Programming bias keeps women’s hoops invisible

Charles Hallman/MSR News Lea B. Olsen

It’s the same old story when it comes to finding college women’s basketball games on television.

College sports usually are on such traditional channels as CBS, Fox, and ABC, cable outlets such as ESPN, CBSN, FSN, and FX1, and conference-specific channels as BTN, ACCN, and Pac-12. But even with what seems a plethora of choices on any given day, this is only the case with men’s hoops.

The MSR recently completed its unscientific survey, tracking daily “On The Air Today” television listings in the local newspaper’s sports section for 41 days, and logged our findings by gender: Every day there was at least one MBB game to watch but on 20 days not a single WBB scheduled telecast. Only once in our study did WBB games (1) outnumber MBB games (0).

Single-day high: MBB 31, WBB 6. This occurred twice.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” said WBB fan Dana Holtzbert, who keeps a running disparity tally on her Twitter account, focusing only on ESPN. “This doesn’t even factor in CBS Sports, Fox Sports and NBC Sports. Throwing those numbers in would just make it worse.

“Because of this and the lack of women’s sports being discussed on their daily shows, the numbers are disappointing but in no way surprising,” she said.

“It would be great to see more on TV rather than having [to go] streaming,” said Gopher Coach Lindsay Whalen on the inaccessibility of WBB telecasts. 

Sadly too many women’s games are available on web-streaming channels on computers, phones and tablets by subscription only, indicated by “+.”  But MBB games are mostly found on cable and so-called regular television. “There are 10-12 men’s games each night,” complained Whalen.

It’s not about supply and demand, but rather programming bias.

“Charles, it still goes back to ratings,” said Texas A&M WBB Coach Gary Blair. “It goes back to advertising. It’s not equality.”  His nationally ranked Aggies are scheduled once on ESPN+, five times on the SECN+ Network, and nine times on the regular SEC channel. One game was on ESPN on a Sunday night in early December, competing with pro football on another channel.

“Think where we were 10-15 years ago,” recalled Blair. “You’d only see women’s games on ESPN or the NCAA tournament.”

Over a decade later, not much has changed gender-wise. Comparably, the Gopher men’s team’s remaining telecasts: BTN 13 times, ESPN2 once, FS1 twice and once on ESPN2; while their female counterparts were scheduled to be on BTN’s streaming channel 13 times and already made its two BTN scheduled appearances.

“Every televised [WBB] game on BTN can be streamed,” boasted a conference press release, noting that the schedule “has been updated to include eight appearances on the ESPN family of networks.”

 “We haven’t gotten to that point where WBB is accessible,” said veteran FSN Broadcaster Lea B. Olsen. “My hope is that they realize that if they show the games, we’ll watch them. You watch a random men’s game just because it’s on.”

It isn’t that much to ask if only those mostly male sports programmers would listen. Holtzbert summed it up: “Normalize women’s sports on TV and having women’s sports hyped up on TV, radio and podcast sports talk shows.”

Globe-tracking the Lynx

These Lynx players are in overseas action this week: Erica McCall (KSC Szekszard) on Wednesday and Saturday; Temi Fagbenle (Reyer Venezia) and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (Bellona Kayseri) also on Saturday; and Kayla Alexander (Castors Braine) on Sunday.

Alexander (11 points) and Fagbenle (10 points) last week helped their respective clubs to big wins, and Herbert Harrigan grabbed seven rebounds in a five-point victory.