For 24 hours a few weeks ago, possibly for the first time in history, the eyes of the entire world were on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. You know why.
It wasn’t because of Aliyah Boston or Paige Bueckers, Baylor’s title defense or Stanford’s dominant run through the Pac-12 tournament.
It was because of the “training facilities” the NCAA had set up for its female athletes, which paled in comparison to those it supplied the men. The outrage was swift, fierce, and absolutely justified.
But now here we are, a week and a half later. The Women’s Final Four is shaping up to be must-see TV. Yet how many outlets are talking about the contrast of style in play between South Carolina and Stanford? Why aren’t Aari McDonald or Evina Westbrook household names all across the country?
After Oregon forward Sedona Prince posted that now-infamous video of the women’s weight room and the backlash began, every single media outlet jumped on the bandwagon. They shared photos and videos taken by players, critical statements from coaches and analytics, all while soaking in the likes, shares and retweets for as long as the topic was trending. For 24 hours, everyone agreed that the women deserved to be treated as equals, rather than second-class citizens.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Just Women’s Sports (@justwomenssports)
A post shared by Just Women’s Sports (@justwomenssports)
But since then, have any of those same media outlets increased their coverage of the women’s tournament? Did anyone assign additional reporters to cover the games? Are highlights being shared more widely? How many podcasts and debate shows are talking about the women’s tournament at all, let alone with any regularity?
The answer is not much. According to data from sports analytics firm, Zoomph, between March 15-30, the biggest sports media outlets sent out more than 5,000 organic posts across their social media channels, yet only 98 of them revolved around the Women’s NCAA Tournament (less than 2%!). And nearly half of those posts surrounded the weight room situation. By comparison, the men’s tournament has seen more than double the number of posts from those same outlets, with the focus overwhelmingly on the games.
The NCAA deserves all the criticism it got this past month. But piling on the NCAA is easy.
How many of us in the media industry have looked in the mirror since then and asked ourselves what we’ve done — and continue to do — to help enable and perpetuate this disparity? The NCAA clearly undervalues its female basketball players. But how many media outlets have implicitly told them this is OK, given that they, too, underinvest in covering the women’s game?
It was precisely this disparity in media coverage that led me to create Just Women’s Sports. Just 4% of sports media coverage is devoted to women’s sports, and so long as men’s sports remain the bread and butter of mainstream platforms, these outlets will continue to sideline women, or only give them coverage when a story of inequity breaks into the mainstream.
It’s long past time for women’s sports to have its own spotlight. By building a platform that exclusively invests in women’s sports and gives them the space and attention they deserve, we can build a superior experience for current fans while also creating the content necessary to attract a new audience. It’s our genuine belief that every sports fan is a potential women’s sports fan — but they need to see more stories than just those highlighting inequity. They need to understand that this is a dynamic space full of dynamic individuals with incredible stories.
It’s fair to say that there has been slightly more coverage of the women’s tournament this year than in years past, but it still pales in comparison to the level of attention given to the men’s tournament. Interestingly, that data from Zoomph also showed that social media posts about the women’s tournament have garnered more engagements, impressions, and a higher engagement rate from fewer posts. If anything, seeing Paige Bueckers and UConn trending on Twitter multiple times in recent days is further proof that the audience for women’s sports exists. It just isn’t being fully served on a regular basis.
A world in which women’s sports are only given token verticals on websites and irregular media coverage is the same world in which these women are given dumbbells and a yoga mat while their male counterparts receive a fully-equipped weight room. So long as women continue to receive inferior coverage, they will continue to receive inferior treatment.
Since launching last year, we’ve already proven that an audience for this content exists, and that it’s passionate and hungry for more. We’re not the only ones trying to change the game, but I can promise you the game is being changed.
Haley Rosen founded Just Women’s Sports in 2020. A former professional soccer player, Rosen was named to the All-Pac-12 team while playing at Stanford.