More than twice as many people watched Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki as watched their male counterparts in the 2014 U.S. Open tennis championships.
But that experience remains an outlier in many women’s sports. Many women’s athletics events struggle to get equal TV coverage, and media representations of female sports figures often still focus more on appearance than athleticism, advocates for women athletes say.
“Media coverage in sports for women is not only extremely biased in terms of space dedicated to women sports, but also in terms of how women athletes are presented to the public,” said Michigan State University professor Juan Pescador, a college and professional sports historian and expert in entertainment history. “Sports media consistently sexualize the bodies of female athletes and emphasizes beauty before athletic dexterity. Women athletes are more likely than men to appear in still shots, not action shots.”
The NCAA women’s basketball tournament has struggled to get ratings in early weekends, along with getting attendance to the games. During the 2015 season, the NCAA responded by allowing the top-16 teams in the tournament to host the first weekend of games, hoping more fans would show up and support their teams.
The result of the change was an attendance average of 5,708, more than a 2,400 person increase per contest compared to 2014. That’s still down from the all-time attendance record of 7,966 attendees per contest set in 2003, according to the NCAA.
Based on a study from the University of Southern California in 2014 regarding the amount of television coverage of women’s athletics, only 3.2 percent of network coverage was given to women while only two percent was given by ESPN’s flagship program, SportsCenter.
“I think that diversifying all newsrooms is a good thing and could expand and improve coverage of various things that don’t get covered enough. Communities of color, poor communities, etc.,” said journalist Amanda Ottaway, author of “Rebounders: A Division I Basketball Journey. “Coverage of all these things could be improved and increased by having diverse newsrooms. People high up need to make these decisions by hiring more women.
“Women’s sports don’t have large fan bases generally speaking, but they have loyal fanbases. I think coverage of women’s sports is getting better, but it’s just not as good of quality of coverage. Putting more resources like a huge resource dump into coverage of women’s sports could help. For some reason, there’s a resistance of even trying it.”
Jasmine Hines, a Michigan State women’s basketball player from 2011-2016, said a lack of media coverage of women’s sports hasn’t affected her.
“I play basketball because I love the game and I love competing,” Hines said. “However, I have a lot of friends and family who enjoyed watching my games. It was impossible for them to be at every single one of my games, so it was nice when they could watch them on TV. That would be the only thing.”