This example comes from Fox Soccer.com titled Soccer Wives and Girlfriends. Why this is on a sport website is interesting food for thought. I looked for “Soccer Husbands and Boyfriends” on the WPS website but (thankfully) did not find any. It is picture essays like this that relegate women to the sidelines. Not to mention only including pictures of male soccer player’s female partners and companions is not very inclusive.
A few random things to think about over the weekend:
1. As the 10th Anniversary of the 1999 Women’s World Cup in upon us, pay attention to how the media constructs this historic event. Will the focus be on a) the US win and competitive achievement, b) Brandi Chastain’s offing-the-soccer jersey to expose her Nike sports-bra (see the NCAA Double-A Zone), c) the “girls of summer” (i.e., the wholesome, attractive, All-American darlings that everyone fell in love with) many of whom are now mothers, d) how the historic event gave notice that people DO like to watch women’s sports (especially when it is promoted in the media and marketed) (see Christine Brennan’s USA Today column, e) how the team provided role models for young boys and girls, or f) spawned two women’s professional soccer leagues (see WPS) …..or perhaps some of all of the above? I’ll be curious to see what dominant messages arise.
2. The Tour de France is underway! Will Lance Armstrong really win it yet again? It got me thinking…why don’t women ride in the Tour de France? I did a little sleuthing and found no real answers but there IS a race called Le Grand Boucle (“the great loop”) which is been held off and on roughly over the last 15 years. The women’s race is shorter, has varied in the number of stages (the men’s race has 21), and the 2009 race will be just four days long “due to organizational difficulties” (according to Wikipedia..take it for what you will). If you know French, you can see the official website of Le Grand Boucle…je parlez un peu francais. It makes me think that the exclusion of women in the Tour de France is arbitrary, and the shorter “lesser than” women’s race, serves to perpetuate existing and historical gender hierarchies in sport that privilege male athletes.
Carolyn Bivens,the LPGA Tour Commissioner recently stated in an interview, “I’d love it if players Twittered during the middle of a round,” and “encourages” players to use hand held devices to post content on social-media Web sites such as Twitter or Facebook during tournaments, even if it runs counter to golf etiquette. The LPGA is not the first professional women’s sport to enter the world of social media. The WPS has dabbled with tweets during games, and many female athletes, leagues, and coaches have Twitter pages (To see them all visit the Twitter Lounge at Women Talk Sports). While the effectiveness of Twitter in marketing and promoting women’s sport is still rages, I’d like to offer a sport psychology perspective on tweeting during competition.
Psychological skills in sport include (but are not limited to) managing energy and anxiety, self-talk, visualization, goal setting, and attentional control. Perhaps tweeting between holes, during halftime or between periods, or if a player is on the bench, might be a good idea but even that is stretching it. If an athlete is tweeting (to interact with fans, give fans what they want, make athletes accessible, make the sport more appealing…or for whatever purpose it is supposed to accomplish), even on the bench, she is not paying attention to relevant information in the game that she might need when called upon. I can see it now…
Coach: “Why did you miss that defensive coverage? She has been doing that same move all night long? I sent you in there for your defense, you’re our stopper!!!”
Athlete:“Sorry Coach, I’ve been busy tweeting while on the bench so that more fans will come watch our games and the league is ‘encouraging’ us do it”
Coach: “No one will come if we are losing games because players off the bench have no clue what is going on!…give me that IPhone!”
In golf, a player must maintain mental focus the entire round. One errant shot, wrong club, mis-read can be the difference between making the cut and making travel plans to the next tournament. Some athletes do have the ability to refocus attention quickly, but some do not. Why take the chance?
Coach: “What happened on the back nine? All you had to do was to make par all the way in to make the cut!”
Athlete: “On hole 14 I stopped to tweet how I was doing to my tweeples, and then I was rushed for my shot and had to go through my ritual quickly. I lost focus and before I knew it, my second shot was in the water which made me so mad because I knew it was because I had lost focus, which made me more unfocused and angry at myself and it spiraled from there.”
Athletes that are mentally tough (the ability to perform on command regardless of the situation), have developed psychological skills which include highly detailed and systematic rituals that are practiced. These rituals increase the likelihood of optimal performance. Will competitive rituals now include tweeting?
Athlete:(golfer through pre-shot routine) Assess yardage, wind direction and lie. Pick club, take practice swings, repeat cue words, address ball, take a deep breath, see self hitting ball perfectly, see ball flying on right trajectory, exhale, relax shoulders, loosen grip on the club, hit it. Pick up phone to tweet result. Repeat.
Tweeting during competition has nothing to do with optimal performance. Energy and attention focus are limited quantities. The more energy and focus that goes into tweets, the less the athlete has for performing well. If I saw an opponent tweeting during a competition, I would be elated! The excitement around Twitter during games seems to driven by “what the fans want” rather than “what is best for the athletes”. After all, professional athletes are there to compete and perform the best they can on any given day–anything that distracts them from doing so is a bad idea.
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!
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”?
So after posting my last blog “Are Women Sport Fans?” I had a couple conversations with colleagues about female sport fans and how we “market” sport to women which spurred some additional thoughts. As I mentioned previously, females comprise 53% of WNBA and one-third or more of all MLB, NBA, and NHL fans.
Have you ever wondered about the typical ways women are “enticed” to attend professional men’s sports(i.e., “wine & pamper yourself events” that also teach women the rules of the game? This assumes that women don’t attend sports purely because they love the game, know the rules, follow the stats, or are passionate about their favorite team and player(s). Women ARE sport fans…but we so seldom see them in the sport media it is assumed they don’t exist. It also assumes that women don’t know the rules of the game and therefore don’t attend for that reason. If women just KNEW the rules it would increase their likelihood of attending! Women have to be lured to attend sports through things society tells them that women like…manicures, being pampered, wine tasting, and hanging out with the girls.
So let’s apply similar logic to attracting male fans (the coveted sport demographic) to women’s professional leagues, for example the WPS or WNBA. Are parallel events like “beer & back waxing” days offered for men? Or days that teach men the rules of the game? No? If not, then it must be assumed that all men are already sport fans and KNOW the rules the game. But this hasn’t translated into increasing numbers of male fans….yet. What do you think is the most effective way to increase the number of male sport fans at womens’ sports?
Key point: one-third or more of sport fans are comprised of females….men’s and women’s sports NEED female fans to survive! What if that one-third of the female fan base stopped attending men’s sports? To ensure the survival of women’s pro leagues that many of us are passionate about, is not the sole responsibility of female fans. Men’s pro sports rely on both male and female sport fans for sustainability, the same applies for women’s pro sports.
I still believe we haven’t gotten it right….yet. What does effective sport marketing to females look like? What does effective marketing of women’s sport look like? To get us started in answering these questions I think back to the May 26, 2006 and an October 9, 2006 Sport Business Journal articles written by a former colleague.