Why Doesn't ESPN Cover Women?

Women’s sports have become much more popular in recent years. In 2009, 3.1 million high school-aged girls and 4.4 million high school-aged boys played sports, compared to 294,000 girls and 3.7 million boys in 1971. However,?new research finds that media coverage of women’s sports has dropped considerably. In 1989, the evening sports news shows devoted 5 percent of their time to women’s sports vs. 92 percent to men’s sports; women’s sports coverage peaked at 8.7 percent in 1999 before dropping to 1.6 percent in 2009. ESPN’s Sportscenter devoted only 1.4% of its time to women’s sports coverage in 2009. Michael Messner, one of the study’s coauthors, thinks that the lack of coverage stems from fear and inertia, rather than commercial reasons: “Men are capable of doing really good sports reporting on women’s sports and a lot of men really like women’s sports. But I think there is a fear on a lot of their parts, if they don’t stay with the big three sports.”[%comments]


"[A] lot of men really like women's sports." Disagree.


"In 1989, the evening sports news shows devoted 5 percent of their time to women's sports vs. 92 percent to men's sports; '

Thats only 97 percent. What about the other 3 percent? Aliens?

The reason for less reporting is less interest. Ever seen a WNBA game? I bet not. They only average about 7,000 per game. Other women's sports have similar attendance issues. The bottom line is that networks like ESPN go where the money is, and the money is not in women's sports.


Big three? Are they leaving out hockey or basketball?


I'm a man, and I almost exclusively prefer coverage of men's sports. Why? Because they're the best. Any WNBA team would lose to any men's college basketball team in a rout. Rumors abound of top women's tennis players, like the Williams sisters, losing in straight sets to top men's college amateur players. It's the same way with men's/women's sports as with the MLS - I like soccer, but I'd rather watch the best European leagues than our second rate domestic league. Similar, I'd rather watch the world's best tennis players than the world's best tennis players who happen to have 2 X chromosomes.


"...a lot of men really like women's sports. "

No they don't.

I don't think women even want to watch women's sports.

Matt B.

"In 1989, the evening sports news shows devoted 5 percent of their time to women's sports vs. 92 percent to men's sports;"

What was the other 3 percent? Animal sports?


What are the big 3? Nascar? Tennis? Golf? Women's tennis must get at least close to the coverage of men's. Ultimately, it is commercial. I'd say ESPN is afraid of risk and change - but you're pointing out that there has been change. And ESPN has never been so ubiquitous.


Why not an ESPN-W? There are dozens of other ESPNs...


A new division, ESPNW is launching this fall. ESPN also publishes Girl magazine.


Alison Overholt, an editor with ESPN the magazine, has played a crucial role in both efforts.


Messners assumptions don't make sense. Fear and inertia, would be reasons to have left it the same % or never increasing the % this is decreasing it.
ESPN is a buisness and in buisness comercial reasons rule. Comercial reasons are also easily verifyable in ratings and add revenue.


Just about any men's team can beat just about any women's team at just about anything. So people don't watch women's sports for the quality of play, but because they are being played by women. If they want more coverage they should emphasize this, for example by playing topless.


Because viewers don't want to watch them, obviously.

Ian Kemmish

Is ESPN (or Sky Sports, or whatever) there for sports people or for couch potatoes? If the latter, then one might expect that the only women's sports they want to watch are beach volleyball and Rupert Murdoch's notorious topless darts.

You could even test this theory... count the relative number of ads for, say beer vs. sporting goods aired during coverage of football against the relative numbers aired during coverage of cycling, or athletics, or swimming. If there's more beer during football, then you can conclude that the advertisers will be expecting couch potatoes during coverage of major sports and athletic audiences during coverage of minor sports. And the stations, surely, will feel obliged to deliver those audiences?

C Palsson

I thought Sports Illustrated was the one with uncovered women.


Maybe this will get a rise from them? I've repeatedly emailed them about lack of women sports option on their 'my ESPN' fan page and all I get is a polite reply that it's been forwarded to the proper people. I'm sure it's a combination of many factors, but there are more than enough capable women to handle the reporting on women's sports if that's a real concern. I think it goes to the thinking that sports is still one of the last bastions of men, which would be fine with me..how about a separate women's ESPN-type channel. There's a great online site - http://www.womentalksports.com/ - that does everything in print that I would love to see on TV.


Because ESPN likes ratings.


I remember when ESPN was a halfway legitimate organization. Now it just serves as a hype machine for its own properties. Almost everyone gets their sports news from ESPN. SportsCenter is a national institution. ESPN uses this to hype the sports they broadcast. Ever notice ESPN's coverage of college baseball jumps tremendously when the College World Series comes around?

ESPN doesn't broadcast the NHL, but the NHL did better in Boston and Chicago during the NBA and NHL playoffs that run almost simultaneously. The NHL does better in the aforementioned markets, plus Minnesota, Detroit, the Bay Area, Philadelphia, and the DC/Balitmore area, but you'd never know. To ESPN, hockey is a minor sport, and you hear that every time they talk about the NBA and NHL comparatively. If you look at the numbers, its not.

It's not about potential viewership. ESPN stands to make a lot more money by hyping the sports it owns and disregarding the ones it doesn't (especially since it has no real competitors). If you watch consistently over last year, you'll realize that.

It's fitting to say this on an econ blog: Incentives matter.



Please keep in mind that I say this as a woman, but it's just not as interesting to watch sports played by women if they're also played by men. They seem less athletic, less action-oriented, and slower moving than their male counterparts.

Sports like gymnastics, where the emphasis is on flexibility and grace are different. I'd rather watch female gymnasts compete instead of males any day. But if we're talking about fast-moving sports like hockey, the men are the winners.



I agree with you on most counts. However, women's college basketball can be more interesting than the offense dominated game played by men at the same level.


Because they don't play football, basketball, or baseball, or NASCAR (if that's a sport) very well. If 85% of the coverage is those sports - meaning, in ESPN's case, what sells beer, cars, pickup trucks and sports drinks -- then it's not on. (Or, if it is on, no one is watching.)

I love football. I don't watch any other sports on TV (except Olympics). For all the others, I'd much rather watch the highlights later than sit through a whole BB (either one) game. I'm spoiled - I can see NCAA Div I *everything* live within a few blocks of home. And I still don't go often, because I'd rather *do* other things.

Watching golf, tennis, billiards, etc. is not a sporting enthusiasm. It's screen movement. Bottom line, I'd rather be the sport than see the sport. Witht he notable exception of American football, sports were created for the participants, not the audience.