#CoveringtheCoverage: Men's vs. women's college basketball
We monitored coverage of college basketball -- and beyond -- in December.
Hi, friends! It’s time for the newest version of #CoveringtheCoverage. This is the first edition of this series in 2022, but it won’t be the last. Over the last two years at Power Plays, #CoveringtheCoverage has been one of the most impactful projects we have done, and in 2022, we are taking it to the next level.
Going forward, the plan is to have monthly editions of #CoveringtheCoverage that involve us manually tallying gender discrepancies in sports media coverage. Additionally, at least once every month I will bring you interviews, deep dives, and commentary on media entities that are doing a phenomenal job of pushing women’s sports forward.
This isn’t necessarily anything new; whether it be looking at The Telegraph’s successful women’s sports vertical or how ATA Football is changing the game when it comes to women’s soccer broadcasts, these pieces have always been a part of Power Plays. However, it’s only recently occurred to me that all of that work (obviously!) belongs under the #CoveringtheCoverage banner. And so it has been declared!
Men’s college basketball received 3 times the coverage of women’s college basketball in December
Today’s edition of #CoveringtheCoverage is from December, and it focuses on the coverage of men’s and women’s college basketball.
For the entire month of December, our intrepid tracker Tori Burstein tallied the coverage of the sport in newspapers and on broadcast television. In newspapers, she actually tracked the coverage of women’s sports, men’s sports, women’s college basketball, and men’s college basketball in six national papers. On broadcast television, she tracked the airing of top-25 men’s and women’s basketball games on national networks.
Because we’re not a fan of burying the lede here at Power Plays, here are the top-line takeaways:
On average, newspapers dedicated 95% of their coverage to men’s sports in December, and less than 5% to women’s sports.
In newspapers, men’s college basketball received three times as much coverage as women’s college basketball.
Top-25 matchups in men’s college basketball were on national television three times as often as women’s college basketball games.
Please keep reading for more information on our methodology and for a deeper dive into takeaways — necessary caveats included.
Onto the nerdy graphs and charts!
For this edition of #CoveringtheCoverage, we stuck to monitoring the six national papers that we have monitored throughout our series: USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and the New York Times.
Here’s a table of our findings:
The chart below focuses on the overall percentage of men’s sports coverage vs. women’s sports coverage in each paper during the month of December. You don’t need to go through the findings with a fine-tooth comb to parse out the discrepancies!
The New York Times did by far the best percentage-wise, with 12.75% of its sports coverage in the physical paper devoted to women’s sports in the month of December.
By raw numbers, the Washington Post had the most women’s sports stories, at 30.5, though that only accounted for 5.14% of its sports coverage that month.
The Chicago Tribune is in last place both in terms of raw numbers — only five stories — and percentage, with only 2.14% of its coverage going to women’s sports.
In some ways, this didn’t surprise me. Not only is it pretty on par with the percentages we’ve tracked throughout the last two years, but it’s also important to note that the biggest women’s pro sports leagues weren’t in action during the month of December, while the NFL, NBA, and NHL are all in-season.
That’s why we wanted to focus in on what was happening with college basketball coverage, as both men and women were in-season.
Here’s the college basketball-focused chart:
First, we must note that all six papers had very limited college basketball coverage, which isn’t stunning considering it was only December, and in most cases, conference play hadn’t begun in earnest yet.
But just from glancing at the two charts in this section, you can see that percentage-wise, women’s college basketball fared much better in comparison with college basketball coverage as a whole than women’s sports did in comparison to sports coverage as a whole. That’s good news! (Though, it would have been hard for the numbers to be *worse*.)
USA Today stands out for having more women’s college basketball stories than men’s basketball stories — four vs. three — and the Chicago Tribune once again lags behind, with zero women’s college basketball stories in December.
Overall there were 34.5 women’s college basketball stories and 103.5 men’s college basketball stories written during the month of December. It’s rare we end up with a round number in this series, but 103.5 happens to be exactly three times as much as 34.5.
And, for some more math, that means women’s college basketball received just 25% of all college basketball coverage in newspapers in the month of December.
If you’ll remember, way back in the dark ages when I launched #CoveringtheCoverage, I targeted 33% as the short-term goal for women’s sports coverage, which traditionally has hovered at less than 5% of all sports coverage. Admittedly, 25% is close to 33%! HOWEVER, the 33% target accounted for the fact that there are many more professional men’s team sports in the United States right now. For sports where it’s a one-to-one comparison, like college basketball, the goal is 50%. (Or more! I’m not against a full takeover.)
We’re not there yet.
We added in television monitoring for this edition of the series, and all credit in the world goes to Tori Burstein for working with me to figure out how we could do that in a non-excruciatingly time-consuming fashion.
We tracked where all top-25 matchups in men’s and women’s basketball during the month of December were broadcast, then narrowed the results down to focus only on nationally-broadcast games.1
Here’s that graph:
And here are my main reflections:
In total, there were 52 top-25 men’s games on national television in December, compared to only 17 top-25 women’s games.
Fifty-two is 3.06 times as much as 17, so this basically leaves us exactly where we were for newspaper coverage: Men’s basketball was on television three times as much as women’s basketball in December.
It’s very good to see that the broadcast numbers were even on the primary ESPN channel. In fact, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU accounted for 15 of the 17 nationally-broadcast women’s top-25 games that month. (Remember: ESPN airs the women’s NCAA tournament, so it is especially incentivized to cultivate that market.)
Is anyone surprised that CBS — which airs the men’s NCAA tournament — hasn’t heard of women’s basketball? I SURELY AM NOT.
A big deal was made of the women’s games on ABC and Fox Sports 1 in December, since those networks rarely, if ever, air women’s college basketball. But this chart is a reminder of how far we have to go for equality.
Repeat after me: WE ARE NOT CELEBRATING CRUMBS IN 2020!!
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Boring process note: A top-25 matchup means that at least one team in the game was ranked in the top 25 the week the game was played. Tori did keep track of conference-specific television broadcasts as well, but I ended up not including them because the conferences often didn’t have similar numbers of top-25 ranked men’s and women’s teams, and because gathering any data on the Pac-12 is head-scratchingly confusing. If we do this again, I will probably take away the top-25 matchup caveat and instead constrain the search to the national networks, because rankings can shift so frequently throughout the season. Still, I think the data set we ended up with is telling!