The “success” of Twitter in promoting women’s sports: ‘Show me the money!’

tweet-birdThere seems to be much discussion over Twitter and how it might be “the answer” to successfully marketing and promoting women’s sports. Jayda Evans (Seattle Times columnist & Twitter-er) wrote about it, the Women’s Professional Soccer League is using it, and Megan Hueter, Co-founder of Women Talk Sports, has two recent blogs about the importance of social media for women’s sport (A recent blog is about Twitter and an earlier blog was about Facebook). I responded to Megan’s blog, and she responded back (scroll down on her blog about Facebook to see our exchange). I enjoyed this dialogue and have been thinking about this issue ever since.

I get that social media is a platform to market women’s sports in a saturated market, and it is accessible, current, relevant, provides athlete-generated content etc…I got it. I love social media, really I do, so this is not a critique of social media or those that love it, promote it, and live for it. I have a Blog (obviously), a Facebook page, am connected to colleagues through LinkedIn, and recently conquered my Twitter fascination. However, even with my love for social media I’m reluctant to make claims about the effectiveness of it in promoting female athletes and women’s sports. It is the researcher in me—I’m critical and skeptical until I see the proof (i.e., empirical data).

I have seen ZERO research that demonstrates if, and how, social media tangibly and effectively promotes and markets women’s sports. I queried one of our very smart graduate students who is immersed in this research, and she didn’t know of any either. We will stand corrected if it exists. Just because everyone is all atwitter about Twitter doesn’t mean it “works” or will “save” women’s sports.
twitter-image1Here is what we generally DO know about Twitter and sport:
1. Twitter exists and is rapidly growing in popularity
2. Some people, but not many (~5% of the population), are currently using Twitter
3. Some professional athletes are included in that 5%
4. Many professional sport leagues have a Twitter presence

Here is the $1,000,000 question: Has Twitter lead to an increase in—attendance, ticket sales, merchandise sales, sponsorships, media coverage in mainstream sport media, number of teams in women’s professional leagues, or any measurable interest in or consumption of women’s sports? Right now, Twitter is a good listening tool and provides a way to listen to brand champions of women’s sport (i.e., the core, loyal consumer). But other than that, show me the data. It might be doing some good, but has anyone thought about the flip side?…. that social media might not be good for female athletes or women’s sports? So how might Twitter and other social media (including those not invented yet) be “bad” you ask? Well here are a few things to ponder.

It is a well known fact that female athletes receive only 6-8% of coverage in traditional sport media. This statistic has remained consistent over the last 20 years, despite increases in girls and women participation in sport. When female athletes are covered in traditional sport media, they are often portrayed in ways that marginalize or minimize athletic competence and highlight sexy, hetero, feminine aspects of the female body or identity.

A perfect example of this is the March 23, 2009 ESPN magazine cover of pregnant WNBA Rookie of the Year Candace Parker in which the opening sentence discusses that Parker “…is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup…” If you want a thorough, and I think well done, sociological critique of this article read this blog which appears in Contexts. I did a little mini investigation after I saw the Parker cover and found: In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.espn-mag-women-covers-5-yrs

While social media is changing the role of sport journalists, sport media scholar Marie Hardin argues this is both good an bad. I add it is good if it changes coverage patterns of female athletes, but I would add it is bad if it becomes expected that female athletes have to be partially or largely responsible for promoting themselves as well-rounded “girls next door” through social media as a way to “save” their leagues or bolster their own “brand”. Why isn’t it just enough for Candace Parker to play basketball to the best of her abilities? The NBA doesn’t ask Kobe Bryant to be more than a great basketball player do they?

Could it be possible that social media, including Twitter, is just another means to replicate the ways in which traditional sport media marginalizes and sexualizes female athletes? Twitter’s existence does nothing to challenge the status quo or existing structural inequalities between men’s and women’s sports…especially since it is an “opt in” platform.

Another point to ponder: How are female athletes and professional leagues presenting themselves on Twitter? Stay tuned for results on cutting edge research two of our graduate students are just completing on this very question—this is cool stuff! In the meantime, I’ll give you one example that occurred on the 2009 WNBA draft day which caught my eye and highlights my previous point. I saved three (of many) Tweets written by draftees, the WNBA, and other attendees who were collectively discussing “how we look and what to wear” rather than “how we play” on Draft Day 2009. 2wnbadraft-day

What everyone should do who cares about this issue and the cause of women’s sport, is think less about hyping social media and more about how social media can be used to create real social change and lead to sustainability (meaning…show me not only the data, but the $$$$) of women’s professional sport leagues…and more importantly, how can we prove and measure “success”?

What Makes Sport Parents “Angry”?

angry-man_istock_000005831286xsmall_croppedToday I spent the day finishing up (well almost) a paper on what makes sport parents angry during their child’s sport events. I alluded in my last blog that snacks cause a fair amount of parent anger…now to the main finding. What percentage of sport parents claim they “never get angry”? If you guessed about one third, you would be correct! Now you might be thinking that seems a bit high…I do. I think that almost all sport parents get angry at something at some point during their child’s sporting endeavors. The other two thirds of (honest) parents that do report getting angry have a variety of things that set them off. What or who do you think is the #1 Anger Culprit? If you guessed the Incompetence of the Referee, you would be correct!Football referee blowing whistle Remember though, it is the parent’s perception of incompetence that makes them angry…we don’t know in reality if the referee is truly incompetent or not.

Given that retaining and recruiting youth sport referees is a MAJOR issue—just ask NASO which estimates a ~35% attrition rate each year—could parental anger over referee incompetence be a contributing factor in the high attrition rate? Needless to say that many youth sport referees are adolescents who take on the “job” for the love of the game and quit in part because of the abuse they take from adults on the sidelines. Obviously, yelling at the referee is not unique to youth sports but it does become a more important issue when children and youth are the indirect (as athletes) and direct (as the referee) recipients of angry yelling. Yelling at the referee is also the #1 most frequent “bad” or “poor” sport behavior on youth sport sidelines reported from the perspective of youth athletes, parents, and coaches alike. What I’ve found interesting in the 4-5 studies I’ve done in the context of youth sport is that the referee ALWAYS comes up as a source of contention. There is a future research question in here somewhere…..but you’d be surprised at how little research has been done on referees or taken the referee perspective into account. More to come in the future on “what makes sport parents angry”…..

Snacks & Youth Sport: What message does this send youth athletes?

snacksI’ve been thinking about snacks at youth sport events since last summer. Why?—primarily because when I asked youth sport parents what made them “angry” at their child’s sport events, snacks came up with some frequency. We thought, “Snacks? Anger? Really?” At one point we dubbed it “Snack Wars”….too many snacks, not enough snacks, the wrong snacks, who is bringing the snacks?, and who is in charge of organizing the snacks? We were quite surprised (and amused) by this emergent finding. I need your help in thinking through this issue. Why have snacks become such a common and ubiquitous part of youth sports? When did this start and why? What is your opinion about snacks at youth sport events? Leave me a comment and enlighten me. In the meantime, watch this “McDonald’s Victory” commercial on YouTube…this is what I’m talking about! What message does this send youth athletes?

Equal Pay Day…not for female youth sport coaches!

fair-payThe following information is taken from the National Women’s Law Center’s Campaign for Fair Pay. April 28, Equal Pay Day, marks the day in 2009 when the average woman’s wages will finally catch up with those paid to the average man in 2008. In the United States, women are paid only 78¢ on average for every dollar paid to men. More than 45 years ago, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. The following year, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, making it illegal to discriminate, including in compensation, on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. At the time of the Equal Pay Act’s passage in 1963, women were paid merely 59 cents to every dollar earned by men. Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII has helped to narrow the wage gap, significant disparities remain and must be addressed.

In Minnesota, my home state, in 2007 on average, women in Minnesota working full-time, year-round earned only 77% of what men working full-time, year-round earned — one percentage point below the nationwide average of 78%.

Since I’ve been writing about youth sport coaches in the last week, just a little data about this group as it pertains to being paid….or in this case, NOT being paid. In study being conducted by one of my graduate students, male youth sport coaches are twice as likely to be paid than their female counterparts in Minnesota youth soccer clubs. She didn’t collect how much pay disparity exists, which I think would be an interesting follow up study! I’ll share more of these research findings when we finish the full analysis.

“You Gotta Be Tough”

3-fingers1I thought a triad of blogs about female coaches in youth sport was appropriate given the amount of emails I received and blogs written in response to this topic. It seems like there is a need to continue the conversation.

To that end, the video of Michael Messner’s talk delivered on April 22, 2009 for the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport 2009 Spring Distinguished Lecture, “You Gotta Be Tough”: Challenges & Strategies of Female Coaches in Youth Sport, is now available to view free of charge. Messner is a professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California.

Women “On the Field”: Strategies for Increasing Female Youth Sport Coaches

Given that less than 20% of youth coaches are female, which I wrote about in my last blog I wanted to post some strategies that developed from the voices of mother-coaches that I interviewed with colleague Sarah Leberman (Massey U, NZ). The women identified many creative ways to increase the number of female coaches in youth sport.

To achieve this goal is much more complicated than convincing women they should coach or throwing up our hands and claiming “women just don’t WANT to coach” as the person below suggests in a letter to the editor in the StarTribune He states, “If a woman wanted to coach she would seek a coaching job. It is wrong to assume because there are not a lot of women coaches that there is some conspiracy to not have them coach. A more common-sense assumption is that they don’t want to coach. Just as not many men go into nursing or shop because they would prefer to do something else. Is there a conspiracy among women to keep us from shopping? Ridiculous.”

Yes women have “choices” but their choices are shaped by the gendered context of youth sport in which men hold most of the positions of power (i.e., club directors, youth sport organization Presidents, Head Coaches). Many women want to coach but they encounter what sociologist Mike Messner (USC) calls in his book a glass ceiling and “chilly climate”, due in part to the existing “old boy’s club” that controls youth sport.

Increasing the number of female coaches will take a variety of strategies at the individual, family, organizational and societal level. Arguably, the hardest levels to change are family and societal norms. A majority of women are still the primary caretakers of children and responsible for household organization which makes taking on coaching a “third shift”. The juggling of the worker-mother/wife-coach roles is exhausting and makes it challenging and/or overwhelming for many women to continue to coach or to agree to begin coaching. Changing societal gender norms and family division of labor is out of my control(!), but implementing some “easier” strategies at the youth sport organizational level might result in more women “on the field”.

Click here to see the handout I made on Strategies for Increasing Female Youth Sport Coaches

If you have other suggestions or strategies to increase female youth sport coaches, I would love to hear from you.