Do Women’s Sports Suffer Stockholm Syndrome?
By Sam Squiers
It’s the sport that defines an Australian summer and girls are taking it up at a rapid rate.
Figures released by Cricket Australia show the number of females playing has increased 39% over the last year and it’s not their lucky stars but their Southern Stars they have to thank for that.
Our national women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars, won the ICC Women’s World Cup in 2013 and the ICC Women’s World T20 this year and received unprecedented media coverage off the back of it.
In 2013, for the month of February (when the World Cup took place) the Southern Stars received 7000 media reports with a cumulative audience of 98 million people and a value of $8.1million. In March and April this year (when the T20 World Cup was held) there were over 8000 media reports with a cumulative audience of 101 million people with a value of $14.5million. This is double the number of reports from when the girls won the same tournament in 2012. Cricket Australia can further boast a staggering 967% increase of reports on women’s cricket since the 2010-2011 season.
Let’s be honest, these figures don’t match up to the men and the girls had to win a World Cup to pull it off, but these are reassuring stats that things are starting to change in the way women’s sport is being reported and better still, absorbed by the public. Most importantly, this level of coverage is making a difference and can be linked to the growth in female participation numbers.
CA has made the names of Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healy and Meg Lanning widely known. They’ve efficiently packaged up their product and have made it accessible for the media and public. Along with funding from the Federal Government’s Women in Sport Media Grant, they’ve paid for a full-time media manager who travels with their team, sending back interviews and vision of the players to media organisations. They’ve promoted their female players and has been able to actively make the girls’ stories widely known. CA has shown what can be achieved and the financial return it has for the sport.
And this should be a blueprint for other women’s sports.
For too long, women’s sport has suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. It’s as if they’re so used to being treated badly, so accustomed to being ignored, they now expect to be treated that way and struggle to break free from that outdated misconception.
As sports journalists, we’ve often been witness to women’s sports commit effective media suicide. The FFA organising the national women’s soccer team, the Matildas, to hold a closed to the public “invite only” friendly against Brazil earlier this year. Basketball Australia flying the National Women’s Team, the Opals, economy class to the London Olympics while the men’s team, the Boomers, flew business (despite the Opals being the more successful team). The Giro Rosa (one of the biggest women road cycling tours in the world) being held at the same time as the Men’s Tour de France on the opposite side of Europe. Women’s national teams slipping out of the country for major events without a whimper of an effort to try to promote their campaign.
Men’s sports have one big thing over women’s sports. History. But women are writing their own. The rise of the professional athlete is a reality not a dream concept anymore. Sporting organisations need to wake up to that as well and not assume people, media included, won’t consume. I can’t begin to count how many people I’ve heard say how much they enjoyed watching the recent Women’s Rugby World Cup on Fox Sports, “the hits” “the speed” “the skill” they’d say. Their eyes were opened to a whole new world, yet prior to this World Cup year the IRB failed to schedule in any tests for the Wallaroos (Australian Women’s Rugby Union team) since the last World Cup they competed in.
There are going to be those who read this and say “but I’d rather watch men’s cricket rather than women’s cricket” or “men’s sports is more financially rewarding to organisations than women’s”. To that I say, this is not about you. It’s about the little girls out there who love their sport, who aspire to play professionally, who look up to these women and are encouraged and motivated to follow their dreams, to achieve their goals in the same way these women have. Promoting women’s teams and their campaigns – like CA has shown – can only grow your sport even more and that will see you reep financial rewards.
There’s no doubting that the coverage of women’s sport isn’t up to the level that it deserves and this article in no way is trying to disguise that fact. But the cogs are starting to turn and change is happening around us as more media report on women’s sports. The worst thing sporting organisations can do is assume people won’t consume. We’re crying out for it.
Make women’s sports a priority not an after-thought.