Dawn Staley women's sports icon Mar 5, 2023; Greenville, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley shows the the net to the crowd after winning the SEC Championship at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

A recent study from Wasserman measuring references to keywords across all forms of media found women’s sports received 15 percent of coverage, compared with a previous baseline around 5 percent.

The study analyzed trends from 2018 through 2023.

Wasserman identified the expansion of leagues and the development of new media as main drivers of this increased attention. Women’s sports are receiving more investment, sponsorship and fan engagement, making these leagues more newsworthy for large media properties.

Wasserman looked at linear television broadcasters like ESPN and Fox Sports 1 plus the top four streamers (ESPN+, Paramount+, Prime Video and Peacock) to analyze broadcast trends. The research team also analyzed aggregator social media accounts on Twitter (now X), TikTok, Instagram and Facebook as well. In addition, they combed digital news publications.

While the study explains that younger audiences consume sports more online, the Wasserman analysis differs from previous research in the space. The most commonly noted analysis comes from Cheryl Cooky and Michael Messner, who found that as recently as 2019, women’s sports received just 5.4% of coverage on sports television shows.

Of course, studying digital and social media trends is valuable. But those channels still do not drive awareness on a grand scale the way ESPN, FS1 or local news can. If women’s sports brands are going to grow at a rate that puts them in step with big men’s leagues, they probably can’t rely on TikTok influencers alone.

Wasserman’s findings are impressive and rightly lend optimism to those in the women’s sports industry. But they do not directly compare with previous research.

ESPN could not even break down its own WNBA Finals games this fall without milking dumb sideshows. Women athletes who avoid controversy or are not straight or traditional Americana beauties are largely ignored.

Until some of these underlying trends change, more mentions on social media will not be enough to create a more equitable salary structure and improve the working conditions of elite women athletes around the world.


About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.