Women’s sports coverage: ‘broccoli servings’


SOECharlesHallmansquareAccording to Fox Sports, the recent Women’s World Cup title game got boffo ratings. It “exceeded our highest hopes,” claimed network VP Michael Mulvihill.

Why is this so surprising? Because it’s women, not men? Is it that only “once every blue moon”-type events featuring female athletes get high-hopes ratings?

A July 7 espnW.com article by the University of Minnesota Tucker Center — the “women and girls people” — argued against several myths typically associated with women’s sports coverage. Such as because they lack popularity compared to men’s sports, women’s sports are underreported. The Tucker article especially criticized a recent Washington Post article that wrongly “framed” the poor coverage in “a straightforward apples-to-apples comparison.”

More people probably watched the soccer telecast because it was a worldwide event. Some might have tuned in not for the athleticism, but to ogle, as the FIFA’s website seemed to promote in a pre-game article on United States’ Alex Morgan. Instead of featuring her soccer skills, the article slyly noted that the soccer player is “very easy on the eye and good looks to match.”

If women’s soccer can draw record numbers of viewers, why don’t these same fans watch WNBA regular-season games? Are they all only soccer fanatics? Maybe one reason is because they can’t find the games — WNBA telecasts on ESPN cover barely two games a month, or a ratio of one game for every 100 NBA pre-draft, post-draft, pre- and post-summer league, pre- and post-free agent talk, etc.

I’ve yet to see WNBA regular season standings in print any larger than ant-size, and never more prominent than the next-to-last page in the mainstream media sports sections. And W nightly scores on the every-20-minute looping score updates on radio? Forget about it!

“I don’t think we have enough people who care about women’s sports to advocate for [it],” believes Kim Bell of Minneapolis. She told the MSR during a recent Minnesota Lynx game, “I don’t know if we have earned the respect we should have.”

Such respect, we might add, is long overdue and may be even longer yet to come.

Dave Zirin calls this “a distorted marketplace” where “women’s sports…is discussed by anchors with the joy and flair of kids forced to eat their vegetables.”

Lya Vallat
Lya Vallat

“All I ask is more than 20 seconds” for women’s sports highlights on the Big Ten Network (BTN) nightly shows, added Coordinating Producer Lya Vallat, the only female at the network who oversees eight different sports. Vallat told the MSR that she also requested this of her former ESPN employers, but it regularly fell on deaf ears. They seemingly prefer what Zirin calls “the two-minutes-a-night broccoli serving of women’s sports delivered on (ESPN) SportsCenter.”

“We only [got] 30 seconds to promote our product,” recalled Vallat.

Women’s sports storylines are less substantive as writers would rather produce cute-as-a-button-type pieces. They’d rather report on catfights than on Laila Ali or Ronda Rousey title fights. They’d rather point out a female athlete’s fashion sense than a WNBA player’s court sense.

“There are so many great stories” that go untold, noted Vallat.

Kim Bell
Kim Bell

“It’s money and it’s all political,” said Bell.

Things will finally change when people do. Women’s sports coverage will improve when sexist attitudes by decision-makers disappear.

“I’ve been really proud of the network,” concluded Vallat of BTN, “but I’d be more proud if next year I can stand up and say, ‘Hey, we got five minutes every night on the men’s show.”




Information from espnW Dave Zirin’s Edge of Sports and The Post Game.com was used in this report.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.