A Chat With Hall of Famer Katie Smith — And Why We Think Sports Media Owes Women More
What does 4% mean to WNBA Hall of Famer, Katie Smith? The head coach of WNBA team NY Liberty sat down with Calling Game after the team’s first practice back from the All-Star break in Las Vegas to discuss the media’s lack of coverage of women’s sports, and what can be done to help.
“If it’s not there for you to easily consume, you just don’t think about it,” Smith, a Naismith Hall of Famer, told Calling Game in an interview about the media’s lack of coverage of women’s sports.
A study released by the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport stated that 40% of all sports participants are female but just 4% of ALL sports media coverage is focused on women’s sports. Where does that disparity come from? Let’s examine a few common misconceptions.
Lack of interest? Not if you look at the buzz surrounding the US Women’s Soccer Team following their World Cup Victory. In fact, according to a report by Fox Sports, viewership of the 2019 US Women’s World Cup Final was 22% higher than the 2018 Men’s Final. A Nielsen report conducted in 2018 revealed that not only is interest in women’s sports on the rise, but in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sports.
Lack of talent? We think Serena Williams’ 23 Grand Slam Titles say otherwise. What about Tobin Heath dazzling her way through the Swedish defense during the World Cup? Consider Oksana Masters competing in Nordic skiing, rowing, and para-cycling in four Paralympic games. Female athletes work just as hard as their male counterparts, and possess the same talent — a reality put in stark relief when we consider the lack of support that is given to women’s athletics.
Lack of Success? Coach Smith explained to Calling Game that when people talk about the success of Minnesota teams, a women’s team should actually be the first one they think about.
“When you’re debating basketball, and you’re talking about championships in a city, the Minnesota Lynx should be at the top of the list,” she said. Opponents say that in spite of the Lynx’s success, the team isn’t selling as many tickets as men’s leagues, and broadcasters don’t want to cover games in half empty arenas. But do Paul Severino and Todd Hollandsworth, Marlins color analysts, not have an issue with covering games in Miami with less than a third of the seats filled? The Miami Marlins are averaging crowds of 9,554 fans in its eight year old ballpark that has a maximum capacity of 36,742 seats (with a fancy retractable roof). That’s below the average headcount of a Triple-A Vegas team.
Lack of Money? Well, when we look at the amount of money in broadcasting deals that Major League Soccer makes every year ($75 million) compared to the WNBA broadcasting deal ($25 million), is it justified?
The MLS averaged 220,000 viewers in 2014 when this deal was signed on ESPN and ESPN2. The WNBA averaged 240,000 viewers that same year and got only a third of the MLS package. Can we really say that the MLS and the WNBA should have gotten such drastically different television packages while attracting similar viewership numbers? Money talks. Teams need the funds to support marketing efforts, promotions, stadiums, salaries, and so much more. We can’t ignore the fact that everything from salaries to endorsements makes a huge difference in raising the platform that professional athletes stand on.
“By all means, these ladies would love to be able to pay them, you know, somewhat equal to the men,” Coach Smith explained. “But you gotta make money to give money. And if you pay too much, you’re going to have a league that folds … So there’s this fine line, of pushing the envelope but also making sure that business-wise it’s making sense and you can actually keep a league running.”
The point is that the media owes women’s sports more coverage. By passively throwing money and attention towards men’s professional sports, we are actively contributing to the problem. The interest, talent, and success are at peak levels and it’s time for the media to do its part and raise that 4%.
Listen to our full interview with Smith below, where we discuss women’s sports media coverage, the new USA Basketball and WNBA partnership, and more.
[Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]
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