Media Coverage for Women's Sport
It’s Different for Girls is an aggregated blog which brings the latest news reports and developments focusing primarily on inequality in women’s sport.
My interest in this area stems from my MA thesis for a masters in journalism and communications which was entitled – It’s Different for Girls: Gender Inequality in National Print Media Sports Coverage. Below is “Chapter 6 – Conclusion” from my thesis.
This thesis began by discussing the problem of low coverage for female sports by the national print media in Ireland. Figures from recent studies done by the Dublin Sports and Recreation Council and the influence of the media were discussed. However despite the importance the media plays in influencing cultural and social norms no reasons were offered by these studies as to why women receive substantially less coverage than men in the sports pages of newspapers. In an attempt to answer this question the thesis began to design a framework for this research. The first step in designing such a framework was the undertaking of a comprehensive review of literature on the topic. This extensive review allowed the thesis to develop a better understanding of the effects low media coverage has on female sports. Furthermore, it helped in the formation of the thesis’s content analysis and the design of relevant questions for interviews with female athletes, sports journalists and members of female sporting bodies which were Phase Two, Three and Four of the research design respectively. Its evaluation came to a successful conclusion showing that there is a significant difference in sports coverage given to females compared to males, reinforcing the negative effects low coverage has on female sports and highlighting reasons behind the level of low coverage by national newspapers.
Key Findings for the Research Questions
The thesis’s content analysis highlighted the huge difference between the coverage given to female sports in comparison to male sports. The thesis’s content analysis took place for an eight week period between January and March 2012 during which the coverage given to women’s and men’s football, rugby, soccer and camogie (hurling) were studied. The thesis’s content analysis found that out of the 4,759 articles dedicated to these sports over this period only sixty-six were about female sports. This figure asserts that female sports receive 1.3% of the sports coverage in the national print media during the period in question. Furthermore the thesis found that articles about male sports were on average twice as long as those written about female sports. The thesis’s content analysis found that female sports were not likely to be covered alongside their male counterparts and articles were most likely to be located at the end of the sports section with articles on, for example, cycling, cricket, boxing or basketball. All these results highlighted the inequality female sports are subjected to in the sports pages of newspapers and clearly showed that the female equivalents are not held in the same value or respect as the male equivalents of these sports.
Chapter Two showed that the result of low media coverage of female sports had many negative impacts on the sports namely; negative stereotypes, lack of female role models and low participation rates of females in sport. The thesis’s research further highlighted this problem through interviews with five current female athletes. During these interviews the thesis learned that female athletes take up sport after being influenced by male sports and not female sports due to the lack of media coverage of female sports. It was also felt that cultural issues played a role such as young girls looking up to pop stars rather than sport stars and being encouraged to like fashion rather than sport. It was also found that because of the negative stereotyping of women who play sports all athletes admitted to being called a tomboy and other slurs at some stage in their life. However, the stereotypes went both ways and cultural effects and power of the media were even more evident when athletes admitted finding men who played hockey “odd” and “gay” (Appendix C & D). This thesis also learned that females are not pushed in physical education at secondary schools. If they do not show an interest they are left to their own devices. Girls often do not want to show an interest in sport for fear of embarrassing themselves in front of boys. Some mixed secondary schools now segregate their PE classes. Also girls are extremely influenced by their peers and if it is seen as inappropriate behaviour to partake actively and enthusiastically in sport then they will not. Regarding media coverage this thesis learned from its interviews with athletes that theyfelt they were not been targeted by sports journalists with articles which interest them. They also felt that when they did receive coverage it was often inaccurate and substantially minor in comparison to even to lowest level of men’s sports. These athletes also believed that despite what the journalists thought there was a public appetite for more coverage of women’s sport.
As the interviews with the sports journalists showed, media judges public interest of a sport by the number of people which attend these games. Hence, the media interpret the low crowds at female sports as a lack of interest in these sports by the public and therefore do not cover them in the media. Journalist Pat Nolan cited that events were not based on gender but always on attendance levels (Appendix F). However this thesis’s content analysis found during the period of research that the men’s Railway Cup which had crowds of less than 500 received articles which were almost double in length to all the other articles about football on that day. This comes despite the crowds at these games being roughly the same size of the average crowd at a Bus Eireann Women’s National League soccer match according to FAI Communications Executive Derek Kinnevey (Appendix K). This raises doubts over whether an increase in attendances at female sporting events would lead to greater coverage. Journalists Fintan O’Toole and Peter Sweeney were evasive when asked if this would be the case and both stated later on that men deserved more coverage and expressed fear that if women received more coverage readership could drop off due a drop in interest (Appendix I & J). However it was also revealed that both view this public interest to mean male interest. They do not visualise women when they think of who might read their sports pages. Public interest was a key reason cited for low coverage of female sports but as mentioned above it was revealedthat the journalists visualised this public interest to be male interest thus reinforcing the literature review’s finding that sport is seen as a traditional and cultural male dominion. Public interest also reflected the business aspect of newspapers and their need to make money which lead to the conclusion that ultimately female athletes and female sporting bodies efforts to gain and attract higher coverage are effectively impotent as it ultimately comes down to what the editors feel will maintain and even increase readership to turn profit. A lack of sponsorship of female events was also given as a reason for low coverage despite President of the Ladies Football Association Pat Quill citing numerous big name sponsors such as TG4, VHI, Bord Gais and Tesco (Appendix L). The Irish Daily Star was also the main sponsor of the camogie National League but this thesis found through its content analysis that considering its role as a large media outlet and as a sponsor that its coverage ofcamogie was not sufficient. Its coverage was largely made up of one article roundups summarising between three and four divisions of matches. This thesis found that the athletes interviewed also felt The Irish Daily Star’s coverage was insufficient.
Significant Overall Conclusions
The gap between coverage of female sports and male sports is phenomenal with female sports receiving only 1.3% of articles. This shows the lack of respect given to female sports. This sole statistic proves that media can be held responsible, due to their influential role on society, for the negative perceptions that haunt female sports such as incompetency on the field and negative stereotypes. With only 1.3% articles on female sports it also proves that the media can be held responsible for the lack of female role models and also why it is seen as more acceptable for boys to partake in sports rather than girls.
As the interviews with the sports journalists showed, media judges public interest of a sport by the number of people which attend these games. Hence, the media interpret the low crowds at female sports as a lack of interest in these sports by the public and therefore do not cover them in the media. This leaves the development of female sports trapped in a vicious cycle because it is quite hard to raise public interest and attendances in something without the help of the influential media. The second reason, ties in with the first. Newspapers are a business and all businesses want to make money. Because of their high attendances, male sports have massive sponsorship which makes it lucrative for newspapers to cover. Without sponsorship female sports are again not attractive to cover for newspapers. But again, it is very difficult for female sports to attract big sponsorship deals without media attention and coverage.
Also, as the media blame the lack of public interest for the reason behind low coverage it also shows that the media believes the public think female sports are incompetent in comparison to male sports. Unless the media change their mind-set and see their product as more than a business then it is unlikely coverage of female sports will increase significantly. As of now the media are saying everyone else has to change first. The sports have to raise their attendances. The public have to show more of an interest. Businesses have to start giving female sports bigger sponsorship deals. It is the thesis’s finding that the media has to change first. They have the power to influence people’s views and opinions. Interest in female sports could change if the media wanted it to change. For now it seems content to sit idle.
Journalists Damian Lawler and Pat Nolan both made suggestions on ways female sports could try and improve their level of media coverage. Lawler suggested following the lead of rugby and the Heineken Cup by looking into branding. Nolan suggested following the lead of tennis and aligning men’s and women’s competitions together at the same venues.
As the main excuse used by sports journalists for the low coverage dedicated to female sports in the national print media was a lack of interest by the general public, this thesis would recommend that a survey or focus groups be conducted to gauge the public views on the topic. For example, a survey could find out if females were to receive more coverage in the sports section would readers continue to buy that newspaper?
This thesis would also recommend a survey of females in secondary schools which would gauge their views on the issues raised during this thesis. This thesis tried to get in contact with PROs of the sports studied but was only able to reach two of the sporting bodies; the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI). The Camogie Association and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) were not contactable for interviews after much trying. For a future reference, this thesis would recommend getting these organisations views on the topic. A lot of emphasis was put forward by the sports journalists that they cover camogie and ladies football well for the All-Ireland final.
This thesis would recommend doing a content analysis study of the pre and post coverage given to camogie and ladies football in comparison to the men’s All-Irelands starting from the conclusion of the respective semi-finals.
This thesis would recommend researching the gender of crowds at sporting events. Many of the journalists interviewed suggested that men were more interested in sport and made up the majority of the crowd at sporting events. This thesis would suggest counting the number of women versus men through the gates at sporting events to test whether this statement has any weight in it. This statement was used by journalists for focusing more on men’s sport than women’s sport in their coverage.
This study has provided and generated important insights into some of the issues facing female sports regarding media coverage. Suggestions for further research are now outlined:
This thesis finds that for further research the coverage dedicated to masculine female sports against coverage given to feminine female sports could be examined. This would investigate whether sports such as women’s rugby, women’s soccer, ladies football and camogie are discriminated against in comparison to more feminine sports such as athletics, swimming and tennis. This would outline whether or not masculine female sports are neglected because of their traditional and cultural links to men.
This thesis believes that masculine female sports such as women’s rugby, women’s soccer, ladies football and camogie could also be studied in comparison to other male sports such as golf, basketball, boxing, motorsport and cricket. This would investigate whether female sports are neglected as a whole because they are female or are all sports outside of the “Big Four” (gaelic football, hurling, rugby and soccer) subjected to low media coverage.
This thesis believes a similar study could be carried out with the emphasis on radio and television broadcasting to see if the low coverage of female sports goes across all fields of the media and if so is it to the same extent.
In this chapter, the thesis addressed the research questions set out in Chapter One and emphasised the key findings emerging from this research project. Conclusions, recommendations and direction for future research were also discussed.