A picture tells a thousand words and this picture is a perfect example of when female athletes are covered in the media, it is often in ways that highlight femininity-rather than athletic competence. For more on this subject read here, here, or here.
Highest Paid v. Hottest Athletes
MSN.com recently posted two articles that represent a perfect example of gender inequality and sexist and marginalizing media coverage of female athletes. The articles speak for themselves….
First visit MSN Sports Hottest 30 Sportswomen , posted on June 23, 2009. (I looked for a companion piece on “The 30 Hottest SportsMEN”… to no avail)
Next visit the story posted June 21, 2009 on MSN titled World’s Highest-Paid Athletes (no female athletes here!)
New Twitter research: Help in marketing women’s sport?
A new study from Harvard provides information to those banking on Twitter to help market, promote, and sustain women’s sports. Here are some snippets if you don’t want to read the entire article or the post on Harvard Business Publishing:
1. “Just 10% of Twitter users generate more than 90% of the content”…these people are called “super users”. Super Users can now make money through a just launched service called Super Chirp
2. “…very, very few people tweet and the Nielsen data says very, very few people listen consistently.”
3. “Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one”
4. “…an average man was almost twice as likely to follow another man than a woman, despite the reverse being true on other social networks. The sort of content that drives men to look at women on other social networks does not exist on Twitter,” said Mr. Heil (one of the researchers). “By that I mean pictures, extended articles and biographical information.”
Twitter may be reaching a certain audience, but probably not males who don’t opt in and follow women’s sport.
Take home message for female athletes and women’s professional sport leagues: Use sexy pictures you download onto TwitPic to garner millions of followers (given the stack of research on how female athletes are sexualized in the sport media, such a picture shouldn’t be hard to find), then start charging your followers money to follow your Tweets. Voila!...instant revenue!
Given Heil’s findings, this may unfortunately lend some credence to the “sex sells” women’s sport debate (for more on this debate click here and here). But… I still contend that sex sells sex, not women’s sport.
International Conference on Girls & Women in Sport
The International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) has officially announced the dates for the 5th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport. The conference will be held in Sydney, Australia May 20-23, 2010. A call for abstracts will be released July 2009. I’ll see you there!
The LFL…that stands for The Lingerie Football League
The LFL…short for The Lingerie Football League…should really be short for “LaFf out Loud”. Please take a look at The LFL website if you haven’t yet. Many of you who read this blog probably already know what my response to this might be. But first you should see some recent practice pictures featured on SportsIllustrated.com. Honestly I don’t even know where to start the critical commentary…the team names, the uniforms, the photo gallery, the concept…..(sigh).
If this league survives and thrives, then I guess we all have more data to help us answer the burning question “Does sex sell women’s sport?” What do YOU think about The LFL?
Selling Sex Does NOT Attract Men to Women’s Sport
I just saw a short video as a result of a Twitter from the WNBA. The power of social media at work for one “opt-in” follower! The video is by Mr. Alex Chambers, a self-proclaimed avid WNBA fan who also Twitters, and blogs. Yes, I said “Mr”!
I’m posting this because Mr. Chambers is a prime example of my previous point that sex does not sell women’s sport, it sells sex (not sport) to young men….and alienates and/or offends female sport fans. If women’s professional sport leagues want attract the coveted demographic–young male sport fans–they have to do a better job of selling athletic competence.
Notice in Mr. Chambers’ video, not once does he mention how attractive, sexy, feminine, or motherly the players are. He loves BASKETBALL and he loves the WNBA. I agree with him there are more male fans out there like him….and more that would likely become women’s sport fans if it was marketed differently or deemed “cool” and acceptable by males in general (like if Jack Black pictured here were at a Sparks game…I’m not sure if he is or isn’t at a WNBA game). Keep up the good work Alex Chambers…I can’t wait to hear more about your “journey” this summer. On similar note, the WNBA is about to fully release their new marketing campaign “Expect Great”. The title sounds promising!
Does Sex Sell Women’s Sport?
I’ve been wanting to write a blog about this topic for awhile and a recent interview given by my colleague and the Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport Professor Mary Jo Kane on the Edge of Sports Radio with Dave Zirin provided me with a perfect opportunity!
In the interview with Zirin she discusses research, conducted with Heather Maxwell (Ph.D.), in which their findings refute the idea that sex sells women’s sports. Kane also discusses how the notion of “sex sells” is related to depictions of motherhood and female athletes—like the magazine covers of Sheryl Swoopes and Candace Parker pictured here, homophobia and Pat Griffin’s idea of The Glass Closet, and her thoughts on the Women’s Final Four sport media coverage. (Note: Motherhood and elite female athletes is a popular blog topic lately..see Maria Hardin’s blog and the Pretty Tough blog)
I also think Kane’s interview helps us think through why some female athletes feel it is important to “have it all” (i.e., be sexy, feminine, AND athletic)…which I’ve touched upon in a previous blog about social media.
The interview is less than 5 minutes and well worth your while to hear one of the leading experts on sport media, Title IX, gender, and women’s sports talk critically and share cutting edge research. In the end, as Zirin says, “Sex sells sex“. Sex does NOT sell women’s sports.
The “success” of Twitter in promoting women’s sports: ‘Show me the money!’
There 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.
Here 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.
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.
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”?
Got Milk? Dara (I mean Dairy) Torres does.
The ‘Got Milk?’ campaign has a long history of featuring celebrities and athletes who encourage consumers to increase milk consumption for improved health. Athletes for example such as, Diana Taurasi, Steve Nash, Serena Williams, and David Beckham have appeared in the campaign. With the release of her new book Age is Just a Number, swimming Olympian Dara Torres seems to be everywhere, including in the most recent Got Milk? ad pictured here.
While this ad is just one of many Torres’ sexy “see my body at 42” pictures (See TIME cover also pictured here) what ‘Got Me’ is the ad copy.
Torres is not featured as Dara Torres…but “Dairy” Torres. Why is this a problem? Dara Torres is a five-time Olympian with 12 medals. Dairy Torres is a fictional character…she does not exist. The play on words at the end of the ad copy also sexualizes Torres (“Lap it up” and Dairy…I don’t need to make the connection for you do I?). These two ad copy examples demonstrate how even the most successful female athletes can be marginalized, often in subtle (or not so subtle) ways.
I looked at numerous other Got Milk? ads featuring athletes, and I did not see one ad that referred to a person by a name other than their own—male or female. For example David Beckham’s ad says “Goal By Beckham. Body by Milk”. Why is it that one of THE most decorated female Olympians who has defied assumptions about optimal performance, age and motherhood is portrayed in this way? To prove my point would a similar ad featuring male Olympic swimmer Micheal Phelps say “Milky Phelps” and end with a tag line saying “Lap it up” or “Suck it up”? The ad for Torres could of simply said, “(Alot of) Medals by Torres. Body by Milk”.