Authors: Steve Shih-Chia Chen, Terran Duncan, Eric Street*, and Brooklyn Hesterberg
Eric Street, MS
1048 Lemon Rue Way
Lexington, KY 40515
Steve Chen, D.S.M., is an associate professor at the Department of Management and Marketing in Morehead State University, Morehead, KY. He received his doctorate in Sport Management from United States Sports Academy in Daphne, AL. He currently serves as the chief editor of the KAHPERD (Kentucky Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance) Journal. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Terran Duncan, M.A., is an assistant coach of Lindsey Wilson College’s Women’s Basketball. She received her Master’s degree in Sport Management from Morehead State University, KY. (email@example.com)
Brooklyn Hesterberg is an undergraduate Sport Management student of Morehead State University. She is an assistant softball coach at Rowan County High School, KY. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Eric Street, M.S. is a doctorate student at the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, AL. He received a BA and MS in Sports Management from the University of Kentucky. He currently works as Director of Fitness and Training for LA Fitness in Lexington, KY. (email@example.com)
Since the implementation of Title IX, there have been significant gains in the area of equity between men’s and women’s sports. Instituted in 1972, Title IX has leveled the playing field by offering the same amount of opportunity for women as men. Deficient media coverage in female sports is a less examined and recognized issue among various types of Title IX violations in collegiate sports. The study examined if there was equal coverage between men’s and women’s basketball programs on the athletic department’s webpages and social media websites. The collected data included traffics for the athletic website, Facebook, and Twitter pages of Southeastern Conference institutions. The findings indicated that there was slightly more men’s coverage than women’s (53% vs 47%). Among those 14 schools, eight schools had more content coverage for their men’s team. Only six women’s programs received more official website coverage than their male counterparts. The exact tendency also occurred regarding the number of total Twitter posts. The analysis of Facebook posts displayed an unexpected result, as 13 schools had more posts related to women’s teams than men’s teams. The results tended to support the vital promotional role that social media may play to increase the awareness and popularity of women’s sports. In general, the schools’ official website still maintained an accepted coverage proportion toward both genders without heavily gravitated toward men’s teams. Practical implications are addressed for better utilizing social media to promote women’s sports and maintain gender equity in media coverage.
Keywords: Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Title IX
Since the enactment of Title IX in 1972, this legislation has empowered and inspired many women and young ladies to pursue and embrace higher education, often including athletic participation. (11, 4, 21) However, until today the gender equity concern and lack of support toward female collegiate athletic sports are still ongoing and hard-pressed issues. Traditionally, the issues associated with gender inequity in collegiate athletics are often related to discrepancies in budget, support, and available facilities for both men’s and women’s programs (1, 13, 14, 20, and 21). While the institutions are trying to achieve gender equity for their programs, the traditional social gender stereotypes, glorification of men’s sports by media, and ill-interpretation of the Title IX legislation have all become part of the stumbling blocks (20).
Unbalanced media perspective and coverage on female sports
Title IX may be put in place to ensure that institutions provide financial equality for both genders’ programs, but it does not have any authority or jurisdiction to control people’s perception of how to view both gender sports more fairly. There has always been differentiation in the way male and female athletes are depicted in mass media. Mass media are shape our perceptions and cultural values through sport (21). Past research has documented that popular media coverage of sport contributes to and reinforces gender’s stereotypes that perpetuate male superiority and female inferiority in sport (13). Under the lens of media, female athletes are more likely to show their feminine attributes and beautiful appearance (2, 5). The image of strong and powerful female athletes and tom girl expression are often suppressed. (5).
Female athletes are not only feminized, but their athletic achievements are also trivialized. Many studies clearly indicate that female sports received significantly far less television broadcasting hours, radio air time, and newspaper coverage space as compared to men’s sports (2, 13, and 26). An examination of the cover photographs of college sports media guides revealed their two sets of data, in a seven-year time frame, the percentage of female athletes on covers had increased from 47% (n = 144) to 51% (n = 160). (5) While their findings might suggest gender equity within coverage has to improved, this improvement occurs at a superficial level. The total amount of female athletes’ images at the courtside had decreased from 51% to 41%, as did their images in an action pose. More than 61% of the cover pictures featured female athletes dressed like fashion models, rather than an athletes.
Examination of past media coverage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament shows that the men’s tournament garners far more coverage time than the women’s tournament (2). In 2006, USA Today dedicated 21,069 square inches to covering the men’s and women’s 2005-06 NCAA basketball tournaments. The news coverage focused on three areas: (1) completed bracket release, (2) information on Sweet 16/Elite Eight teams, and (3) Final Four/Championship coverage. The percentage of total coverage space of the women’s tournament in all three areas were 24.4%, 14.6% and 25.2%, respectively (7). A content analysis of covered stories in sport magazines (i.e., Sports Illustrated) revealed a ratio of the total amount of male and female coverage was about 12:1 (9). Even if female athletes do receive a feature article, it is substantially shorter than those about their male counterparts and the pictures often contain a strong sexual appeal (9). The analysis of college baseball and softball team websites showed that the baseball team has been given more written coverage than softball (9). It also received more timely coverage in updated scores and statistical information. While the extent of inequities has varied, the underlying trend in past content analysis clearly shows that female sports are significantly underrepresented and emphasized (18).
In general, an explanation for the large discrepancy in coverage between the two gender’s sports team is that the media must cater to the needs of the public. This means it must provide more coverage of the men’s sports favored by the audiences (12). By trivializing and marginalizing female sports, the media may unintentionally reinforce the notion that women’s sport is the lesser version of men’s sport (5). The shortcoming of this lack of media coverage may discourage females from participating in sport. Young women oftentimes may not be able to identify the necessary role models to inspire them in achieving sport excellence (9).
Social media and collegiate athletics
Many athletic administrators may worry about the issue of student-athletes’ inappropriate use of social media, which potentially can stir up controversies, scandals and risk for potential violations (6). Nevertheless, the benefits of social media in marketing, brand building, and instant community have outweighed any of the concerns and problems that social media may impose. Due to the constant urgency of increasing department revenue, intercollegiate athletic programs have actively utilized social media to sell tickets and engage fan participation (3). One click away, social media is considered to be the most economical and fastest interactive tool to communicate with and reach massive college sport fans and grasp their cultural values and interest. University of Utah, North Dakota, Duke University, Boston College, and Louisiana State University all experienced great success in using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to disseminate promotional information, blogs, game statistics, and featured stories (3, 22). University of Utah has boasted to selling more than 500 tickets within two hours via its athletic Facebook page; and North Dakota was able to increase its average student attendance six-fold (from 144 to 960) by crediting the use of social media (22). Many schools also sought support from Public Relations firm to develop apps and social media strategies for teams (10). Ohio State University is the clear frontrunner in the Big Ten Conference, when it comes to “Likes” on Facebook (23). More than one million responses that were posted on the university’s official Facebook page in 2011 alone. It was noted that those schools in the Power Six conferences are all using social media to combat the “disappeared rivalries” that are caused by the conference realignment (3).
Past literature clearly indicated that gender equity was lagging behind in the coverage of both genders’ sports. Traditionally, men’s sports often receive far more attention and dominate much of the coverage time and space. With the rise and development of social media, these tools seem to be an ideal solution to combat gender inequity in sport media coverage, because they could pervasively reach out to the targeted spectators more economically and effectively. This study examined the equity of social media coverage (more specifically Twitter and Facebook posts) of men’s and women’s basketball on the official school websites and official social media sites of all Southeastern Conference (SEC) affiliated institutions. The authors attempted to address the following research concerns. First, are the institutions’ websites in the powerful SEC conference heavily lopsided in covering male sports. Secondly, will the social media posts and articles affiliated with the official athletic websites show a similar tendency? And finally, how did the number and trend of social media posts reflect the marketing and promotional strategies of each current SEC affiliated institution? The results would not only determine if the women’s teams receive an adequate amount of media attention and coverage, they may also provide the necessary and practical information to help all institutions effectively promote their women’s sport programs.
The authors decided to analyze the official athletic social media sites of all South Eastern Conference (SEC) affiliated institutions because it is one of the most successful conferences in the NCAA with highly reputable and decorated programs in both football and basketball. The analyses specifically focused on the posts on the athletic department’s official webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter page of both men’s and women’s basketball teams. Both genders’ basketball programs had a strong basketball tradition, with a couple of schools that had won the National title multiple times (i.e., University of Kentucky and University of Tennessee). Furthermore, both men’s and women’s basketball are the most popularly attended collegiate sporting event behind football. There should be a substantial amount of followers of social media sites that are denoted to men’s and women’s basketball, thus making the analysis more relevant and meaningful. As for the records, the SEC had seven men’s team who finished with 20 wins or more and eight teams were invited to a post-season tournament (three in the NCAA, 4 in the National Invitational Tournament, and 1 in the College Basketball Invitation) in 2014. The women’s teams were even more impressive with seven teams with 20 wins or more and eleven teams made the post season play (eight in the NCAA and three in the National Invitational Tournament).
All featured articles and posts written about each of the men’s and women’s teams were counted and recorded at the end of the month from October 1, 2013 to April 30, 2014 which covered the basketball season. The authors recorded all of those articles and posts from three sources that are found on each institution’s official athletic website: (1) the official webpages of the basketball team, (2) the team’s official Facebook page, and (3) the team’s official Twitter page. Facebook posts were particularly large in volume. The total number of recorded articles and posts for both the men’s and women’s teams were further compared for the gender equity concern.
Among all fourteen SEC institutions, about 53% of the total articles (n = 2518) on the official athletic websites were related to men’s basketball, while only 47% (n = 2331) were written for the women’s teams. Four schools had more featured articles for the women’s team than their male counterparts. However, the two schools, Florida (312 for men’s vs. 142 for women’s) and Missouri (201 for men’s vs. 153 for women’s) with excessively more articles for their men’s basketball teams tended to skew the equity quotient. Although there are more featured articles on the official athletics website for men’s team are more, this difference did not reach the significant level (p more than .05)
When data were collected, Vanderbilt University and University of Missouri did not have a team specific Facebook webpage for the men’s team, and University of South Carolina did not have Facebook page for either gender. In terms of results from the Facebook pages and Twitter pages, every men’s team had more followers than women’s teams on both accounts. However, the total number of posts for women’s programs (n = 1369) were more than those for men’s programs (n = 916). There are significantly more Facebook posts for women’s teams than the men’s teams (t = 2.160, p less than 05). Thirteen universities’ women’s Facebook pages had more posts than the men’s pages. University of Arkansas was the only program that had more posts on the men’s Facebook page than the women’s page. Interestingly, the powerful University of Kentucky men’s team had 77 times mores subscribers than the women’s program, yet only had half of the amount of posts for the women’s.
In terms of the post volume, Twitter undoubtedly had become a more popular form of social media than the Facebook in this case. Although there were men’s teams that had more monthly tweets than women’s teams, the total of among of tweets for all women’s programs (n = 31,279) were greater than those for the men’s programs (n = 28,091), despites that the men’s programs had 3.7 times more Twitter followers. However, no significant gender difference was found in the total number of tweets. Successful women’s teams are particularly impressive in receiving social me–dia attention. University of South Carolina women’s team had 3,728 more tweets than their men’s team. Tables 1 and 2 illustrate the summaries of total feature articles and posts from the official websites and social media pages. Readers can find the further monthly break down of social media posts of each institution in Tables 3 and 4.
Discussion and Conclusion
The primary purpose of this study was to determine if there was equity in coverage between the men’s and women’s basketball team’s social media sites and the school website. In general, there are still slightly more men’s covered stories in total than those for women’s teams (53% vs. 47%). However, this difference was statistically insignificant. According to an anonymous unpublished article, certain schools with a strong basketball tradition, such as North Carolina, clearly had far more featured stories on its official athletic website. Small regional public universities’ athletic websites seem to abide to the gender equity rule better by providing very similar amount of articles for both genders. With the exceptions of Florida and Missouri, most of the SEC schools did not show gross disproportion of men’s coverage. Surprisingly, the authors originally anticipated a greater number of tweets and Facebook posts for men’s teams due to their popularity and greater amount of subscribers and followers. The findings were completely opposite, with more tweets and posts for the women’s teams.
The total amount of Facebook posts proved to be in favor of the women’s teams with large discrepancies in the number in each month. The total tweets for women’s teams was also slightly more than those for the men’s teams. These two findings suggest a strong implication regarding how social media can market and promote female college sports and reshape their underprivileged brand image. There are still college sport fans who are interested in women’s sports and care to share more news and information about their beloved female athletes. In light of this data, more women’s sport fans would attend sport events as social and family gathering. (4) Fans of female athletes preferred to read featured stories about athletes’ personal lives more than the statistical information about athletic performance. Social media is a great means to connect a large audience, share great stories, and send invitational messages with great efficiency and low cost. Collegiate athletic departments should consider having full-time staff or recruiting enthusiastic individuals to manage their social media pages. In addition, the marketing team must work to brand the women’s sporting events as entertaining family and social gathering events for students and community members. Failure in promoting women’s sports and targeting potential fans of women’s sports is certainly an unnecessary financial loss of the institution’s program, and marketing myopia of the athletic marketing administrators (8, 24).
Applications in Sport
Obviously, both the men’s and women’s programs can benefit from social media tremendously in terms of boosting sales and sharing game related information. According to the results of the current study, a few schools (i.e., both schools in Mississippi, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina) are still at the infancy stage in utilizing social media to market athletic events. The number of followers and engaged traffic were clearly far lower for these schools than other SEC institutions. These schools should be the ideal candidates to adopt Public Relations strategies or hire partners to help increase the awareness of their programs via social media (17).
In today’s society, the media have the power to showcase female athletes and bring them to the spotlight in prime time. Female athletes have remarkable accomplishments that really deserve mainstream media to show their respect. Although the true gender equity in broadcasting coverage has not been achieved in mainstream media (TV and radios), it seems social media is the ideal means to balance that inequity by giving women’s sports more channels and space to disseminate and deliver news, information, and actions.
It is important to note the limitations within this study in order to guide future research on this topic. Since this study only examined one NCAA conference’s social media activities, applying the generalized findings to all other major NCAA Conferences should be cautious. Future research may focus on comparing the social media activities and featured posts on the official athletic websites among other NCAA Division-I Conferences or other divisions. Further studies may also cover a longer period of time or examine data of another sport that both cater men’s and women’s teams.
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