Thursday 8 October 2009

Women's sport suffers from lack of visibility

Let us dispel some myths firstly:
Womens sport does not lack talent
Women sporters do not train less hard than the men - they push their bodies to the limit too
Womens sport is not less interesting to watch - in fact in some sports it is more exciting to watch as the rallies are shorter.
Yes less women play sports than men, but this gap is decreasing and in the last Olympics the split was 50:50.

Women's sport suffers from lack of visibility. The media coverage ratio between male and female professional sports in the developed world is 10:1. The fan base is a lot smaller too, in fact world championships for some women's individual sports don't exceed more than 200 spectators. Men don't want to watch the women and women neither it appears. The sports spectator culture among women hasn’t kept pace with the participatory one.

Some believe the only way to increase the visibility of women's sport, is for women to compete in the mens competitions, but due to the physiology of men versus women, it would be impossible for women to compete at that level. If you compare the top 10 women tennis players they would find it hard to compete against men in the top 1000 rankings. In squash the top 10 women on the national arena, find it difficult beating men ranked 600 nationally. This is not a solution for those sports which require physical exertion.

Now if you compare one sport where the women get as much publicity and have just as many fans as the men, it is tennis. The game is easy to understand and follow for non-players of the sport. Remember understanding of the game is necessary to enjoy it and to want to follow it. During the breaks, the analysis helps to understand the game, the key moments and the decisive decisions, and ultimately builds up the excitement and enjoyment.

The tennis tour has a number of women "personalities" including the likes of Serena Williams who in fact has far more twitter followers than Roger Federa. Women in tennis has benefited from part of the women's ATP tournaments being played at the same time as the men's. So the media and the fans are already there, so they get the visibility. Equally tennis benefits from a lot of women role models, including the likes of Sue Barker the tennis commentator.

Another example of women getting a lot of visibility in their sport, is when they compete at the Olympics. In part this can be explained by the fact that they compete at the same venues and times as the men and therefore the press and fans/audience are already present. Patriotism plays a role here too, we will all cheer for a women from our country if it means another gold medal for the medal table.

Technology and scoring/rule systems have a huge role to play in increasing the interest in following certain sports, look at what the rule changes did for the game of rugby and the use of technology to help analyze football games at half time and checking refereeing decisions in tennis. However for some sports, like squash even changing the scoring for the women's game to match the mens scoring system has not managed to increase the fan base of the women's game.

The huge gap between opportunities, funding and media exposure given to males and females in the sporting world persists. However major inroads have been made in pay equity for international sporting competitions. In tennis, the French Open and Wimbledon joined ranks with the Australian and US Opens by offering both men and women competitors equal prize money. Also, the 2005 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon paid winners of men's and women's categories equal prize money. But these sports are in the minority. For instance, according to the US National Committee on Pay Equity, the average salary in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) is only 2 per cent of the all-male National Basketball Association's (NBA) average.

There are many lessons to be learned from tennis, in the stride to increase the visibility of the womens sports:

- Combine the men and women's pro events as much as possible
- Ensure the audience understands the sport
- Use technology to make the sport more understandable & exciting
- Make women personalities and role models accessible

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Sports world champions using twitter

Twitter is one of the best ways for sports stars to stay in touch with their fans and keep their fans engaged with their progress. Of course Lance Armstrong is the best example of a sporter using twitter to stay in touch with fans and well wishers. But I wondered how many WOMEN world champions/number 1's are actually using twitter to this end.

Well not that many as it turns out. I did a quick check of 13 individual sports and their current world number 1 (as of 7 Oct 09). So in order of popularity (most number of followers on twitter as of 7 Oct 09):

- Serena Williams (tennis) - 1,207,513
- Lindsey Vonn (downhill skiing) - 1,288
- Nicol David (squash) - 590

The following world number 1's do not yet have a twitter account:

- Wang Lin (badminton)
- Yue Guo (table tennis)
- Jeter Carmelita (100m sprint athletics)
- Britta STEFFEN (50m freestyle swimming)
- Mariane Vos (road cycling)
- Elisabeth OSL (mountain biking cross country)
- Lorena Ochoa (golf)
- Emma Moffat (triathlon)
- Ana BRANZA (fencing)
- Veronica Blackmann (boxing heavyweight)

Sunday 27 September 2009

Vicious circle - financial support for topsporters

Over the last few days I have been at the Forexx Women's world squash championships in Amsterdam, voluntarily doing video interviews for a fellow website run by Nicol David number one in the world. You can view the videos on their YouTube channel

During the course of my chats and interviews, it has come to my attention that there is a viscious circle created in the financing of topsporters in Holland by the NOC NSF Olypmics association, which is not wholly supportive of the players that actually need the most help.

The current situation means that you can only get NOC NSF/topsporter status if you fall into the top 4 or 8 in the world. This excludes the rising stars. However if you earn too much money over a certain threshold, you are also excluded from the financial support of the NOC NSF. So if you are top in the world, you are winning tournaments so you may actually earn over the threshold and therefore by being too good, you dequalify yourself from the right to have financial support from the Olympics association.

Effectively they have created a viscious circle, you have to be very good, but not too good to get support. What about all those that fall into the most needed category, not quite in the top 10 in the world, but could be with more time to practice and more support could make it. Effectively unless that category have financial support from other means, ie from friends, family, or if they are lucky a sponsor, they have little chance of reaching the top 10. Should financial support from the NOC NSF be means tested like with university grants?

So again, it boils down to the topsporter needing the right support network, beyond the support or lack of support of their national olympics association to succeed. This was one of the many reasons I created to aid sporters with developing a sport network.