2016 Final Four Guide

Why women’s sports are less popular and receive less media coverage than men’s sports

Devyn Passaretti | Head Illustrator

UPDATED: April 4, 2016 at 1:52 a.m.

A look at the attendance differences between Syracuse University’s men’s and women’s basketball games makes it pretty clear that there is a focus on the men’s team.

On average for home games in the Carrier Dome this season, there were about 29 times as many fans at men’s basketball games this season compared to women’s as the average attendance for men’s games this season was 21,909, while for the women it was 752.

Anne Osborne, an associate professor of communications in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, said it was questionable for a while if the men’s basketball team would even make it to the NCAA Tournament, but there was no doubt, she said, that the women’s team would make it into the tournament, which is reflected in each team’s record during the regular season.

The men’s record during regular season play was 19-12, while the women had a better record during the regular season with a 23-6 record.

But the men’s team still received a lot of media coverage, she said, adding that she doesn’t think the women’s team received the same amount of attention until both teams advanced to their respective Final Four tournaments. Osborne said that although she thinks the women’s basketball team has garnered more attention since making it to the Final Four, she wonders how much of that attention is the result of spillover from the men’s basketball team’s advancement to the Final Four.

“You can’t ever have guessed how things would have been if it was different, but I wonder if the men had lost on Friday in the Elite Eight how much people would have been paying attention to the women’s Elite Eight game,” Osborne said.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams will play in the Final Four on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. SU is one of only a few schools in NCAA history to have both its men’s and women’s basketball teams advance to the Final Four in the same year. This is also the first year the SU women’s basketball team has advanced past the second round.

Osborne said there are more things the university can do to market and promote the women’s basketball team. She said she saw SU release more about the men’s basketball team’s success than the women’s.

“And often, the visuals for the women games would be next to the visuals for the men’s games based on promotion for the men’s team that stood alone,” Osborne said. “So I think that it certainly seems to me as an audience member there’s more communicated about for the men’s team and less communicated about for the women’s team.”

In the SU Bookstore on Wednesday afternoon, there were eight different T-shirts for sale related to this weekend’s Final Four games — five of them were for the men’s team, one was for the women’s team, one had both teams and one was neutral.

Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham said she thinks women’s sports are typically seen as “second-class” in comparison to men’s sports.

When you think about doing brackets, nobody is doing brackets for (the women’s teams), they’re doing brackets for the men’s teams.
Lorraine Branham

She added that unfortunately, the same amount of money that’s spent on men’s sports isn’t spent on women’s sports. As a result, it’s common that fewer scholarships are available to women athletes than to men athletes, so women have fewer opportunities to play sports in college, she said.

Improving the culture around women’s sports, Osborne said, turns into a question of the chicken or the egg — sports journalists, broadcasters and networks don’t cover women’s sports because they don’t have a large fan base, but women’s sports can’t build a larger fan base without the media providing more coverage, she said.

“I think it would take a concerted effort over an extended amount of time to see a real shift,” Osborne said.

A good example of when women’s sports were given coverage that was on par with men’s sports coverage, Osborne said, was when the U.S. women’s national soccer team played and won the World Cup in July 2015.

“(We) got lots of exciting promos for upcoming matchups, we got to see lots of profiles of individual players so that we actually felt like we got to know them, we had some attachment and investment in their success,” Osborne said. “All of those are the sorts of things that help to build a fan base.”

She added that these kinds of efforts are not being made over an extended period of time for women’s sports, so even if there is a flurry of activity, it goes back to normal and then people forget who the players are until the next big event, which makes it hard to build a fan base.

If the media provided more coverage and more opportunities to read or hear about these women athletes, Osborne said people would become more attached and invested in women’s sports.

Rick Burton, a David B. Falk Endowed Professor of Sport Management, said he would love for Syracuse media outlets to be an outlier in providing more coverage to women’s sports. He said he hopes Syracuse is better than the national norm in terms of coverage, but he said he’s not sure whether that’s actually the case.

Burton said he thinks women’s sports provide a lot of opportunities for young journalists to get their stories published, which in turn also gives women athletes more coverage.

Winning begets more coverage.
Rick Burton

One school that Osborne, Branham and Burton all agreed had a women’s basketball team that was almost — if not equally — as popular as its men’s basketball team was the University of Connecticut.

Since UConn’s women’s basketball team is very successful — it’s won 118 out of its last 119 games, and all by double digits, according to FiveThirtyEight — Branham said it’s more popular than other schools’ women’s basketball programs because “success leads to more success.”

Branham added that she thinks success is something that will also lead to more interest in the game and more support for women athletes.

“That’s why I’m so excited about this year’s run, because I think it’s going to open up a lot of new opportunities for them and help a lot of people who haven’t been paying a lot of attention see how good they are,” Branham said.

Burton said he wonders if this winning streak in the tournament for Syracuse women’s basketball might be the team’s tipping point.

“That’s my hope, that the women making it into the Final Four — and I hope into the Championship game — does become a tipping point for all of us to become more committed to women’s sports,” Burton said.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the percentage difference between men’s and women’s basketball was misstated. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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