What role can and should the media play in women’s sport?
If you start from a – probably unrealistic – premise that the media cover the events of the day in an unbiased manner and then look at the media coverage of women’s sport you might logically conclude women were in a significant minority. Actually this approach would lead you to conclude that women were in fact just 7 per cent of the population because evidence from ‘Women in Sport’ shows that men’s sport coverage (93 per cent) still accounts for the vast majority of sports coverage across all media outlets.
But of course women aren’t in a minority at all in this country – though their levels of participation remain significantly and stubbornly below that of men. So the question is are these two things – low levels of media coverage and low female participation – related?
To some sense this is a chicken and egg question – in order to generate the media coverage you need the participation and to some extent the success of Great Britain athletes and teams. But we also know the media plays a huge role in galvanizing and promoting interest.
Take the example of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The BBC had the TV rights from the Olympics and it is probably fair to say many people thought that the coverage Channel 4 would give to the Paralympics wouldn’t be as extensive or impressive. But as soon as they released the “Meet the Super humans” trailer and rather cheekily said of the Olympics, well that was the warmup now for the main event, everything changed. As a nation we became fascinated in the classification system and we became fans of “the Last Leg” which brought an irreverence and humour to a subject many of us were nervous and scared of for fear of causing offense.
So my point is that sometimes the media does have to lead the way and in doing so generates something which excites and interests us.
Things are changing
Sponsorship and media engagement are often of course linked. Coming back to women’s sport there has been a history of very limited commercial investment. Data from Havas Sports and Entertainment about the UK Sports sponsorship deals registered in The World Sponsorship Monitor in 2013 shows only 0.2 per cent were for women’s sports and only 13 per cent was for mixed sports. Although London 2012 did see spike in the interests of women’s sport – with the money invested going up five fold from 1 million pound to 5 million pounds – when comparisons are made to men’s sport the picture is still bleak.
But the good news here is that things are changing. After years of struggling for recognition, the Women’s FA Cup is to receive sponsorship worth millions of pounds next year with a guarantee of the final at Wembley for the next four years. And there have been others such as the recent partnerships between a South Korean car firm and women’s cricket and a banking group and women’s hockey. Indeed the sponsorship of the women’s Boat Race earlier this year when it moved to the Tideway in London and took place on the same day as the Men’s race was seen as so groundbreaking that Clare Balding missed the Grand National to commentate. Now if the Clare Balding effect isn’t a sign of progress I am not sure what is!
Public appetite is of course important, even if the media cover more women’s sport – do people want to hear or read about it? Coverage of the Women’s World Cup in Canada has given youngsters the opportunity to see high-class competition regularly on our TV screens. Netball is a sport that now has dedicated satellite television coverage of its Superleague and in conscious change to normal practice the Women’s Finals will close out play at this year’s European Hockey Championships instead of the men.
All of these things signal an appreciation of the growing appetite for women’s sport. And – perhaps this is a mark of real progress – the ridiculously popular football video game FIFA will include 12 women’s national teams in its newest version, FIFA 16, due to fan requests.
So yes we need more women playing sport but we also need the media to play their part.
This article is by Emma Boggis, CEO Sport & Recreation UK
Emma Boggis is Sport & Recreation UK’s Chief Executive.
She is responsible for strategic guidance and also ensuring that we are working towards our vision of being at the heart of a world-leading sport and recreation sector.
Before joining the Alliance in 2014, Emma worked in the Cabinet Office, where she was most recently head of the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Unit, set up in 2012 to support Lord Coe in his role as the Prime Minister’s Legacy Ambassador.
Emma Boggis’ previous roles have included Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Madrid.
Given her background she plays a lead role in our engagement with government departments and policy makers.
Her early career started in the British Army where she had operational tours in Northern Ireland and Kosovo.
Emma is a keen sportswoman – with a number of marathons and triathlons under her belt along with a few long distance cycle rides.