There needs to a greater focus on women’s sport on TV
By Paul Reynolds
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 at 5:14 pm
Rugby, cricket, football all have one. There’s even one now dedicated to Formula 1 for those testosterone-fuelled afternoons on the TV couch – I am of course talking about sports channels. So where do the 11 million women (and men – yes men do want to watch women’s sport) who want to engage in more sport point the remote control?
Look no further than the Women’s Sports Network (WSNet), a voluntary organisation which now publishes a weekly listing of women’s sport on TV – even then our researcher has a real job of finding women’s sport on TV. The last time women’s sport was shown on BBC was a month ago – live coverage of England’s football friendly against France. Other channels do better – Sky Sports, EuroSport and TRACE Sports all have limited (if somewhat random) programming of women’s sport. But in the main, it is European/US-based and does not focus on field sports or sports that are accessible to women and girls who may watch them and try in their communities.
At a recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Sport & Fitness, Clare Balding and Katherine Grainger called for a greater focus on women’s sport on TV and a greater focus on getting young women journalists involved early in women’s sport commentary. This lack of focus for women’s sport on TV applies across much of women’s sport.
Lack of promotion of events leads to poor attendance at matches. There were 2,535 at this year’s Women’s FA final of The Continental Cup in October, compare that with the German FA Cup with regular attendances of 20,000 and up to 70,000 for major events. Lack of awareness of sports heroine role models, that the Olympics showed us do exist, and poor pay for the majority of elite sports women all compound the problem and lead to the lack of sponsorship, commercial contracts for sports women and inevitably, a lack of television coverage.
But do we really know what we want watch? The WSNet, along with TRACE Sports & British Gymnastics are about to embark on research on what women’s sport do we want on TV? Nobody has really asked! Is it the same as men’s sport – matches, goal replays, analysis and talking heads? Or do we want fitness, health, social, life/training balance, injury issues etc? We just don’t know what or even when we want to watch women’s sports on TV. Until women’s sport gets some market segmentation and analysis it will continue to fail to get interest from commercial channels, sponsors or advertisers’ investment.
So how do we break this vicious circle? Without commercial investment it seems impossible for women’s sports TV to break through the ‘grass ceiling’. Or does it? Technology has changed the balance of power across the Middle East – Twitter and BBM have undermined the old power-brokers. Could it be the same for women’s sports on TV?
I suppose that depends what you mean by TV – TVs now come HD ready, Smart and web-enabled. Mobile phones can still be used to make phone calls – but more and more they are used to stream live or on-demand footage and YouTube persists in trying to create ‘communities’ around its sports channels. While advertisers now modify their advertising to suit the channel profile because digital distribution allows them to. And smaller channels don’t just operate on SKY now – they multiplex on the internet – or even just run as an internet channel.
National governing bodies like the RFU and British Gymnastics are determined to develop their own digital channels for women’s sport. This weekend British Gymnastics will be streaming the British Acrobatic Gymnastics Tournamentand the RFU will be streaming the England vs. The Black Ferns (NZ) match live on Friday 23 November. Credit where credit is due – Sky Sports will cover the final series match on December 1st from Twickenham.
Along with UK Sport, national governing bodies are the guardians of women’s competitive sports – the technology, outside broadcast, editing, programming and distribution is now a fraction of the cost it was even five years ago. The way to get more sport on TV? Well, for the sports governing bodies to be proud of their women’s events and make them exciting. In the same way that marketeers would treat any product – they need to be bold and use technology to drive interest on-screen and raise the profile, confidence in, and access to the enjoyment of women’s sport.
Finally, will digital technologies limit the growth and interest of spectators at live matches? That depends on how clever we are with match rights – a good retailer builds an online strategy which drives customers to their stores and maintains them online. A similar strategic approach to women’s sports on TV is needed. We need to use technology to engage customers and then to drive them to either watch or take part in matches, events, games – or just be confident to do a bit of fitness in the community!
For more information visit www.wsnet.co.uk
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