Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Inequality in sports is a major issue across the board.
One of the biggest gender equality issues in sports is broadcasting and coverage. The most common arguments on why men’s sports get so much more coverage than women’s often are “no one watches women's sports” or “there’s not enough money coming in from women’s sports to make broadcasting worth it.”
In this blog, we’re going to debunk these two arguments and discuss why the demand for women’s sports is there and why it should be addressed.
Fact is: Women’s Sports Aren’t Being Shown
It’s no secret that women’s sports are covered less in the media. In fact, there have been countless studies done on the matter.
This Sports Illustrated article from 2021 covers some of these reports, indicating that 95% of TV coverage in 2019 was focused on men’s sports and only 5.7% of ESPN’s SportsCentre 11 p.m. hour covered women’s sports. They also found a theme in this coverage, in which the segments that featured women athletes were most often “one and done” stories about individual events or athletes, instead of being like the continuous coverage and daily updates from different men’s leagues that takes up most of the other 94.3% of the time.
Additionally, a 2021 Nieman Lab Report pulled research from the past three decades and concluded that 80% of sports television or highlights coverage shows no women’s sports at all.
“No One Watches Women’s Sports”
Let’s start by debunking the argument that “no one watches women’s sports.”
First, it’s from these statistics above that we are able to say that rates between viewership in men's and women’s sports differ since men’s leagues are covered significantly more.
However, when women’s sports are available and accessible, they are not only successful, but they are popular. In the last three years, women’s sports have been breaking attendance records left and right all over the world.
In 2019 alone, over 91 000 people attended a UEFA Women’s Champions League game at Camp Nou in Spain, over 57 000 attended the Women’s World Cup Final at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in France, and over 38 000 people broke the attendance record for the Women’s Super League at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the UK.
In 2020, right before the pandemic shut the world down, over 86 000 people attended the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Melbourne, Australia.
Outside of soccer, over 19 000 people attended the Taylor versus Serrano fight held at NYC’s Madison Square Garden and just recently 4.8 million viewers watched Serena Williams’ final match at the US Open, becoming ESPN’s most-watched tennis match in 43 years. This 4.8 million number beats the Stanley Cup viewership in 2022, which was around 4.6 million. Additionally, and more impressively, at its peak, the match had 6.9 million viewers.
On top of all this, there were record-breaking statistics for the viewing of women’s sports in the first three months of 2022 with over 15.1 million people watching various sporting events. Over 3.54 million viewers watched the women’s gold medal hockey game between Canada and the USA at the Beijing 2022 Olympics. This is the second most watched hockey game in the USA since 2018 (only behind the Stanley Cup title-clinching game five between Tampa Bay and Montreal in 2021) and had higher viewership than any NHL game televised in the USA during the 2021-2022 season.
Beijing 2022 was not the only Olympic Games with more emphasis on women’s sports. Over three-fifths of NBC’s coverage at the 2022 Games was on women's events. In fact, the women’s Olympic coverage has been higher than the men’s at the following games: London 2012, Rio 2016, PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020. Meanwhile, on the Canadian side, four-fifths of the most watched events at the Tokyo 2020 games were women’s. The most-watched was the Canadian’s gold medal soccer final against Sweden, with over 4.4 million Canadians watching.
This shows that when women’s sports are just as present on networks as men’s, they will draw in just as many (if not more) viewers and the networks will be incentivized to cover them.
Broadcasting Will Boost Equality
There are three parts to the achievement of equality in broadcasting and coverage of women’s sports across leagues and around the world.
Simply put, it’s a circulatory system. With more broadcasting and coverage, there is higher viewership and therefore higher incentive for advertisers and investors to invest in the leagues and in the coverage. Therefore, the networks are more incentivised to broadcast the events, and so on.
Jessica Robertson spoke on this never-ending cycle at the Togethxr event in 2021, sharing the following quote:
“If female athletes are only receiving four per cent visibility, four per cent coverage… then it’s incredibly hard to grow the market. It’s incredibly hard to grow fandom, viewership, to literally put bodies in seats. And if you’re not growing the market, then brands and investors see it as a risk to invest in the space. And if there’s no financial investment then, increasingly, media organisations are not going to cover the stories of these women because there’s no ROI for them.”
Basically, in order to start seeing more viewership of women’s sports consistently and across the world, we need to see more investors taking a chance on them! And, as seen in the statistics above, when given a chance to view or attend women’s sports–it happens! People show up and enjoy watching them. Therefore, the more we take a chance on investing and broadcasting them, the more viewership will rise and the more money will be generated.
This will also impact equality of pay in the sports as well, as more viewership and fandom expansion means the more investors are willing to pay and the more female athletes can be paid.
It’s Time to Start
It’s time to start showing women’s sports! With record-breaking viewership and attendance at various events and sky-rocketing interest in women athletes at the Olympic Games, access to women’s sports has become more than just needed—it’s being demanded by sports fans everywhere.
Sports networks around the world need to take a chance on broadcasting women athletes.