The Super Bowl is the most-watched event of every year in the United States. With an audience of more than 100 million viewers, the first Sunday in February has essentially turned into a national holiday.
When the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the World Cup this past July, fewer than 20 million people watched the final match. 20 million — for the finale of a worldwide tournament available to an audience of billions. That’s a shamefully low figure.
While the 2019 NBA Finals brought in an average of 20.5 million viewers per game, the 2018 WNBA Finals averaged just 481,000.
The obvious theme here is that attention to women’s sports as compared to men’s is problematically low. This may be a product of tradition, but in a modern society where gender equality is emphasized, it just does not make sense.
This topic hits close to home for me. I’ll never forget when Jackie Thomas, the dean of students from my high school, would highlight accomplishments or talk about the importance of women in sports on a weekly basis. Before I met Thomas, I never paid much attention to women’s sports and thought few others did. Since it was unusual for me to see someone so passionate about it, I decided to see for myself why Thomas made such a big deal out of female athletes.
I quickly discovered that I had a hard time recognizing different women players and teams. It was shocking to see how little media attention women’s sports received compared to men’s. I understood why Thomas always tried to push for recognizing female athletes and their accomplishments — she had to do it because no one else did.
And that’s exactly the problem.
My whole life, I have been a sports fan, but not once could I remember sitting down and watching a full women’s professional sports game. Was that a subconscious yet intentional decision? Or was it because women’s sports were rarely shown on TV in the first place? Either way, I concluded that women in sports need the recognition and celebration that they deserve.
The first game I ever covered at USC was a women’s soccer game — and honestly, the only reason I even chose to do so was because I had to cover at least two games before I could work football. I was looking forward to getting it over with more so than actually enjoying it.
But instantly, I was hooked.
Watching one of the best women’s soccer teams in the nation made me realize how hard every athlete trains and why it is so important to appreciate all college athletes, regardless of gender. The team didn’t attract as many attendees or as much recognition as it deserved, but the players couldn’t care less. They were just as passionate and excited as any men’s team I’ve seen.
Last spring, three of USC’s women’s teams (water polo, lacrosse and beach volleyball) won their respective conference championships, whereas only one men’s team did so. Unfortunately, without looking it up myself, I would have never known.
Even at the college level, where Title IX tries to equalize men’s and women’s sports, many of the latter are neglected. I recall covering a USC women’s basketball game that had an attendance of less than 300. There is no excuse for this.
Similarly, the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team is one of the most dominant college teams ever. In its 2016 championship game, in which the Huskies capped off an undefeated season, fewer than three million people tuned in.
Why? The easiest explanation is media coverage.
Media has an overwhelming influence in the modern world. From presidential elections to sports, media brings attention to almost every aspect of today’s society. Because the media hardly focuses on women’s sports, people lose focus and forget about a significant portion of the sporting world. Men’s sports, on the other hand, get the lion’s share of media coverage — and thus, almost all the nationwide attention.
It falls on fans to recognize and appreciate all athletes, regardless of gender or what sport they play. Today, every athlete puts in a tremendous amount of hard work, but only a small fraction of those athletes are actually celebrated.
Hopefully, women’s sporting competitions will attract audiences on par with those of men in the coming years. It won’t happen overnight, but with more effort from fans and the media, who knows? Women may one day dominate the world of sports.
Nathan Hyun is a sophomore writing about underrepresented sports. His column, “Hyun-derrated,” runs every other Wednesday.