An analysis of early media ecology and its role on the broadcast of women’s sport

In this blog post I am going to explore the history of early media ecology and its representation of women’s sport. This will be the first part of my blog ‘series’ where I will also explore the present and future representation of women’s sport through appropriate media outlets, so watch out for those future posts! I would also love to promote any individual opinions, experiences and discussion in the comments section.

Media ecology has been theorised by many media ecologists since the 1970’s, with Postman (1970) defining media ecology as “the study of media as environments” (cited in Scolari, 2012). More recently, Lum (2000) expanded on this definition by stating that media ecology is an interdisciplinary study for understanding media, communication and culture. Media “environments” can be simply translated as media outlets, such as newspapers, television and radio.

Sporting events and news has been published in newspapers for many centuries now, with stories being published as far back as the 1700’s in America. Lopiano (2000) found that men dominated in sports news, stating that an average of 90% of sport coverage in newspapers were reporting men’s sports, with only an average of 5% being devoted to women’s sports. The neglection of the reporting of women’s sports in newspapers lead to female athletes being underappreciated, and to women’s sports being seen as ‘trivial’.

This media imbalance was due to the stereotypical view that ‘female appropriate’ sports were primarily participated in to display beauty and aesthetics, discouraging any physicality. When comparing this to ‘male appropriate’ sports, which were deemed as aggressive and emphasised physical contact and competition, the media reported fewer female sports due to the lack of competition and excitement. This stereotypical view of sports, named by Jones and colleagues (1999) as ‘sex typing’, was prominent throughout print media when sports were first broadcast and reported, with any photographs of female athletes focusing on aesthetics or highlighting certain body parts.

Broadcasting sports news via radio became popular in the late 1920’s according to Owens (2009), where it was reported that 1 in 400 households in the USA owned a radio in 1922, increasing to 1 in 3 households by the end of the decade. This new form of broadcast allowed for sports experts to become commentators. Women’s sport was still being underreported on radio. However, in the 1930’s, BBC radio featured a small number of female commentators during women’s sporting events. This was a huge step for women in the sporting industry and helped encourage women to participate in sport. Even with media discouragement due to lack of coverage of women’s sports, Huggins (2007) reported that by 1938 in the UK, there were over a thousand women’s hockey clubs, double the amount compared to men, and women’s netball and cricket became popular due to women’s governing bodies being created. This spiked the start of the normalisation of women participating in competitive and physical sports.

An example of the normalisation of women participating in competitive sport was in 1943 during the second World War, as talked about in a blog written by Ramirez (2018). Due to the absence of enough men to participate in baseball tounrnements in the USA, a women’s league called the All-American Girls Baseball League was created and games were broadcast to the masses. The league gained a lot of publicity, attracting over 900,000 fans by the late 1940’s. However, this league only lasted for a decade due to the war ending and the rise of televised men’s sports.

As the world has become more digitalised, print media and radio has become less prominent in broadcasting sports news and events, allowing television, streaming services and social media to dominate sports media broadcast. Has this broader spectrum of media outlets allowed for women’s sport to catch up to men’s sport media coverage? This will be explored in my next blog.

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