The dismal double standard of World Cup coverage
“Siri, when is the next Women’s World Cup game?”
“Sorry, I don’t know about Women’s World Cup.”
Her matter-of-fact response would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad. Finding information about the Women’s World Cup has been exceedingly difficult, at least compared to the onslaught of readily accessible coverage that the World Cup (not the Men’s World Cup, mind you), typically receives.
There are no auto-populated Google results for the match schedule. No CNN breaking news alerts for game results. Fox Sports, which is providing coverage of the tournament, didn’t create a bracket for fans. Even poor Siri is lost.
The message is loud and clear: Women’s sports aren’t deemed as important.
A recent survey of local broadcast affiliates by the University of Southern California revealed that television news coverage of women’s sports has dropped considerably in the past 25 years. In 1989, three LA affiliates included in the study dedicated just 5 percent of their coverage to women’s sports. That number dipped to a dismal 3.2 percent in 2014.
The disparity of coverage isn’t just on TV. Several broadcast outlets, including Fox and ESPN, created digital interactive brackets for the 2014 men’s World Cup. Neither broadcaster is offering a similar experience for fans following the Women’s World Cup, as Anna Clark pointed out in the Columbia Journalism Review. Poynter’s Kristen Hare noticed a dearth of front-page newspaper placement – in the U.S. and elsewhere – following matches throughout the week. And more often than not, the coverage that does exist is relegated to places like espnW, ESPN’s niche site for women’s sports.
UPDATE: An ESPN spokesperson contacted me with this note — "While espnW is driving the coverage in a combined effort with ESPNFC and ESPN.com, WWC is featured on the home page of ESPN.com and ESPNFC daily. We are maximizing the presentation across all of our platforms."
There’s a lack of outcry in the media over the fact that the women are playing on artificial turf, which tears up players’ legs and increases the chance of serious injuries. Few outlets have pointed out the massive gender gap in players' salaries (though The Atlantic published a great article on this issue). There’s even relatively little reporting out there on Hope Solo’s domestic violence charges, at least compared to similar incidents in the NFL.
The U.S. women’s soccer team is more than deserving of national attention. They won the Cup in 1991 and 1999, have four Olympic gold medals, and are currently ranked No. 2 in the world. The U.S. men can’t boast any of those accomplishments.
Forward Abby Wambach has scored more goals in international matches than any player, of any gender, ever. And although they were a bit rocky in the first half of their match against Australia, the team ultimately gelled in a way that’s rarely seen among the U.S. men.
Here’s my challenge to sports journalists: Cover the Women’s World Cup with the same fervor that you covered the World Cup last year. Speak up in editorial meetings if you notice a disparity in how women’s sports are considered – especially if they’re not mentioned at all. And let’s not just write stories (like this one) about how unfair things are.
Believe it or not, there’s a sizable audience out there. Monday’s Team USA opener against Australia drew the largest television audience on record for a Women’s World Cup stage game. The 2011 Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan was ESPN’s most-watched soccer broadcast ever. And ABC’s most-viewed soccer match of all time is still the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.
More than four decades after the passage of Title IX, the amount of young women participating in youth and high school sports has dramatically increased. But the visible role models for those aspiring female athletes are few and far between due to the disproportionate coverage given to their male counterparts.
We can help fix this.
Tonight, I’ll be cheering on the U.S. ladies as they take on No. 5-ranked Sweden. It will be an exciting match, no doubt worth watching and reporting on.
Maybe the announcers will even get all of the players’ names right this time.
There are some examples of good Women’s World Cup coverage out there. Let’s see them! Post them in the comments below or share with me on Twitter at @katiehawk.