The Minnesota Lynx: A Case About Media Coverage for Female Athletes

I live in Minneapolis and am a fan, advocate and scholar about gender issues in sport, particularly girls and women in sport. In the last two months, while I haven’t blogged much I have been keeping in eye on happenings around women in sport. Media coverage, or should I say the lack thereof, has been on my mind a great deal.

An anomaly was the 2011 Women’s World Cup aired and covered by ESPN = Fantastic coverage of dramatic competition, athleticism and serious athletes. Unfortunately what we see far too often is the trivialization, erasure and sexualization of female athletes…which I’ve written about a lot.  This last point is why I haven’t blogged much lately. I’m just plain depressed and discouraged that over and over again these patterns emerge, despite record numbers of females participating in sport in the post Title IX era. How many times can I write the same thing over and over without anything changing…and in fact, in most cases, is getting worse?

6 Ways Media Present Female Athletes

I’ll say it again…media coverage by major networks of female athletes has DECREASED in the last 10 years and is now down to a dismal 1.6%. (What would the Twins’ attendance or interest in the team look like if we only read 1.6% of the time about the team in the sports media or if we didn’t hear and read non-stop coverage of the team—even in the off season?)

Dave Zirin pointed out that GQ left out an entire gender when naming their 25 coolest athletes.

If you want to read a great critique and column titled “Sex Sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports” in the special sports issue of The Nation magazine written by my colleague Dr. Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, and get up to speed about why these trends persists and why it is problematic, I’d encourage you to read it.

You can also see an exceptional slide show of the six categories of representation of female athletes commonly witnessed in the sport media from athleticism to soft core porn if you click here. Kane argues the majority of sport media and marketers are complicit and unquestioning that sex sells women’ sport and “believe that reaffirming traditional notions of femininity and heterosexuality is a critical sales strategy.”

Ironically, in our own backyard the WNBA Minnesota Lynx are providing an interesting case study for sport media scholars. Currently the Lynx have the best record in the WNBA and have secured a playoff bid. The Lynx have a great deal of athletic talent: Whalen, Wiggens, Bruson, Augustus, and Moore are some of the players lighting up the scoreboard this season. Meanwhile…the MN Twins are struggling, the NBA is facing a lockout and the Timberwolves were horrible last season, the NFL is limping back to full speed after their lockout and the Vikings will struggle, and the NHL and MN Wild have their own issues.

Case in point: Today I got a call from a local media outlet to discuss why the Lynx are getting very little coverage despite a winning season. I was ready. I got a call 10mns later, the story was canceled– “Something better had come up”. How can people get interested in the Lynx if they don’t hear about them and the team isn’t covered?

I know for a fact that the Lynx are selling more tickets this year, over 1,000 more a game, than last year. Fans are filling the seats. People ARE interested and DO care about women’s sport. The Lynx are talented and exciting to watch. Hey sport media….PAY ATTENTION AND GIVE THE LYNX THE COVERAGE THEY DESERVE! Sport media journalists argue they will cover women’s sport when interest is there. Here is a clue: NOW IS THE TIME.

Here is a novel chicken-egg idea: The more media coverage you give the Lynx, the more people will attend and the more interest is generated.

The ironic thing is, people are interested DESPITE poor media coverage of the Lynx.

Even more ironic, people are interested in the Lynx because they are GREAT ATHLETES and are fun to watch not because the Lynx players are being marketed and portrayed in sexy and hyper-feminine ways.

Fans of women’s basketball and women’s sport want to see and read about athleticism and see quality play. They are getting that and Moore with the Minnesota Lynx.

added 9/1/11: Watch me talk to WCCO’s Jason DeRusha on the “Good Question” discuss the lack of coverage of the MN Lynx.

6 Replies to “The Minnesota Lynx: A Case About Media Coverage for Female Athletes”

  1. Okay…I’ll take the bait. You are way smarter about this stuff; but I need you to convince me a little more (coffee sometime??). So here goes…what if we looked at this from an asexual, non-gender perspective. 1000 more fans in that place still doesn’t fill the lower bowl. Everyone knows that you buy the cheapest ticket and move down to a good seat, because no one is going to show up. The fact is that if fan interest (attendance) was higher, the Lynx might get front page notice (realistically, below the fold; but…). The last time women’s basketball was front page news was the Gophers. It didn’t start when they got good. It started when they switched from the Pavillion to the Barn and FILLED IT!!! That was a happening; and from that point forward the media cared and both fed each other (media brought more interest, interest brought more media). The media coverage still lingers today for the Gopher women (they have their own beat writer from the StarTrib) even though the program has dropped in success on the court.

    Now is the time for the chicken to produce some eggs. Lower tickets to $5. Bus people in from…wherever! Actually fill the bowl at Target Center and make people think that maybe they need to open up the 2nd level! Do anything and everything you can to fill that arena! THEN you can start the upward spiral of more media coverage, then more attendance, then MORE media coverage,…

    I just deleted a whole paragraph on minor sports (men and women) and the coverage they get or don’t get based on how many show up for their matches, meets,etc…It ended up being too much about me (my failures in this area). Suffice it to say….attendance drives coverage first, not success. THEN they feed each other.

    Now chew me up and spit me out. The fact that you’re WAY smarter than me is only one of about 50,000 reasons I’m proud to say I was your coach.

    JC

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  2. First of all…….NMLAVOI…hold me!….I am so frustrated and angry at all the news media…too!
    GAWD…they anger me!! I LOVED YOUR ARTICLE…AND I KNOW YOU WERE SPEAKING FROM YOUR HEART!!….THIS DISCRIMINATORY CRAP NEEDS TO STOP! I DON’T GET IT!…..BUT, PLEASE CONTINUE ON FIGHTING…THAT GOOD FIGHT. HOPEFULLY ONE DAY IT WILL TURN AROUND!!
    LOVE YA,
    SYD VISHUS~

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  3. Not sure I agree, I live in the TC as well. Lynx games (complete with pre-game show and post game wrap up) are broadcast regularly on FSN and on radio. Local news recaps the scores after every game. Strib print edition writes about every game and has run numerous features this season. They have their own page on the Strib and FSN online. They are getting coverage in the news media.

    Now, If you’re talking about the conversations on KFAN, that is completely different. I listen to KFAN all day everyday at work, and true, the Lynx are rarely mentioned. But talk radio plays to the interests of its listeners. It’s one thing to expect news media to cover the team (which it does), it’s quite another to expect talk radio to devote time to a team most of its hosts and listeners aren’t as interested in as, say, the Twins.

    I would also suggest that it’s unrealistic to expect equal interest in a 12-year old franchise in comparisson to the other local teams. The Twins and Vikings have been a huge part of the community culture for 50 years. The Wild benefit from hockey being the state sport. And the Wolves?, most of the coverage they get (especially on KFAN) is negative.

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  4. On the plus side, buzz is growing around this historically bad team. They have some bona-fide superstars to go along with hometown favorite Whalen. If they make a deep run into the playoffs, or better yet win the championship and have a parade down Hennepin, interest and conversations will follow.

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  5. Sometimes the women’s sport leagues are their own worst enemies. While the NFL will be spending the month of October promoting breast cancer awareness to reach out to and increase its female fan base, what does the WNBA do? It also promotes breast cancer awareness through its season. In fact I have never seen a promotion to engage male fans. By not reaching out to male fans they are at best limiting their fan base to 1/2 the population and a worst alienating the other 1/2.

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