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The changing landscape of women's sports coverage

Copyrights: Noelle Otto, pexels

The changing landscape of women's sports coverage

Part two of the article series around women's football and the media written by Nasha Smith reflects on the successes of this year's FIFA Women's World Cup, but maintains that more still must be done.

As the stars of the Women’s World Cup continue to dominate headlines, it’s easy to forget that this was an almost impossible feat as recently as 2013 when ESPN’s flagship sports news show SportsCenter and Fox Sports 1’s Fox Sports live allocated less than 1% of coverage to women’s sport. On World Radio Day in 2018, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, provided additional data which showed that only 4% of overall sports coverage was dedicated to women. A disparity could also be found in sports media representation with women making up only 12% of sportscaster pools. But the 2019 Women's World Cup may go down as a watershed moment in the ongoing battle for media coverage in women's sport.

While several records have been broken on the pitch during this World Cup quadrennial, the coverage metrics are equally as impressive.

  • Previously, the record for a single broadcast during the Women’s World Cup was the final between the United States and Japan in 2015, which was viewed by 25.4 million people – the round of 16 matchup between France and Brazil smashed that record in 2019 with a combined viewership of 35.2 million in Brazil
  • The quarter final match between the United States and France was the most watched on French television this year. It drew in over half of the total viewing audience with 10.7 million people according to French broadcasting company TF1
  • The United States’ 2-1 victory over England in the semi-finals was the most watched football match on English language U.S. television since the men’s World Cup finals in 2018 drawing 7,025,000 viewers
  • The USWNT vs. Lionesses match was also the most streamed FIFA Women’s World Cup match of all time at an average of 361,000 viewers per minute
  • Social media content on YouTube and Twitter produced 12.4 million views - another new record
  • The United Kingdom’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported 22.2 million British viewers during the 2019 tournament, eclipsing the 12.4 million viewer mark set during the 2015 Women’s World Cup
  • In 2011, 202,844 Italian viewers tuned in to watch the Women’s World Cup final between the USWNT and Japan. In 2019, 7.3 million supported the Azzurri in a first round match against Brazil - more than 35 times the viewership of 2011

Other media initiatives placing the spotlight firmly on women’s sports include #Changethegame, a BBC project providing more live coverage to female athletes across their multiple platforms throughout the summer. Women in Football launched the #WhatIf campaign, challenging companies to help improve diversity in the football industry. As part of the effort, Sky Sports pledged to hire female talent as studio analysts on Gillette Soccer Specials from the 2018/19 season. Sports radio station talkSport also committed to put more women on air in the following season.

In comparison to men’s sport, this all seems like a mere drop in the bucket. But it is a signal that the interest is there, contrary to prior popular belief. The ball is now in the media's court.

  • Nasha Smith is currently studying Sports Ethics and Integrity as part of the MaiSI Erasmus Mundus programme. Nasha earned a B.A. in Public Relations at Grambling State and MS in Strategic Communication at Texas Christian University. The St. Lucian native has worked with the United States Tennis Association, Detroit Tigers, and Major League Soccer. Her interests are media ethics, athlete welfare, and diversity. 


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Nasha Smith


Thursday, July 4, 2019 - 15:19