There's no question about it that women's college basketball has less media coverage than men's college basketball, and it's been this way since the recognition of organized women's college basketball. Coverage has changed over the years and you'd think it would show growth the entire time as women's basketball became more exciting to viewers, but no. Coverage has been up and down and up and down for the women's sport. More recently the coverage has gone down, which seems odd since the games played have been more and more important and interesting to viewers and fans.
In the most recent findings about coverage changes, a blogger posted statistics about growth and loss. "The 2011 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship game on ESPN was seen by an average of 3,831,000 viewers (P2+), up eight percent from last year’s average of 3,531,000, according to Nielsen.
The game which featured two No. 2 seeds and saw Texas A&M capturing its first-ever title in the sport with a 76-70 victory over Notre Dame earned a 2.8 rating, a four percent increase from the 2010 rating of 2.7. A year ago, Connecticut won its seventh title with a 53-47 victory over Stanford.
Overall, the tournament viewership on ESPN increased 16 percent to 1,878,000 people from 1,629,000 in 2010. The rating was also up eight percent with a total of 12 games earning a 1.4 compared to 2010’s 1.3 rating" (Is It Good for Women's Basketball?, Wordpress blog).
So this shows that in the very recent times, coverage is growing. But let's look at a few more recent years' worth. In 2009, ratings took a hit. As the blog post by Jim Fuller in Elm City to Eagleville mentioned, the 2008 ratings were up 15% higher than the 2009 ratings, despite the actual 2009 tournament higher excitement and built interest.
A Washington Post article by Drape and Glier talked about why women's basketball coverage showed growth. "The seminal moment in women's basketball might have been the 2002 national final, when UConn defeated Oklahoma. It remains the most watched college game -- men's or women's -- in ESPN's 25-year history" (Drape & Glier, College Basketball: A more grounded women's game is gaining). The authors described that women's games attendance rose by 16% from 2003 to 2004, compared to men's games attendance only rising 5%.
Finally, Mike Messner has studied coverage for different sports comparing genders and amount of coverage, and Messner fully supports the need for the growth of women's coverage. In an interview with the blog author of The Notion's The Dramatic Drop in Women's Sport Coverage: An Interview with Mike Messner, Messner says, "ESPN has done a pretty good job over the last few years of actually covering women's games in the tournament. But it doesn't appear very much on Sportscenter and it doesn't appear at all on the evening news. So what they're missing is a growing market for really interested and excited fans." Messner also drops numbers of actual attendees at the women's and men's games, and how there are plenty of fans for women, so the sports channels and news networks that pick up coverage for the tournaments and games must consider a broader target audience. People want to watch it, but the networks aren't giving viewers enough information or places to find the games.
So as we've seen, women's college basketball loses and gains coverage growth, in a seemingly random pattern. Despite the amount of interest for last year's NCAA Women's championship, the viewings had lost numbers than the previous, less interesting championship game. But this year's 2011 NCAA Women's championship gained viewers and coverage.
Just like in our previous blog posts on our page, we've noted how the need to lessen the gap between men's and women's college basketball coverage. Fans have commented on how they want to see more, and research has clearly proven that it's realistic. Now it's up to the networks to meet the needs of their target audience and actually go beyond the minimum that their audience is looking for.
“You develop a team to achieve what one person cannot accomplish alone. All of us alone are weaker, by far, than if all of us are together.” -Coach K, Duke men's basketball head coach
"You have to demand things and believe you're worth more. And once you do demand them, you're usually going to get them." -Sue Wicks