New Study Finds Wide Disparity in TV Coverage of Women's, Men's Sports

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A new USC/Purdue University study published Wednesday in Communication & Sport found that most sports news or highlights shows are made up entirely of men’s sports stories.

The latest study published details "that 95% of total television coverage as well as the ESPN highlights show SportsCenter focused on men’s sports in 2019."

The study's authors looked specifically at three weeks of the 11 p.m. hour of SportsCenter in 2019 and found that just 5.7% of ESPN's broadcast covered women's sports.

They also analyzed three two-week blocks of three Los Angeles local network affiliates—KCBS, KNBC and KABC—and found that just 5.1% of the broadcasts covered women's sports in segments from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m..

The study, which was co-authored by Cheryl Cooky, LaToya D. Council, Maria A. Mears and Michael A. Messner, determined there had been an increase in live televised coverage and prominent media outlets devoting more resources to women's sports. But it also concluded that television coverage of women's sports hasn't drastically increased in recent years. 

“News media focus on the ‘big three’ men’s sports—football, basketball and baseball—creating audience knowledge about and excitement for the same sporting events over and over,” Messner, a professor of sociology and gender studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, told USC News' Jenesse Miller.

“Meanwhile, women’s sports continue to get short shrift, which is significant when you consider the larger picture of girls’ and women’s efforts to achieve equal opportunities, resources, pay and respect in sports.”

Eighty percent of the televised sports news programs and highlights shows the study analyzed included zero stories on women's sports. 

"On the rare broadcast when a women’s sports story does appear, it is usually a case of ‘one and done’— a single women’s sports story partially eclipsed by a cluster of men’s stories that precede it, follow it and are longer in length," Cooky, a professor of American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies and one of the co-authors, told USC News.

The researches acknowledged that their research occurred prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and made note of ESPN's increased investment in broadcasting the WNBA, among other live entities. 

Still, as they write in the study, "daily sports news and highlights shows' continuing failure to equitably cover women's sports mutes women's historic movement into sport and the impressive accomplishments of women athletes, as it continues to legitimize greater material rewards for men athletes, while shoring up stubbornly persistent ideologies of male superiority."