The impact that television has had on men’s professional sports is immeasurable.The NFL has multiple nights solely to and the national broadcast of their games. They’ve grown to control Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights. The NHL has Wednesdays on a national platform. College basketball gets the entire month of March attributed to them.
Women’s sports at any level has none of this. No single women’s sports entity has ever recieved as much attention from national television broadcasts as men’s sports do, something that men’s sports take for granted.
Each year men’s professional sports league’s like the Alliance of American Football (AAF) and the XFL are formed and without any proof that they will be able to sustain themselves or gain any sort of viewership, they are able to sign contracts with network television stations for national broadcasting.
The same has never been true for a women’s sports league.
A professional women’s sports league has never been able to form and to have streaming rights immediately be signed over to a major broadcaster. Even when there is sustained proof of viewership and interest, many networks still will not be willing to dedicate airtime to women’s sports. Men’s sports leagues are able to rise to fame so quickly because they have all the resources readily available. Those same resources are the ones that women’s leagues have to fight for the chance to even have access to.
During the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, the women’s hockey gold medal game between the United States and Canada became the most watched late night show in NBC history. The game which was broadcast in the United States at around 11 p.m. garnered 3.7 million viewers.
Four years before that in Sochi, the gold medal game broadcast drew 4.9 million viewers. In Vancouver in 2010, women’s hockey drew 2.5 million.
Despite all of that, professional women’s hockey is nowhere to be found on network television.
The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) currently has a streaming deal with Twitch, an online platform most synonymous with video games. In the sixth months the league has been streaming on Twitch they have managed to gain over six million views.
What has become the most important factor of this partnership is its ability to bring the game to people who may not have ever seen or heard of it before. However, televising games would only increase the likelihood of that happening and grow the game more.
Recently, the NHL went out of its way to make sure all Washington Capitals games were broadcast nationally on NBC leading up to captain Alexander Ovechkin scoring his 700th point in the league.
At the same time this was happening, the NHL Network was slated to broadcast a game between the Canadian and American women’s national hockey teams. Instead, the network decided last minute to broadcast a qualifying game from the Beanpot, a yearly hockey tournament between Harvard, Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern, without any warning.
The NHL decided that a qualifying game for a tournament that is barely relevant to anybody outside of the state of Massachusetts was more important elevating women’s sports and upholding an agreement they made to those teams.
This is not a surprising move for the NHL to make considering when they do decide to acknowledge women within the sport it is almost always in connection to the accomplishments of their male relatives.
This holds true for any other professional women’s sport.
Professional women athletes are not allowed to exist as their own entities. They’re always talked about in relation to the men in their lives whether it be their husbands, their brothers, their fathers, their uncles or any number of possible relations, they will always exist in the same conversation.
In January, professional women’s soccer player Kealia Ohai was traded from the Houston Dash to the Chicago Red Stars. However, all the headlines seemed to mention only “J.J. Watt’s Fiancee” being traded. Watt was not happy with these headlines, though countless more like it are put online with little to no uproar.
Even when women are given the chance to play on a national platform, these networks do whatever they can to show that they still do not take them seriously as athletes. Being unwilling to recognize their accomplishments without bringing up male relatives is not something that should happen. Fans should be able to hear about how well their favorite female athlete is performing without also having to hear about every other slightly accomplished man they’re related to.
Being able to be televised nationally has allowed men’s professional sports to become a staple in many homes across the country. People care about men’s sports because they’re visible. If women’s professional sports were given the same chances, there is no way to tell how much they would grow.
But first networks need to show that they actually care. Men’s sports fans need to show that they care about women’s sports too.
If the only time somebody acknowledges women’s sports is during playoffs or the Olympics, nobody is being helped. Women’s sports need support year round. They cannot be treated as a novelty that fans and networks pick up once a year only to be ignored every other time.
Though we as a society are moving into a new digital age, television still matters in the world of sports.
Networks can say that they care about the growth and development of women’s professional sports but until they are willing to put their money behind it and actually televise their games nationally, what they say means nothing.
Empty promises do nothing to help women’s sports. The people who have the power to create change need to be the ones held accountable to create that change.