As years have gone by, I have struggled with the question of whether it is okay for me to be a fan of women's sports. It's not a matter of whether I am accepted or rejected by my peers, but as a 27 year old man in the crowd of a women's sporting event and actually wanting to be there. What do people think of me? Shouldn't I be at a more "masculine" event?
Women's sports have never been more popular. With incredible athletes like Ronda Rousey, Serena Williams, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Simone Biles, there has never been a better time to be a fan of women's sports. Even with all of that quality talent, television ratings aren't matching the enthusiasm and quality of talent. A recent study of television ratings from the last 25 years showed that coverage for women's sports has actually declined over time.
SportsCenter, the flagship program of ESPN dedicated just 2 percent of it's airtime to women's sports in 2014 according to the report. These numbers were then tested in major media markets like New York and Los Angeles. In LA, researchers examined data on how sports news and highlights were being presented in the area from local media. Their report found that just 3.2 percent of airtime was being dedicated to women's sports and this was actually down previous measurements in 1999 and 2004, however they did experience a slight improvement from the 1.6% of coverage in 2009. "This is a persisting trend. It's just somewhat disappointing given the tremendous growth and participation in women's sports of the last 25 years..." said Cheryl Cooky, associate professor of women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Purdue University in a article in June of 2015.
Some would argue, sports journalists are giving their public what they want to see. Coverage of the "big three" meaning football, basketball, and baseball was at 74.5% in 2014. How were these numbers in those sports respective offseason? The number shot up to 81.6% of coverage strictly for basketball on ESPN. Women's sports are typically featured during the offseason of the NFL and MLB. ESPN is seeing competition from a once familiar foe, and they are dedicated to bucking this trend and providing a refreshing touch when it comes to covering women's sports.
Fox Sports recently acquired the television rights to broadcast the FIFA Women's World Cup in the United States. Rather than broadcasting only the United States matches and select matches from around the tournament, Fox went all in with the tournament. They dedicated significant airtime to broadcasting all 52 matches. Fox was rewarded for their gamble. The USA vs. Australia group stage match attracted 3.311 million viewers, which made it the most watched Woman's World Cup group stage match, and the largest soccer audience at the time for FoxSports1. It was on pace to achieve and actually beat figures from the Men's 2014 and 2010 World Cups.
I guess this is where I come into play. I first became a fan of the United States Women's National Soccer team in the summer of 2011. I wasn't equipped with much knowledge other than Abby Wambach was still on the team and she was from the group called the "99ers" so she must be pretty good. During the world cup I was introduced to players like Lauren Cheney, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Ali Krieger. It was Krieger's story that really resonated with me.
As Krieger stepped up to take a penalty kick versus Brazil, the audience learned that Krieger was in her once former home country and had battled back from a near career ending injury. Krieger had an incredibly rare heart condition that caused her to have many mini heart attacks in college. Luckily, she beat it and in her rehab she became closer to her brother Kyle, who was a recovering addict. With inspiring stories like that, I was intrigued by the team.
Not only were these women strong, but they stood for everything that is good in America. Hard-working, determined, and kick-ass. Their style of play is actually what lured me into checking out Major League Soccer and supporting my local club, Columbus Crew SC. Without those powerful women, I wouldn't have found my home of 6 years with the Crew. Disgraced former FIFA President Sepp Blatter once said he believed that the women's game would grow if the players dressed more "provocatively."
I couldn't disagree with that statement more. The women's game is at times more beautiful then the men's game. More tactical, more precise, and a lot less complaining. The big difference, when the women get hurt, they are actually hurt. Unlike their male counter parts who deserve an Oscar at times.
As a man, should you follow women's sports? That answer is entirely up to you. I choose to follow women's sports because I see the games become more tactical, and I think there is an appreciation there that can get lost in the men's game. Plus, there hasn't been a better time to be a fan of women's sports. The sky is the limit for the talented ladies. Let's all sit back and be fans, and pass the popcorn.