THE ATTACK: Uncovering Myths About Women’s Sports

By ALEXANDRA SMITH

Contributing Writer

Women and sports are two things in which people have a lot of opinions and maybe not so much knowledge. The first myth that I am dispelling is the complaint that women’s sports don’t get enough media coverage. 

I’m not saying that women’s sports have equal coverage on ESPN or any of the major networks. However, I am saying that the coverage that they do receive is accurate for the market. What many fail to realize is that for media outlets, decisions about what to cover are market-driven.

While one study concluded that coverage of women’s sports is “dismally low,” it’s far from clear that media coverage of women’s sports doesn’t meet demand for it. 

In tennis and figure skating, women’s championships are often more popular among U.S. sports fans than men’s, and coverage of those events correlates. The U.S. Open, for example, moved its women’s final to prime time in 2001 to capture that interest and was rewarded with the top-rated show that night, as 22.7 million viewers tuned in to watch Venus Williams defeat her younger sister, Serena, according to the Washington Post.

But ratings for women’s team sports, whether the WNBA, college basketball or soccer, don’t come close to those of the NBA, men’s college hoops or the behemoth NFL. The NBA’s top-rated broadcast of 2014 (Finals Game 5) drew 18 million viewers, according to ESPN. The WNBA’s most-watched game (Game 2, West Finals) had less than five percent of that audience on the same network, 828,000 viewers. 

The 2015 NCAA men’s basketball championship game attracted 28.3 million viewers to the CBS broadcast, according to the NCAA. The following night, the women’s championship drew just over 10 percent of that audience, 3.1 million viewers, on ESPN, according to the NCAA website. 

While women and sports fans alike clamor for more coverage on major networks, the ratings for these broadcasts would be low. The industry won’t change until the viewing habits of the audience changes, and the media is forced to change what gets covered.