Category Archives: sport marketing

Dispelling Myths About Women’s Sport: Post Women’s World Cup 2015

Even if Dave Zirin doesn’t want to keep defending women’s sport in the wake of the Women’s World Cup that smashed ratings (although I know he will!), we at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport decided to write a piece that will help change the narrative and dispel false narratives about women’s sport.red card_iStock_000003976608XSmall

Read our exclusive on espnW titled Even in the Wake of a Record-Setting Women’s World Cup, Myths Still Surround Women’s Sports where we refute the four most common myths about women’s sport.

The statistics surrounding the 2015 Women’s World Cup (WWC) make it abundantly clear that people are interested in women’s sport.  In sum, the WWC final:

  • was seen by 25.4 million viewers on Fox—a record for any soccer game, men’s or women’s.
  • generated record numbers of viewers on the Fox Sports Go streaming app.
  • drew 2 million more viewers than Game 7 of the compelling 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants in October which attracted 23.5 million on English-language television.
  • eclipsed the recent NBA Finals Game 6 featuring Golden State’s title-winning victory over Cleveland last month on ABC with 23.25 million viewers.
  • buried Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning victory in Game 6 over Tampa Bay last month on NBC with 8 million viewers.

Despite these statistics, many myths about interest in women’s sport continue to prevail. Help prove that interest in women’s sport does exist and join the #HERESPROOF social media campaign! Click here to see the infographic we put together on 2015 WWC viewership.

HERESPROOF infographic_3_2015

Access free educational materials for espnW Nine for IX films

I recently had the opportunity to work in collaboration with espnW to develop discussion guides for the Emmy-nominated Nine for IX film series.

Nine for IX premiered June 18, 2013, as part of ESPN’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Inspired by the 40th anniversary of Title IX, ESPN Films and espnW produced nine documentary films about women in sports, told through the lens of female filmmakers. Nine for IX Films are a collection of remarkable stories that offer teachable moments and powerful lessons in the history of sports. .

The Nine for IX Knowledge Center is a free resource available to institutions, organizations, administrators, professors, coaches, and students who want to lead thoughtful and engaging discussions around key themes in the films. The Knowledge Center provides discussion guides for each film, film posters, and a sign-up form to receive the Nine for IX DVD set, all free of charge. The Knowledge Center is a tool that goes beyond the entertainment value of the films and leverages the rich educational content of the embedded lessons and messages within the films.

The discussion guides generate thought-provoking discussion topics around key themes and issues present in the films such as gender equality, intersectionality, identity politics, sport and politics, social class, racism, and sexism, along with issues related to sport psychology, sports media coverage, sports marketing, and sports as a vehicle for developing role models. Each unique guide contains Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Additional Readings and Additional Activities.

I wrote a specific guide for coaches for The 99ers, a film about the 1999 Women’s World Cup Championship team, that coaches can use as a team building activity and to discuss what it takes to develop performance excellence and a positive team culture.
To access the free materials, including obtaining a free DVD box set of the Nine for IX film series, discussion guides, and posters visit the espnW Nine for IX Knowledge Center.

Basketball & Brackets Matter: The Case for a Perfect Women’s Bracket Challenge

The 2014 March Madness NCAA D-I basketball brackets for the men and women are now set. Teams are anxiously awaiting play. I love March Madness, but I am awaiting something different….word from Warren Buffett. I have tweeted Mr. Buffett (@WarrenBuffett) and Quicken (@quickenloans) to inquire if they were going to also offer a “perfect women’s bracket” contest, as they are offering a $$BILLION dollars$$ for a perfect men’s bracket. No reply.bb moneyball

It isn’t that I want two chances of winning a BILLION dollars (No one is going to win, the odds are 1 in 9 quintillion), it is the message being communicated by offering only a men’s bracket and who benefits from this “perfect bracket” challenge that is the problem.

Women’s sport and female athletes are continuously striving against minimal media coverage to be taken seriously and lauded for their athleticism (to go more in depth on this topic, watch a new documentary on “Media Coverage and Female Athletes”). By offering only a perfect men’s bracket challenge, Buffett & Co. are reinforcing the idea that men’s sport and male athletes are more talented, important, valued, and worthy.

Offering a perfect women’s bracket could of been a win-win and is a missed opportunity:

1. Quicken could have potentially garnered more new home loan clients (which is their goal!), and Buffett could of possibly made more profit (no one is sure exactly what his deal is with Quicken, but it isn’t $0!).

2. It would communicate in equal ways that women’s sport is and female athletes are worthy, valued, exciting and deserving.

3.It might have also inadvertently or directly increased interest in women’s basketball—especially in a demographic that is typically deemed “uninterested” (18-35 year old males).

Why does interest matter? “Lack of interest” by males, who are coveted by sport marketers and sport editors, is used as proof and proxy that “everyone” is uninterested in women’s sport–a statement that is completely false (not all young men are uninterested in women’s sport, and outside that demographic women’s sport fans abound!). Lack of interest is often used as a reason for not promoting or covering women’s sport. Many people are very interested in women’s sport, and particularly women’s college basketball as evidenced by increasing attendance, steady ESPN viewership, and expansion of women’s game coverage. Creating hype around the women’s bracket by offering $1B is a perfect way to bring in new fans, generate interest, and communicate the value inherent in women’s sport, some of which would likely be sustained because “they” (i.e., new fans) would watch, monitor brackets, and see that women’s teams are also exciting and talented!

People love March Madness and love to fill out brackets. College basketball and brackets matter. Placing more value (literally) on the men’s bracket, communicates what and who is valued and worthy, as well as who and what is not.

Help “Prove” Interest in Women’s Sport!

heresproof seal

[disclaimer] I’m writing this blog as my role as Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota …and because the topic of media portrayals of female athletes and the lack of media coverage for women’s sport is a special interest and line of research of mine.

One myth I often hear is: “no one is interested in women’s sport.” I know that is not true, I can see firsthand that a lot of people are interested! So I started taking pictures of “interest” when I attended women’s sporting events like the Minnesota Lynx or Gopher Women’s Hockey and Volleyball.

heresproof_logo_horizontal

To help create a true narrative about women’s sport, we at the Tucker Center are launching the #HERESPROOF Project. The purpose is to collect worldwide evidence of interest in women’s sport that will help dispel this untrue and damaging myth. Join us and use #HERESPROOF on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or any of your favorite social media!

threeways
This project is in advance of our documentary premiere, Media Coverage and Female Athletes—a collaborative project with tpt MN that airs December 1, 2013 at 7:00 pm CST.

3 Simple Ways to Support Women’s Sport

With many exciting developments recently in women’s sport such as the start of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), an extended and expanded WNBA & ESPN TV deal, the WNBA draft airing for the first time in prime time, an announcement from espnW about the Nine for IX series about women’s sport to run this summer, and exciting Women’s Final Four during March Madness, it feels as if there is a perceptible shift that women’s sport is being taken, marketed, and promoted seriously. I am optimistic, but action is still needed.

Trifecta Winner Icon - 300dpiIf you want sustainable women’s sport, and even better yet, GROWTH…there are 3 simple things you can do. These aren’t new ideas, but they are worth saying again.

1. WATCH. When women’s sport is on the TV, tune in. If you aren’t going to be home and have a DVR or DVD (not sure those exist anymore!) tape it! Don’t forget to watch the Nine for IX series!

2. BUY TICKETS. If you have a college or professional team in your area, buy season tickets. Last week Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve spoke at a TeamWomenMN event I was attending and she had a great idea. She said she is supporting the NWSL by finding the nearest team to Minneapolis (we don’t have NWSL team here…yet) and is buying a season ticket. Even through she probably won’t get to many games, she will donate her ticket to an undeserved girl, so she can attend. If you can’t go to all the games, buy a full package and split it with someone or share your tickets with friends, colleagues, neighbors or family. To read a great piece on espnW about how the NWSL will succeed by Julie Foudy, click here.

3. CLICK & SHARE. Set your Google Alerts or sign up for an RSS feed, to scan stories about women’s sport, your favorite team or athletes, or sports journalist. Once you get your list, make sure to click on the stories! Clicks = interest = increased ability to attract sponsorships = good for women’s sport. Click, read, and then share a good story via Twitter or Facebook.

If you watch, buy and click…or complete the trifecta, women’s sport will more likely be a winner.

Another Invitation to Make a Difference

I just saw this come across Twitter and loved it.Since it involved snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, I felt it  “sport related” enough to blog about.

Tweet: @oakley: Join Oakley’s @GretchenBleiler #reusablechallenge and be entered to win tons of Oakley gear! oak.ly/wc9fix

A 21 Day Challenge not to use plastic bags, plastic water bottles or styrofoam.

Who’s in?

Comparisons between male and female athletes

While talking with a reporter today about WNBA Champions the Minnesota Lynx, I had a realization…it most likely isn’t new, but I’d never thought about selective comparisons between male and female athletes in quite this way before.

Comparisons between male and female athletes in the same sport and in general are commonplace. Today I realized that most comparisons are used to marginalize female athletes, while sustaining and promoting male athletes as the normative best.

When people want to trivialize or put down female basketball players or the WNBA for instance, the comparison goes something like this…. “Women’s basketball is boring. They don’t play above the rim, jump as high, or dunk like the men. No woman could ever play in the NBA.”

The reporter said she had written a piece which suggested that WNBA players are great athletes but more sportsmanlike, team oriented, and accessible than NBA players, which makes them appealing to watch….and she got a lot of push back and negative feedback to the effect of  “Why do you always have to compare the leagues and players?”

This got me thinking that some people use comparisons selectively to promote men’s sport and relegate women’s sport. When comparisons are used to highlight to the good or better elements of women’s sport or female athletes compared to their male counterparts, backlash usually ensues. Why? Because the upsides might make people realize that perhaps the better value and product lies in consuming women’s, not men’s, sport.

The similarity lies in the fact females are great athletes!

The difference lies in many factors, some of which I mentioned above.

Both similarities and differences can be used effectively to promote and sustain interest in and for women’s sport.

After the espnW Summit I’ve been thinking about how “we” need to reclaim some of what was lost when the AIAW was taken over by the NCAA in the early ’80’s, as well as take what is working in the current business model of sport (the traditional male model) to help promote and achieve sustainability for women’s sport. Women’s sport doesn’t have to follow or emulate what men’s college and professional sport teams are doing (i.e., conference realignments, rule violations, player strikes and lockouts, egregious behaviors, entitlement, arms race…and so on).

With the 40th anniversary of Title IX upon us soon, it is a great time to reflect on where we are, where we need to go, and how to get there.

Opposing Views of Media Portrayals of Female Athletes

With the 2011 issue of ESPN The Body Issue magazine coming to shelves Friday, and images being released online today, I thought it a good time to summarize common ways media portrayals of females athletes are framed and discussed. Today I got to hear colleague, Kent Kaiser, Ph.D., discuss his work around media framing of Title IX in print journalism. (to read his recently published article on this topic, Gender Dynamics in Producing News on Equality in Sports: A Dual Longitudinal Study of Title IX Reporting by Journalist Gender click here).

He used conflict framing as his theoretical framework to look at this issue, and coupled with my recent trip to the espnW Summit to sit an a panel to discuss if sex sell women’s sport, and colleague Mary Jo Kane’s column this summer in The Nation magazine on this topic… it got me thinking. Kaiser identified some themes in his work, that I modified, that might be a good way to promote discussion about media portrayals of female athletes. I’ll elaborate on each below.

Advocacy Frames are those that advocate that sexy, hyper-feminine, or in some cases semi-nude or nude images of females athletes are good for women’s sport and female athletes. Opposition Frames are those arguments which see such images as trivializing, problematic and doing nothing to promote respect and sustainability of women’s sport, or any particular individual female athlete.

ADVOCACY FRAMES

  • Equality-both male and female athletes are seen semi-nude or nude (i.e., the ESPN The Body Issue), so it isn’t that ONLY female athletes are portrayed this way.
  • Personal Opportunity-inclusion and portrayal of sexy, beautiful female athletic bodies provides opportunity for exposure (literally and figuratively!), sponsorship, and branding.
  • Autonomy-female athletes have a choice whether or not to pose in magazines or be photographed. No one makes them pose in those ways, they want to.
  • Market-sex sells! and people want to see sexy images of female athletes, it is what the market wants…no one is interested in seeing real female athletes that aren’t attractive, sexy or feminine.
  • Zero-Sum-there is only a limited amount of coverage for all sports, so the more women’s sport is covered or female athletes are featured, men’s sport suffers.

OPPOSITION FRAMES & COUNTER ARGUMENTS

  • Equality-yes of course male athletes are portrayed nude and semi-nude (i.e, ESPN The Body Issue), however female athletes only get 2-4% of all sport media coverage and when they do, it is most often in ways that minimize athletic competence and highlight sexy, feminine characteristics. Also, men’s sport and male athletes already enjoy respect and credibility so when male athletes are portrayed nude it means something very different culturally.
  • Personal Opportunity-Yes, posing semi/nude provides short term exposure, but no data exist that demonstrates such images lead to additional sponsorships, contract extensions, increased pay, or respect and credibility for female athletes. In nearly every professional context, when women take off their clothes it does not lead to respect and perceived credibility and competence. Additionally no data exist that demonstrates such images increase TV ratings, fan attendance, or season ticket sales….therefore opportunity for the greater good and league sustainability might actually be undermined when individual female athletes are portrayed this way.
  • Autonomy-Yes, no one is holding a gun to any female athlete’s head and they do choose to participate. Female athletes are smart…they see the women getting the most exposure and media coverage are the ones who conform to the sexy, feminine mold and they want to capitalize on their physical assets as well. However, if this way of being portrayed is the dominant model in the absence of a virtual black out of coverage that features athletic COMPETENCE, of course female athletes will choose to be included, rather than excluded. Choices are made within the context of sport, which is male-centered and male identified.
  • Market-Yes, of course sex sells! and sex sells magazines, but no data exist that demonstrates sex sells women’s sport. In fact emerging data suggest otherwise…that images of athletic competence is what sells women’s sport and help to generate respect and credibility. In addition, for years and years leagues and organizations have been selling sex, but at the same they lament the low interest in and attendance of women’ sport. Maybe it is time to try a new way to market female athletes….put athletic competence first and see what happens!
  • Zero-Sum-Female athletes are so rarely portrayed in sport media. Roughly 40% of all high school and college athletes are female, yet they are rarely portrayed in sport media. What would it look like if female athletes received close to 40% of all sport media coverage? How would that affect interest in, and respect of women’s sport? Interest in men’s sport will likely not wane or lose its cultural primacy, so why not try it?

That is enough for now…I’m off to watch some highly competent female athletes take the court in the WNBA Finals! Go LYNX!!! And I’m betting the arena will be full of fans who have come to see amazing basketball, and I will not see ONE image of a semi/nude female athlete.

The Minnesota Lynx: A Case About Media Coverage for Female Athletes

I live in Minneapolis and am a fan, advocate and scholar about gender issues in sport, particularly girls and women in sport. In the last two months, while I haven’t blogged much I have been keeping in eye on happenings around women in sport. Media coverage, or should I say the lack thereof, has been on my mind a great deal.

An anomaly was the 2011 Women’s World Cup aired and covered by ESPN = Fantastic coverage of dramatic competition, athleticism and serious athletes. Unfortunately what we see far too often is the trivialization, erasure and sexualization of female athletes…which I’ve written about a lot.  This last point is why I haven’t blogged much lately. I’m just plain depressed and discouraged that over and over again these patterns emerge, despite record numbers of females participating in sport in the post Title IX era. How many times can I write the same thing over and over without anything changing…and in fact, in most cases, is getting worse?

6 Ways Media Present Female Athletes

I’ll say it again…media coverage by major networks of female athletes has DECREASED in the last 10 years and is now down to a dismal 1.6%. (What would the Twins’ attendance or interest in the team look like if we only read 1.6% of the time about the team in the sports media or if we didn’t hear and read non-stop coverage of the team—even in the off season?)

Dave Zirin pointed out that GQ left out an entire gender when naming their 25 coolest athletes.

If you want to read a great critique and column titled “Sex Sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports” in the special sports issue of The Nation magazine written by my colleague Dr. Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, and get up to speed about why these trends persists and why it is problematic, I’d encourage you to read it.

You can also see an exceptional slide show of the six categories of representation of female athletes commonly witnessed in the sport media from athleticism to soft core porn if you click here. Kane argues the majority of sport media and marketers are complicit and unquestioning that sex sells women’ sport and “believe that reaffirming traditional notions of femininity and heterosexuality is a critical sales strategy.”

Ironically, in our own backyard the WNBA Minnesota Lynx are providing an interesting case study for sport media scholars. Currently the Lynx have the best record in the WNBA and have secured a playoff bid. The Lynx have a great deal of athletic talent: Whalen, Wiggens, Bruson, Augustus, and Moore are some of the players lighting up the scoreboard this season. Meanwhile…the MN Twins are struggling, the NBA is facing a lockout and the Timberwolves were horrible last season, the NFL is limping back to full speed after their lockout and the Vikings will struggle, and the NHL and MN Wild have their own issues.

Case in point: Today I got a call from a local media outlet to discuss why the Lynx are getting very little coverage despite a winning season. I was ready. I got a call 10mns later, the story was canceled– “Something better had come up”. How can people get interested in the Lynx if they don’t hear about them and the team isn’t covered?

I know for a fact that the Lynx are selling more tickets this year, over 1,000 more a game, than last year. Fans are filling the seats. People ARE interested and DO care about women’s sport. The Lynx are talented and exciting to watch. Hey sport media….PAY ATTENTION AND GIVE THE LYNX THE COVERAGE THEY DESERVE! Sport media journalists argue they will cover women’s sport when interest is there. Here is a clue: NOW IS THE TIME.

Here is a novel chicken-egg idea: The more media coverage you give the Lynx, the more people will attend and the more interest is generated.

The ironic thing is, people are interested DESPITE poor media coverage of the Lynx.

Even more ironic, people are interested in the Lynx because they are GREAT ATHLETES and are fun to watch not because the Lynx players are being marketed and portrayed in sexy and hyper-feminine ways.

Fans of women’s basketball and women’s sport want to see and read about athleticism and see quality play. They are getting that and Moore with the Minnesota Lynx.

added 9/1/11: Watch me talk to WCCO’s Jason DeRusha on the “Good Question” discuss the lack of coverage of the MN Lynx.

Recent focus on female athlete “unifems”

The recent focus on the athletic attire of female athletes, “unifems”, concerns me for many reasons. I write “unifem” instead of “uniform” to make a point. Most of the discussions about what is to be worn, or not, in competition is largely about underlying concerns that female athletes remain and at least look “feminine.”

Aside from unifem concerns, some female athletes like some members of the German soccer team, purposefully pose nude in magazines like Playboy that exploit women so they can be perceived as less “butchy” and tomboy-like (i.e., “sweet”, feminine, and thus heterosexual).

Let’s be clear–concerns, policies and rules about females athlete uniforms are usually about making the uniforms smaller, tighter and a more feminine color. These concerns are usually couched under the guise of “performance” or “safety” or both. To my knowledge, and I will stand corrected, that aside from some initial data on compression wear, very little empirical evidence exists that demonstrates that a smaller or tighter uniform will improve performance for athletes (aside from the razor suit in swimming…which is under scrutiny and I believe is now banned). If uniform size were about performance, you would also see scantily clad male athletes.I am also unaware of any sport marketing evidence that demonstrates that smaller, tighter, more feminine uniforms actually increases ticket sales, interest in the sport, or sponsorships. Show me the evidence.

It is my opinion the discussion about female athlete uniforms is first, outdated, and second sexist.

Let me summarize some of the very recent discussions pertaining to unifems. Reminder: this IS 2011, but attempts to marginalize, sexualize and exploit the female athletic body and female athletes is alive and well, and I think getting more egregious.

UNIFEM EXAMPLES

1. To create a more “attractive presentation,” the Badminton World Federation decided all elite level female players must wear a skirt or dress while competing. The complete NYT story here.

2. The lack of attire for the Lingerie Football League earlier this spring I have already written about (and no, I still don’t consider the LFL a sport, but I do support the notion that some, probably a good %, of the women in the LFL are real athletes.)

3. A female Muslim weight lifter, Kulsoom Abdullah, who wants to complete but keep with religious traditions by covering her entire body, aside from her hands and face, has sparked debate at the international level. Many argue this policy is racist and Islamophobic, in addition to being sexist as male Muslim athletes do not have the barrier of covering in public that impedes athletic performance.

4. The Iranian women’s soccer team was in tears after being forced to forfeit a 2012 London Olympics qualifying match this past weekend because it showed up to play in hijabs, and some argue that “FIFA makes things worse for women.”

5. Twitter blew up when a picture of tennis player Serena Williams in a hot pink cat suit appeared on the internet.

So what is going on with the recent barrage of unifem incidents? Why now? Is this further evidence of the gains women are making in sport?