How to Put Women’s Sport Back on the Map
By Sam Squiers
Imagine this. You’re one of the best teams in the world preparing for an international match. You pull on the green and gold jersey and with nerves, anticipation and adrenalin pumping through your veins you run out into the stadium. Only it’s empty. No fans, no flags, no sea of support in a sports mad society.
They’re not allowed. The doors are shut. No one’s invited.
This is the story for Australia’s National Women’s Soccer Team, the Matildas who often play closed international friendlies here in Australia. Soccer may boast one of the highest participation rates of girls, yet it’s deemed too expensive and difficult to open stadiums up to the public to see the best footballers in the world in action.
Dialogue on state of women’s sport is often echoed with criticisms of the media. The problem, however, is not with the media alone. Sports organisations are failing in their support of the women’s game.
Take soccer, it’s a World Cup year and the Matildas are ranked 10th in the world. That’s a staggering 53 places higher than our men’s team, the Socceroos. Yet the FFA has been disappointingly quiet, read slack, in their promotion of the team. Where are the updates on their preparations? Profile stories and features? Why in the lead up to the World Cup year, were the Matildas playing international matches behind closed doors?
While it’s easy to blame the media for their lack of reports, the reality is that many sports often fail to engage the media about their women’s teams. As a sports reporter for the Nine Network, I can’t begin to count the number of times I approach a media manager about a potential story only for them to answer “Oh I didn’t think you’d be interested in that”. It seems many have given up on a potential story before they’ve even tried.
Make coverage happen, don’t just expect it to.
That is not to say the media can’t do more, as the level of reporting certainly isn’t where it should be, but more can be done from all parties.
So in the interests of creating not complaining, here are Sportette’s recommendations for improving the state of Women’s Sports in the media.
- Participation = Fans. For any sport to be commercially viable it has to have a solid fan base. Participation in sports from an early age builds potential fans. Little girls don’t just want to see the elite men play, the want to see other women play at the highest level. It provides them with role models in the sport and inspiration for their own future. Approach sports clubs at the grass roots level to promote upcoming games, offer family discounts, don’t let the women’s teams play in front of empty stadiums, not only is it demoralising for the players, it just doesn’t make good business sense in the long term.
- Which brings us to this next point…don’t think short term, think strategic. Women make up 50% of the population, failing to engage them is ignoring 50% of your future financial gains. Engage them early and build a relationship with them from a young age through participation and they’re likely to buy your tickets to games (male and female matches), memberships to clubs, be your television audience and provide your ratings.
- Don’t assume people aren’t interested – 50 million people tuned in to watch the Women’s cricket World Cup Final in India, media reports on women’s cricket have increased a staggering 967% in the past 4 years, the Matildas quarter final clash at the last world cup saw SBS experience a 48% increase in audience, netball games in the ANZ Championship are often played in front of sell out crowds, in some cases more people attend the netball than the league and AFL on the same day. People are interested, make sure the sports organisations are as well.
- Think outside the square – Cricket Australia does this better than any other organisation. When the women were playing in the world cup they sent back high quality VNRs (vision news release) of the Southern Stars. These are vision and interviews of the players and team training session to news agencies on a regular basis. It handed television agencies the story on a platter.
- Pitch a story not an event – there are thousands of incredible and interesting stories in every women’s team. Each player has overcome adversity and obstacles to get where they are. Don’t just pitch a game or result, pitch the story behind the player, game and result. They’re harder to say no to. Sports reporting isn’t just about podiums and point scores, it’s about people. This was also a recommendation in the 2014 Australian Sports Commission Report – Women in Sport Broadcasting Analysis which said “The way to building interest is to ensure that the consumer can create a connection with female athletes on an individual level, recommending developing a number of athlete profiling stories.
- Properly fund your women’s teams – provide funds for a professional media manager and team to produce VNRs, the more stories in news on the women’s team, the greater chance of getting sponsors on board. Spend money to make money.
- Engage your local media – write them an email, tell them your interesting story, journalists don’t know the background to every single player in the world but they’ll be glad you told them yours when they write that amazing article.
- Get Social – If you’re not on social media, twitter, facebook and instagram, at least, you are doing yourself and your sport a disservice. Use your hashtags, comment on other people’s tweets, let people know you’re out there. Fan engagement doesn’t have to be filtered through the media any more. You can build your own successful audience and brand.
- Be creative and smart about how you use your social media accounts. Think outside the square here. Post behind-the-scenes photos, this is what fans can’t see on broadcasts and engages them. Be witty and use videos as well.
- Show the world people are interested in Women’s sports – get to the games and watch women’s sports on television. Bums on seats and television ratings are what administrators care about it, show them why they should invest in women’s sports.
- Get social too – marketing companies assess a player’s publicity pull by their social media accounts. How many followers do they have? How many likes/comments on a post? Follow our female athletes and engage with them on social media. Tweet, post and comment about the games you’re watching on television, in the stadium, use the hashtag and tag in the sports organisations. Make them aware you care. Social media is a powerful tool. No longer does the public’s interest have to be measured by inaccurate ratings or a particular programmer’s personal views. You have the power at your fingertips.
- Start a conversation – talk about women’s sports with your friends, family and work colleagues. Get them interested in the sport and explain to them why they should be. Start a conversation about women’s sports.
- Don’t assume people won’t consume – for the reasons previously mentioned people are interested in women’s sports.
- It’s how you tell it – there’s an interesting story behind every athlete, it’s how you tell that story as well that makes it interesting.
- People, not podium and point scores – weave results and upcoming games around the interesting story within the team, it’s more engaging and interesting for the audience than just telling them the score
- Women are interested in stories about other women – engage more women in your sports section by telling these interesting stories about women in sport.
- Value women’s sports – your ratings and readership will thank you.