F. Patrick Escobar
In the last five years the television coverage of women’s sports has declined. In fact, the percentage of stories and airtime devoted to women’s sports on local news programs is now as low as it was 15 years ago. According to Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlights Shows, 1989 – 2004, a study commissioned by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles (AAF), women’s sports received only 6.3% of the air time in 2004 compared to 1999, when 8.7% of the airtime was devoted to women’s sports. In 1989 and 1993, women’s sports received 5%, and 5.1% of the coverage, respectively.
AAF President Anita L. DeFrantz, commenting on the findings, said, “The continued paucity of women’s stories occurs against the backdrop of significant growth of girls’ and women’s sports nationally and internationally, a development that is simply ignored by television sports news. The willful neglect of women’s sports is an abdication of journalistic responsibility and has the effect of diminishing the significance of women’s sport and hindering its further growth. This inequity is unfair. It is wrong. It can be changed and it must be changed.”
Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Michael A. Messner, Ph.D., University of Southern California, were the co-investigators for the study. Duncan and Messner conducted the three previous AAF studies on television and women’s sport and have published extensively on the topic. The new study addresses both quantitative and qualitative aspects of women’s sports coverage by television sports news and highlights shows.
The study includes an examination of three two-week segments (a total of six weeks) of televised sports news coverage on each of three local (Los Angeles) network affiliates (KNBC, KCBS, and KABC). The study also looked at ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and Fox’s “Southern California Sports Report.”
The study’s major findings include:
Women’s sports were underreported in the six weeks of early evening and late-night television sports news on three network affiliates sampled in the study. Men’s sports received 91.4% of the airtime, women’s sports 6.3%, and gender neutral topics 2.4%.
On Los Angeles network affiliates, men’s sports reports outnumbered women’s sports stories by an 9:1 ratio, Fox’s “Southern California Sports Report” male-to-female ratio was 15:1, and ESPN’s “SportsCenter” ratio was 20:1. The percentage of time devoted to women’s sports was also lower on Fox (3.0%) and on “SportsCenter” (2.1%) compared with the network affiliate news reports (6.3%).
All of the “SportsCenter” programs, all of the Fox programs, and 96.2% of the network affiliate sports news shows in the sample began with a men’s sports topic as the lead story.
Well over half (58%) of the network affiliate news shows included no women’s sports stories, and 48% of the Fox and ESPN highlights shows included no women’s sports stories. Meanwhile, 100% of the 279 news and highlights broadcasts in the sample included coverage of men’s sports.
In 2004, the stories on women’s sports were somewhat more evenly distributed across the week, but 43% of them appeared on expanded-format Saturday and Sunday shows. The 1993 study found that there was almost no network affiliate news coverage of women’s sports on weekdays.
The 2004 study found less frequent trivialization and humorous sexualization of women then previous studies.
Coverage of women’s sports was less varied than men’s. 42.4% of all women’s sports stories in the sample were on professional tennis.
94.4% of the sports news and highlights anchor people were men. No women anchors appeared on any of the three network affiliate news shows. And no women of color news anchors or ancillary reporters appeared in any of the reports in the sample.
The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles is endowed with Southern California’s share of the surplus from the 1984 Olympic Games. The foundation awards grants to youth sports organizations, initiates its own youth sports programs and manages the Paul Ziffren Sports Resource Center Library.