By Cerise Caiazzo, Kristin Tormollan and Thomas Owen
Men’s and women’s sports receive differing levels of media coverage, plain and simple. This is obvious simply from looking at the vast number of men’s sports covered by media outlets in comparison to the minimal number of women’s sports. The men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage certainly demonstrated this point. There were multiple aspects which hinted toward a gender bias in the coverage, or at the very least favoritism toward the male sports. This started before the tournaments began. The advertising prior to the men’s tournament consisted of pre-tournament analysis shows, March Madness bracket challenges, and other such promotions at local and national sports bars and restaurants. Ultimately, the women’s tournament did not garner the vast amount of media attention that the men’s tournament received.
A difference in the labeling of the tournament also proved the views of media on the men’s and women’s games. The men’s tournament was labeled the “National Championship”, while the women’s tournament was referred to as the “Women’s National Championship”. In this instance, men were given the higher power status in comparison with their female counterparts. Prior to the tournament tip-offs, the difference in the treatment of the tournaments was apparent. There were multiple print, television and other media form advertisements advocating for the men’s tournament, asking people to not only watch but also participate in the games interactively through bracket challenges and online voting polls.
Aside from the pre-game hype and terminology, men and women were treated differently within the context of the games themselves. The men were given a break from criticism, even when they were to blame for the mistakes. Instead, in the men’s game, the blame was reverted from the players to an external factor, such as fatigue or nerves. Meanwhile, the women made the same mistakes, and the color commentators were much quicker to jump on the players for the errors. What was classified as an “off night” in the men’s game was “lazy” in the women’s.
Narratives and producers
Each game is produced much more than just the play on the court. The Final Four is no different. The production’s gender biases in the Final Four were noticeable, but not to the same level as the viewership and audience biases, which will be seen later.
There is a heavy emphasis on narratives and emphasis on storylines in any pregame analysis. When it came to the men’s side, for example in the VCU/Butler semifinal contest, a heavy emphasis was on coaching in that game, despite neither head coach being one of the high-profile coaches that we see. One coach was tough, organized, the other calm and poised. The in-game narratives; fatigue and efficiency played a part in the outcome.
For UConn and Kentucky’s semifinal, the narrative was put far more on the players, particularly player, Kemba Walker of UConn – the one true “superstar” left in the tournament. Analysts tended to concur that Kentucky had the better team, and should win. The in-game narratives shifted from this, as superstar power took over, UConn was characterized as the favorite, the team with the best individual player and the team that had not lost at a neutral site all season.
For the Women’s Final Four, there was some gender bias in that there were noted elements of femininity in the production of the games. The courts were donned with a pink and purple themed logo, and post game montages featured a duet with female pop stars Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Pregame production was also lacking for the women, as ESPN’s side had no mention of the games on the morning of the Final Four. They later did have an interactive social media event during the games, however. Furthermore, something that stayed true from the men’s to the women’s was the superstar emphasis – this time it being UConn’s Maya Moore. Even after UConn had lost, there was more post game reflection on her and her head coach, Geno Auriemma, than there was on the team they lost to. Much of this was due to the impact Moore had on Women’s college basketball as a whole; without her, the sport would have struggled even more than it already does.
Women’s basketball is often considered low scoring, yet the Stanford/Texas A&M semifinal was higher scoring than the men’s game between Kentucky and UConn, and the women’s final between Texas A&M and Notre Dame was a far superior offensive game than the Butler/UConn men’s final. Some elements described in the women’s games were “a grind,” “down and dirty, “and “tough” – these are elements you see in men’s games as well, when it seems that intangibles are trumping raw talent. One major hegemonic and gender bias element to the production of the Women’s games was that while over half of ESPN’s coverage of the Women’s Final Four were females, the play by play announcer and the post game host were both male.
Historical narratives took over at the end. For the women, it was the end of an era for a team like UConn, and a first –time appearance for Texas A&M, who eventually won it all. Finally, with so much hype on Kemba Walker on the men’s side, he eventually won it all, though the game was described as being perhaps the worst ever, while the women’s drew much praise for its level of play.
No two games could be any different than that of this year’s NCAA basketball championships. With the Texas A&M women’s team astonishing everyone with their triumph, to the men’s anticipated UConn domination. Not one audience member was left impassive to either game, being good or bad. Though the women’s division may have produced a better game, the men’s championship drew in a much larger audience.
The Men’s NCAA basketball championship brought in a remarkable 20.1 million viewers, while the Women’s championship drew in a diminutive 3.8 million. These numbers might be startling to some. After all, the women’s game was far more thrilling than the men’s. The underline issue in viewership has nothing to do with the quality of the game but rather the gender preconception of all sports.
Many women sports are looked down upon to men’s because of their “lack of athleticism” and “slower pace of play.” These preconceptions have tarnished women athletes and have created a lack of viewership. Women in our society aren’t intended to be more athletic than men and unfortunately people link athleticism with level of play. Even though women’s basketball might not be all about fancy dunks, it still illustrates the true beauty of basketball, teamwork. That is what the game of basketball is all about! Society strives for sports to become more than just a game of collaboration but rather a theater as well. Men’s basketball has kept up with those demands while women’s basketball is being disregarded.
The deficient viewership for Women’s NCAA basketball has placed itself behind Men’s basketball rather than alongside it. The Men’s NCAA basketball tournament is aired on networks such as CBS, TBS, and TNT while you can find the Women’s game on ESPN’s branch of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU). With CBS and TBS being relatively largely available networks compared to ESPN branches beyond the original, this allows men’s game to be more regularly available than women’s. With the men’s games rating being five times larger than the women’s this make utter since. A smaller audience means less endorsements, advertisers, sponsors and media spotlight. So how will women’s college basketball ever be alongside men’s? This solution doesn’t evolve the women basketball players themselves but society as a whole. Women’s sports will never get the respect that men’s sports have until we give the women who play the sports the respect they deserve.