Thrilling WNBA playoffs only given 3% of sports spotlight
#CoveringtheCoverage is back, and this time, there are charts!
Hi, friends. Welcome to Power Plays, a no-bullshit newsletter about sexism in sports, written by me, Lindsay Gibbs. Just a quick reminder that you can support this independent venture by signing up for free, becoming a paid subscriber, and sharing Power Plays with your friends.
Now, it’s #CoveringtheCoverage time, so let’s get right into it, shall we?
Yes. We shall.
#CoveringtheCoverage: September 15 through October 7
Remember the WNBA playoffs? That fun thing that happened? I know that in this time of pandemic and political terror in the United States the WNBA playoffs feel like they took place three lifetimes ago, but apparently it was just about two weeks ago when the Seattle Storm were drowning in confetti. Wild.
Well, throughout the playoffs, the great Tori Burstein was doing some #coveringthecoverage tracking for us, and it’s time to dive into the data. (Here’s a recap of the #coveringthecoverage methodology, if requested.)
For this series, we tracked the coverage of our six usual papers — USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and New York Times — from September 15 through October 7, the entirety of the WNBA playoffs.
Because of the pandemic, this was a unique situation, with practically all major sports happening at the exact same time. The NBA and NHL playoffs were underway, the MLB season was in full swing, and the NFL and NCAA football were kicking off. So, we collected data to reflect the amount of coverage each sport received in each paper.
During the most important part of the season, the WNBA only consisted of 3.10% of the coverage in sports sections. In comparison, 13.41% of coverage was NBA, 28.11% was NFL, 20.14% was MLB, 6% was NHL, and 12.9% was college football.
Here are a couple of other ways to visualize the miniscule amount of coverage the WNBA received during its playoffs, starting with a chart that shows the coverage per sport per paper:
You can see that the Chicago Tribune had by far the worst WNBA coverage, with only two WNBA stories in the paper during the playoffs, less than one percent of its total sports coverage. Meanwhile, the New York Times had the most WNBA coverage during this time, with 19 WNBA stories accounting for 10.2% of its sports coverage.
Additionally, the data shows that in almost every case, these newspapers gave the WNBA far less coverage than the other individual sports. The only exceptions? The Los Angeles Times had 12 WNBA stories during this time and only 11 NHL stories, and the New York Times’ 19 WNBA stories beat out its 12 NHL stories and 11 college football stories.
Here’s a pie chart that shows the cumulative averages between the six papers. LOOK HOW TINY THE WNBA’S SLIVER IS.
I think it’s important to point out that the NHL had the second-lowest percentage of coverage, but it still got twice as many stories in major papers than the WNBA did. Twice as many is significant!
According to our last #coveringthecoverage report, from July 22 through July 27, which was the opening weekend for the WNBA season, 6.1% of sports coverage in our select six newspapers was about the WNBA. In that newsletter, I speculated that getting back in action before the NBA and MLB and other major sports (besides the NWSL, of course) had been beneficial to the WNBA, because it had a bit more space to flourish. Our latest data collection certainly seems to prove that theory.
Notably, the WNBA is the only one of these sports that experienced increased ratings during its Finals.
There were some bright spots in local coverage of the semifinalists and finalists
Starting September 18, the day after the second round, we began tracking the coverage of the remaining teams in their local papers — the Seattle Times, Las Vegas Review Journal, Star Tribune, and Hartford Courant.
For the two teams that lost in the semifinals, the Connecticut Sun and Minnesota Lynx, we stopped tracking on September 30, the day after the finals were set.
The Hartford Courant gets the award for the best coverage, with 14% of its sports pages devoted to the WNBA during the WNBA semifinals, while the Connecticut Sun were alive. As you can see in the chart below, that is more than its NBA, NHL, and college football coverage, and comparable to its NFL coverage. Take a bow, Alexa Philippou and team.
Meanwhile, the Star Tribune only had 6.25% of its sports pages devoted to the WNBA while the Minnesota Lynx were in the semifinals. While that number is far from ideal, I do want to note that WNBA coverage still beat out NHL coverage, and was comparable to its NBA and college football coverage. NFL and MLB coverage dwarfed all other coverage in the Star Tribune during this time. Also, the Lynx were swept by the Storm, which didn’t help.
(Then again, the Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t in the NBA bubble at all. So a local women’s team has to be exponentially better than a local men’s team for the women’s league to get almost as much coverage of the men’s league, which, I mean, SIGH.)
For the two teams in the WNBA Finals, the Seattle Storm and the Las Vegas Aces, we tracked local coverage from September 18 through October 7.
I was disappointed to see the lack of coverage in the Las Vegas Review Journal, which only had 5.07% of its sports pages devoted to the WNBA during the semifinals and finals. Of course, considering NFL coverage took up nearly 43% of the oxygen in the room, there wasn’t that much breathing room left to divvy up among the other sports. WNBA coverage beat the NBA and was almost equivalent to MLB coverage. That sounds pretty good, until you realize Vegas does not have an NBA or MLB team. Again: SIGH.
Finally, the Seattle Times did some good WNBA coverage from afar of its champs. They had 28 quality stories on the Seattle Storm, which was good for 12.12% of its sports coverage.
And the Seattle Times gets bonus points, because these spreads are just wonderful:
We’ve got a long journey ahead in the Quest for 33%
When I began to cover the coverage here at Power Plays, I stated a goal: For women’s sports to make up 33% of the coverage in sports media.
Well, friends, there’s still a lot of work to do!
In the month of May, when there were no sports at all, Power Plays tracked that only seven percent of sports coverage in these papers was about women’s sports.
We monitored these same six papers from July 22-July 27 — the WNBA’s debut and the NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals and final — and found that women’s sports accounted for 10.5% of coverage during that time, which did feel like progress!
But, with the sports calendar as crowded as ever, women’s sports only made up 6.4% of the coverage, which is even less than May, when no sports were happening at all. That’s very bad. Here’s a visual, in case you don’t believe me:
The New York Times had the highest percentage of women’s sports coverage during this span, with 19.25%. The Chicago Tribune had by far the lowest, with only 1.69%. I believe that statistic deserves one final SIGH.
Let’s finish with a few screenshots of coverage, because we all need happiness in our lives
Here are two of my favorite Angel McCoughtry Headline Puns, a segment that I believe should become recurring:
And a sad Bill Laimbeer, just because:
Thank you all so much for spending some time with Power Plays! This work is only possible because of you.