Fall is perhaps the most exciting season in American sports. The Texas Rangers won their first World Series in franchise history, and the NFL, college football, NBA and NHL are in full swing. But did you know that the Las Vegas Aces became the first WNBA team in 21 years to win back-to-back titles last month, or that this year’s thrilling National Women’s Soccer League championship capped the career of all-time great times Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger?
As a sports fan, I think it’s a shame that more people don’t fully appreciate the enthusiasm that surrounds women’s sports today. And it’s not just because I think female athletes deserve more coverage, but also because women’s sports have never been more exhilarating, more revolutionary, and more culturally defining. And many fans, current and potential, are missing out.
One explanation put forward for why these gifted female athletes do not receive greater visibility and airtime on national sports talk shows is that women’s sports attract lower television audiences overall than men’s sports. .
But it’s difficult for women’s leagues to build a larger audience without investing more in showcasing their games and athletes.
“The major sports networks and shows are all run by similar minds and role models who don’t necessarily look like the WNBA demographic, or female basketball players in general,” says filmmaker Melanie Page. She is the architect of the documentary series “Can’t Retire From This,” which was recently screened at Morgan State University and highlights the rich history of gifted female players in the DC-Maryland-Virginia region.
“If the most powerful decision-makers cannot identify themselves… it is not as easy for them to make the decision to defend and promote” women’s sport, she adds.
This is particularly frustrating at a time when women’s sport is demonstrating its ability to attract a wider audience. Examples include this year’s NCAA Women’s Final Four championship game, which more than doubled its viewership from last year and drew higher audiences than any regular season game in the NBA on ESPN. Then there’s the record-breaking attendance at the 2022 Women’s Soccer EURO and the University of Nebraska volleyball team’s world-record-breaking August competition against the University of Nebraska-Omaha attendance for a women’s sporting event with 92,003 supporters.
Female athletes have always proven that if they are put forward, they more often than not succeed. Exciting young stars such as tennis phenom Coco Gauff (whose US Open final earned higher ratings in the United States than the men’s final featuring legend Novak Djokovic), college hoops sensation Caitlin Clark and 20-year-old golf virtuoso Rose Zhang are captivating fans around the world. the globe.
Women are also having a greater impact off the court, with college athletes such as basketball star Angel Reese (2.6 million Instagram followers) and gymnast Olivia Dunne (4.4 million followers). followers on Instagram) appearing in the top 10 in terms of name, image and likeness. rankings.
Reese, LSU’s NCAA champion, who was born in Randallstown and was a high school All-American at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, attracted attention rivaling that of top competitors in men’s college basketball or football. Going by the nickname “Bayou Barbie”, she has endorsement deals with Outback Steakhouse, Amazon and Reebok, among others. She is one of the best interview subjects in sports.
“I talk trash,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America” after her Tigers won the NCAA tournament. “So that’s exactly who I am, and it’s very passionate of me. I’m from Baltimore, so that’s kind of what we do.
His absences from recent games have sparked media speculation about his status with the team. But in general, sports shows spend less time talking about female sports stars than their male counterparts. Women’s games don’t get the same level of attention and analysis, and sexism plays a role. Some of the men who work as network analysts and executives believe that women’s leagues and skills are automatically inferior. But the more those who doubt women’s skills are exposed to real-life athletes and games, the less likely they are to believe it.
“For me, it’s about access and education to create a conversation that leads to change in these sports networks and talk shows to add women’s basketball into their cycle of topics and coverage,” explains Page. “We’ve seen audience growth move exponentially in a positive direction with women’s basketball over the past two years, and it will only grow if these networks create a consistent space for the stories of these women be told.”
Page’s docuseries includes such DMV stars as former WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, ESPN basketball analyst Monica McNutt and Baltimore’s Briana Hutchen, a former St. Frances Academy star .
Female athletes have earned the right to greater national coverage and visibility, and their contributions could bring a profitable new demographic to national networks. What do networks have to lose by inserting more women’s actions into their comments? They can still cover the NBA, NFL and MLB extensively – and as a fan, I’ll be there to watch. But that doesn’t mean they can’t simultaneously give women’s sports more screen time on talk shows than a post-credit scene in a Marvel movie.
Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Carol Stiff is a leading voice on these issues. She founded the Women’s Sports Network to help shine a spotlight on female athletes.
“These stories about these athletes and these leagues need to be told,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to afford NCAA or WNBA rights. …but what we can do is tell the stories of the athletes who will compete in these games.
Coverage of women’s sports has come a long way since the days when I could watch months of shows in which the only female athletes worth mentioning were Serena and Venus Williams. I couldn’t be happier about this. But with female stars providing so much thrilling action in every sport women play, it’s time for commentators and executives to understand what’s obvious to fans like me:
Women’s sport is not just a moment. They have a movement. I was reminded of this when I tried to buy New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu’s signature shoe on the day it launched in September.
They were already sold out in my size.
Skye Merida is the social media manager for the upcoming women’s basketball documentary series, “Can’t Retire From This.”