A few months ago, I was aimlessly scrolling through my TikTok “For You” page when I came across a video that confirmed my fears regarding the effects of unequal coverage in professional sports. 

The video featured the creator of Sporty Spotlight talking about a recent conversation with his young daughter. One day, his six year old approached him while he was watching a televised hockey game and asked if girls play sports. This question took the dad by surprise as he explained that their family is quite active; they play soccer, along with other activities. He reassured his daughter that girls play sports too but asked why she thought otherwise. The girl responded that she never saw him watching girls play, so she wasn’t sure.

The father admitted that the interaction shocked him, but as a girl who grew up extremely frustrated with the lack of equitable sports coverage, funding and care towards women’s sports, her misconception did not shock me at all. However, it did reaffirm many concerns of the effects this issue has on young girls who grow up without feeling represented in their goal, hobby or passion.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen many pushes for greater diversity within movies and TV, but to me, sports has long felt like one area where the pace of change remains too slow. 

(Photo courtesy of @gamecockwbb Instagram)

Mainstream spectator sports such as basketball, hockey, baseball, or football are a huge cultural community-builder for cities. If you walk into any restaurant, you’re guaranteed to see multiple TVs broadcasting a men’s game. If you flip through any of the main sports\ channels, you’re guaranteed to find men’s sports coverage or commentary. The discrimination is blatantly displayed in the organization’s names: NBA versus WNBA. There is no MNBA. Men’s sports have been the standard for years.

I grew up near Boston, a city known for its successful sports teams. Yet it does not have a team represented in the WNBA. We’ve been conditioned to expect men’s sports everywhere. They’ve been ingrained in our culture as the default for so long that the issues, especially with professional sports, are often overlooked. The stats are still startling: in 2023, women’s sports only accounted for 15% of national coverage. 

(Photo courtesy of @gamecockwbb Instagram)

As a feminist, I grew to resent men’s sports for being such a deep rooted part of American culture. I would walk into my house and see my dad watching the game and instantly feel a sense of sadness at the fact that women’s sports have never had the same accessibility or fanbase. 

This year, we saw an exciting new shift in old trends, specifically within women’s college basketball. 18 million viewers. This year the college women’s basketball championship game averaged 18.7 million viewers, marking the first year ever the women’s championship viewership surpassed the men’s. It also became the most watched basketball game, men’s or women’s and college or professional, since 2019, according to ESPN. 

Throughout the last few weeks, many have witnessed and speculated about the rise of women’s college basketballs’ popularity.  With the numbers coming out to back up these celebratory claims, women are bringing new eyes to the game at a rate never seen before. 

This representation may have been a long time coming, but it is powerful nonetheless.  Bringing visibility to female athletes for the next generation, female icons are redefining our ideas of the standard.

The cycle of gender inequality in sports is especially hard to break as these systems have been in place for decades. Men’s teams have built large fan bases over time and have been given an overabundance of exposure and money to maintain them. Sports culture comes partly from the entertainment of games, but a huge part also comes from the connection that fans form with each other and with their teams. Fans feel a sense of loyalty to their team as a result of having followed them for years. 

People have avoided making the switch to women’s sports for years because the games have to be sought out and aren’t pushed on major channels. But audiences also haven’t felt the sense of community which, as this season has proved, is easily established by increased coverage. 

Iconic players most prominently Caitlin Clark (Iowa), Angel Reese (LSU), JuJu Watkins (USC) and Paige Beukers (UCONN) have been able to help bridge this gap more and more this past season. Their stellar performances and social media spotlight have helped to spread their popular moments and have increased excitement about their performances. 

(Photo courtesy of @caitlinclark22 Instagram)

When Caitlin Clark broke thewomen’s all-time women’s NCAA scoring record, the world tuned in. When her points surpassed the all time scoring record for men and women, the world tuned in. Moments such as her long range shots and buzzer beaters went viral on social media, increasing investment, attention, and viewership for Women’s March Madness games. As players’ names grew along with perceptions of team rivalries (such as Iowa and LSU), viewership continued to soar. 

There are three hopes that I have moving forward as a woman hoping for greater equality in sports. The first is that even though players like Clark or Reese are graduating from WCBB this year, audiences will have connected with enough other players, coaches, and teams that they will continue to tune into Women’s College basketball regardless. 

The second hope is that with these graduating players moving on to the WNBA draft and professional basketball, the WNBA may witness a similar revitalization. Professional women’s players make a fraction of what players on men’s teams earn. This is another issue that could be improved by these well-known college players making their way into the WNBA. 

The third hope is that this growth in women’s sports will not solely be kept to basketball, but will continue with other underrepresented women’s games as well. For any social issue, real change takes time. But it seemed like this year in particular saw the pace of change speed up. For the first time in a while, I am very optimistic about tangible lasting change within the culture of sports in America. 

For women’s sports to be more known and more loved, they have to be seen. And the factor that determines visibility on tv or in stadiums comes back to one thing: money. This season proved that women’s basketball is extremely profitable and popular when they are given equitable exposure. 

I began my analysis noting my disappointment through seeing the effects of the lack of women’s sports coverage, attention, and visibility, through videos on TikTok. To come full circle these past weeks from the Elite 8 games through the WCBB Championship last Sunday, I have seen countless videos of children in Caitlin Clark Jerseys, girls watching basketball with their moms or dads or meeting players after the game.  

After last Sunday’s championship loss to undefeated SC, Caitlan Clark set the record straight on exactly what she wants to be remembered for. In the postgame press she commented,“I don’t want my legacy to be, oh, ‘Caitlin won X amount of games or Caitlin scored X amount of points,’’ Clark said. “I hope it’s what I was able to do for the game of women’s basketball. I hope it is the young boys and young girls that are inspired to play this sport or dream to do whatever they want to do in their lives.” Given the change on my social media pages lately, it looks like that inspiration is spreading. 

While there is still so much growth to be had for women’s sports as a whole, this season of women’s college basketball seemed to speed up that change at a pace never seen before. As a woman, as a feminist and as a fan, I hope women’s sports will continue to be taken seriously. I hope the upcoming voices of women’s sports will be able to hold onto this success and continue to grow so younger generations of girls are represented and respected.

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