Women’s sport still looking for better media attention

SPORT BUSINESS OBSERVATORY – Find Aurélie Lienhart’s analysis on the place of women’s sport on this International Women’s Rights Day.

Aurélie Lienhart is a columnist at the Sport Business Observatory

Despite an increase in viewership linked to women’s sports leagues, they only account for barely a fifth of the broadcast hours. And what about the fame of our champions, a determinant of getting young girls to invest? What about their economy or that of their clubs? Without necessarily becoming teledependent like its male counterpart, women’s sport needs the light of the media to develop. And if the solution were through the public media?

In 2021, women’s sports represented just 20% of screen sports broadcasts, while between 2017 and 2022 the top 20 best audiences for women’s competitions consisted of 14 football matches, 3 handball matches and 3 rugby matches for an audience of 2.2 to 10.7 million viewers. Women’s sport brings people together, but it has yet to be the subject of initiatives such as “Women’s Sport Always*”, which takes place for a week in February. But what about the other 51 weeks of the year? And the subject of this media attention should not stop at the simple forwarding of matches. So what is the role of the media and in particular that of the public service in promoting women’s sports?

The gap with men’s sport is still significant and seems difficult to close

This is a trend we’ve seen since 2012, when women’s sports received only 7% media coverage. We find it today in the radio, television and press media, but with annual variations depending on the competitions, the sports and of course the results of the French women. But the gap with men’s sport is still large and seems difficult to bridge. Especially since we start from afar to highlight the sporting achievements of our female athletes.

French team sports teams have achieved very good results and have generated significant visibility and a good audience, but achieved mainly on DTT channels or on “double channels” of the major media, such as for the European Handball Championship broadcast on TMC. Before the final, the major broadcasters are very little interested in broadcasting qualifying matches, regardless of their sporting quality or the resulting outcome.

And yet, to change the mindset and representation of the general public regarding women’s sports, it would be necessary to be able to invest in more recurring and followed media coverage, not only focusing on sports results, but also allowing that the practice enshrined women in use, to address the issue of equal representation in the governing bodies of sport, equality and gender diversity at certain events, and how to integrate female topics in sport. †

89 sports federations have adopted a plan for the feminization of practitioners and leaders

Sport has chosen to invest in the development of women’s sport. 89 sports federations have passed a plan to feminize women practitioners and leaders, with a law passed in early 2022 to achieve equality in the governing bodies of sports from 2024. And these actions are starting to pay off, as for the French Basketball Federation, which is experiencing a significant increase in the number of licensees for the 2021-2022 season (+19.6% excluding COVID impact) and has had women’s rugby since September 2021 an increase in the number of licensees registered (+22.12% excluding COVID impact).

The medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are not for nothing, their promotion in the media landscape has greatly contributed to this. As sports practice by women increases, so does the desire to see more of them in the media. This is apparent from a study that Odoxa conducted in 2019. This means that there is demand among the French public and thus targets that can attract the media with appropriate content.

The choice and intensity of media attention is primarily up to the media industry. And this is where we can enter a virtuous circle for women’s sport. There is a two-speed economy between men’s and women’s sports, which is partly caused by the lack of media coverage: the less a sport is visible in the media, the less easy it is to sell it, to attract sponsors and spectators. and to develop merchandising around a team or an athlete. This explains why women’s sport in France is very little professionalized, apart from some football or handball teams, and rather benefits from a semi-professional status.

Women’s league retransmission increasingly profitable for broadcasters

However, with the success of French women and the desire to see more and more, programs that rebroadcast women’s competitions are becoming more and more profitable for broadcasters. The relationship between the amount of television rights and advertising revenue has become interesting to them because the advertising revenue is higher than the cost of buying broadcasting rights. Which is not always the case with men’s competitions. An audiovisual group like France Télévision with its public task also has a role to play in democratizing the presence of women’s sport on the air, for example by imposing quotas on competitions.

Especially since, as the competitions become more and more popular, the number of female journalists and/or columnists has increased between 2019 and 2020 (18% in 2020 compared to 9% in 2019). Similarly, the number of female other speakers on sports TV shows has increased between 2018 and 2020 (23% in 2020 compared to 15% in 2018). This also contributes to the advancement of media coverage of women’s sports, as it is not just about women’s sports, but also about the place of women in sports, be it women’s or men’s competitions.

Female journalists can ensure a more equal treatment of sports because there is always a differentiated treatment between men’s sports and women’s sports. When it comes to sports stories, journalists tend to dwell more on the extra-athletic and compare performance to that of men, as if male performance were the norm. But it helps reinforce stereotypes. However, pushing more women’s sports into all media and allowing space for female journalists and their athletes would encourage the emergence of role models with a voice that is heard by the general public and not just on topics related to their athleticism. performance.

Significant economic and media potential

This is already the case with judoka Clarisse Agbégnénou, who a few days ago shared her pregnancy, but also her desire to be present at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, the multi-medal Olympic mogulskier Perrine Laffont who, in addition to dominating his discipline, has also invested in topics around ecology…

All this seems to prove that women’s sports certainly still have a long way to go, but that the athletes, national teams and professional clubs involved in women’s competitions are making significant strides in revenue and viewership. Indeed, there is significant economic and media potential for women’s sports in the coming years, which should be enhanced by the growing enthusiasm of the public and the growing interest of the media.

And since the rights to men’s competitions monopolize most of the investment capacity of private broadcasters, the public media (France Television such as Radio France) have a card to play in both accelerating this trend, introducing our champions, making their partners “visible”. to encourage vocations and thus fulfill their public duty to the fullest!

* Operation launched in 2014 and contributing for more than a week to the media coverage and promotion of women’s sports, by encouraging the audiovisual media to offer on their antennas more programs related to women’s sports, more sports broadcasts but also more topics, shows and interviews dedicated to women’s sports.