in the same way.
At least compared to its competition, ESPN is putting more effort into covering women’s sports. Unlike other sites, ESPN has an entire affiliate site – ESPNW – dedicated to women’s sports. ESPNW is a little difficult to locate on the main page of ESPN.com. Additionally, ESPNW doesn’t report much when it comes to player stats. But it consistently offers stories about women’s sport, which other sites can’t seem to offer.
When we take a look at all of these eight sites, we find that combined (by my calculations) there are 132 pages dedicated to specific sports and / or leagues. Of these, only four – or only 3% – are dedicated to women’s sports. This is consistent with what has been reported in the academic literature. Cheryl Cooky and her co-authors reported in 2015 that ESPN in 2014 devoted only 3.2% of its coverage on ESPN SportsCenter to women’s sports.
Why are men’s sports so covered? You could argue that this reflects demand. But if pages are created in response to demand, why would NBC Sports devote a page to dog shows or fishing? Or why would ESPN devote a page to the X-Games?
Maybe pages are created in response to which stations are broadcasting? Well, if that’s the case, we should see more pages dedicated to women’s sports since ESPN, NBC, CBS, and Fox Sports all broadcast women’s sports. But again, only ESPN has a dedicated women’s sports page, and ESPN’s coverage of women’s sports is not equivalent to what it offers for men’s sports.
So why aren’t women’s sports getting more coverage? Perhaps the answer lies in who decides what is covered. The Women’s Media Center reports that only 11% of written sports reports are from women. Additionally, that same report states that only 9.5% of sports writers are female. In short, sports stories are mostly written by men, and men mostly decide what is covered.
Considering these numbers, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that while girls and women make up over 40% of athletes in high school and college, many major sports sites don’t have pages. dedicated to women’s sports. Perhaps in the future more women will not only play sports, but will also be allowed to participate in sports media. And maybe when that happens we’ll see more pages devoted to sports involving women than we see regarding horses, dogs, and fish.