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Amazonian Olympics

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While not entirely glued to the coverage, I’m definitely watching some of it (like that Canada / France women’s soccer game) and trying to keep up with coverage. For all its flaws, one great thing about the Olympics is that women in sport get as much attention as the men.

This is particular acute for Canada this year as, at time writing, 12 of the medals awarded to this country have been won by women athletes.

It’s a great thing, but as the article Opportunity Costs: What the Olympics Show Us About the Economics of Women’s Sports describes, it’s also unfortunate that women athletes only get to shine once every four years. Other than in golf and tennis—where women still earn considerably less than men—few women benefit financially from their “once every four years” moment in the spotlight.

The numbers must be understood in terms of economics, not just discrimination. In general, attendance at women’s sports events is low, and only about four percent of sports media coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, making female athletes less profitable investments for sponsors.

I’m also reminded, every four years, of the bizarre way that NBC, the American channel, broadcasts the games: very often on time delay, and largely in the form of “human interest” packages. According to the Washington Post, they do that for the women folk:

As the network’s chief marketing officer John Miller explained:

“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans,” he told Philly.com recently. “More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

This is absurd, of course. For I am that women who normally doesn’t watch sports but will tune into the Olympics. All I need is a knowledgeable commentator to explain the fine points of sports I might not be familiar with, and I’m good. I want to see it live. The background on the athlete’s stories is nice, too, but you can put that in between events, ’kay?

And fortunately, that’s exactly the type of coverage I get from our national broadcaster, CBC, and its partner sports channels.

But if you care about improving women’s prospects in sports in general, NBC’s coverage matters to Canadians as well. Because it’s doubtful any women’s sports league can make it in Canada alone; it will need to be a North America-wide affair. And per Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post:

This is where NBC’s real offense lies. It’s not so much that it insults the audience — but it sure does insult Olympic athletes, especially female athletes. The Olympics is the most prominent competition in the world and 53 percent of Team USA is female, which means American women likely will bring in more medals than American men. Yet they will be presented in packaging aimed at a Ladies’ Home Journal crowd. Exactly how does that grow a hardcore audience for women’s sports, or a year-in, year-out base for other Olympic sports, for that matter?

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