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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

COLUMN: Women’s sports coverage needs change

How women’s sports could gain a larger fanbase
Ryanne Sandifer
NIU women’s basketball teams huddled together to celebrate after Tuesday’s match against Lindenwood University. Though viewership has steadily increased, women’s sports deserve more coverage. (Ryanne Sandifer | Northern Star)

Even when history is made, women’s sports still fall into the shadow of their counterparts in men’s sports.

The 2023 WNBA Finals were the most watched finals for women’s basketball in 20 years, averaging 728,000 views throughout the entire tournament. The numbers pale in comparison to Game 3 of the 2023 NBA finals though, which averaged 11.64 million viewers. 

Women’s sports have historically experienced less average viewership and media coverage than men’s sports. The attention on women’s sports could increase if women’s sports were on national television more. 

The 2024 NCAA women’s basketball championship game will not be in a prime time slot even though the 2023 championship game averaged 9.9 million viewers.

Women’s sports could have more viewership if games were to be scheduled at more prime time slots. Prime time slots are when most people’s work and school days are over, which optimizes viewership.

Women’s athletes work just as hard as men’s athletes do and they deserve to have their games scheduled at times that will allow for more viewership.

The 2023 NCAA women’s basketball Final Four averaged 6.5 million views, with both games scheduled at prime time slots. The 2023 WNBA draft was also scheduled in a prime time slot and was the most watched draft in 19 years, averaging 572,000 views according to a WNBA press release.

A useful tool for athletes to gain popularity is brand deals. Brands should partner more with women’s athletes and utilize them in their promotional materials because many women’s athletes have awards and accomplishments that can be used in promotions.

NHL 23, the NHL’s licensed video game, has Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras and Toronto Professional Women’s Hockey League forward Sarah Nurse on the cover.

Nurse was the first women’s athlete on the cover of an EA NHL game. Nurse on the cover of a popular game among NHL fans allowed for women’s athletes to be seen and promoted just like men’s athletes. 

More brands should use women’s athletes as the face of their products to further promote women’s sports.

The already-popular men’s sports leagues should promote women’s leagues as well.

At the 2023 NHL All-Star Game, the league invited female hockey players including Nurse, PWHL forwards Hilary Knight and Alex Carpenter to participate. 

The 2023 NHL All-Star Game granted Nurse, Knight and Carpenter a chance to show off their skills. They also had the opportunity to play with NHL players like Edmonton Oilers centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. 

Given the chance to play with popular NHL players, women’s hockey receives more attention and exposure. 

The NHL All-Star games stream on platforms such as ESPN, ABC, and ESPN+. Streaming on these platforms provides women’s hockey with the attention it deserves. 

Even with the expanded exposure women’s hockey has received, the games themselves are hard to find on TV. 

Prior to the establishment of the PWHL, the National Women’s Hockey League streamed on ESPN+. Although there are 26 million people subscribed to ESPN+, the league folded due to lack of support from fans and sponsors. 

That’s not to say there’s no interest in women’s hockey. The women’s hockey gold medal game at the 2022 Winter Olympics had 3.54 million people watch Canada battle the U.S. for the title, according to The Athletic

The Women’s Tennis Association streams their games on the Tennis Channel alongside the Association of Tennis Professionals. However, women’s tennis was found to have 41% less media coverage in 2019. Tennis TV, a platform that allows subscribers to stream games they may have missed, does not have the rights to stream WTA matches. 

If Tennis TV gained the rights to stream WTA matches, the matches could be made more widespread and those interested in watching women’s tennis could find matches easily. 

Women’s leagues have talented players who deserve just as much attention as men’s athletes. Change needs to take place in order for women’s athletes to receive the attention they deserve. 

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