Tywan G. Martin, University of Miami
Sanghak Lee, Korea Aerospace University
Erin L. McNary, Indiana University
Daniel Totani, University of Miami
Tywan G. Martin, Ph.D.
Department of Kinesiology & Sport Sciences
P.O. Box 248065
Coral Gables, FL 33124
Phone: (305) 284-1168
Tennis Anyone? A Content Analysis of the Written and Pictorial Coverage of Tennis Magazine
This investigation measured the coverage given to female and male athletes in a single sport focused print publication Tennis magazine from 2007 to 2012. The examined timeframe was selected based on the updated Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rules that required both female and male athletes to compete at many of the same high profile events during the professional tennis season. Given the restructured rules, the perceived femininity associated with female tennis players, and the media coverage female athletes in individual sports tended to generate, it was important to determine the amount of media attention female professional tennis players received on the pages of a tennis magazine. The study’s results revealed that female tennis players did receive some prominent coverage and their total amount of coverage was similar to the percentage of female readers of the magazine. However, enthusiasm over the progress should be tempered as female competitors’ total exposure was less than their male counterparts and more coverage was garnered to female athletes in poses not related to tennis.
Keywords: gender equity, sport media, consumer behavior, tennis
Although the accomplished Althea Gibson played and won major tournaments throughout the 1950s, women’s professional tennis did not arrive until September 1970. Billie Jean King and a group of revolutionary women which included Gladys Heldman, World Tennis publications publisher, signed symbolic $1 contracts to compete in the Virginia Slims Series (“King original 9,” 2014). The “Original Nine” was comprised of King, Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Kerry Melville, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Judy Dalton, Valerie Ziegenfuss, and Julie Heldman (Bernstein, 2012). In 1973, King successfully helped to create and became the president of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). The WTA afforded women the opportunity to play in one professional tour tournament (Gittings, 2013). The creation of the WTA was immediately successful as the number of women professional tennis players increased to over 250 athletes by 1980, the number of tour events expanded to 47, and prize money that was awarded rose to $7.2 million (Women’s Tennis Association, 2017). Women’s professional tennis further developed with the merger between the WTA Players Association and the Women’s Tennis Council to form the WTA Tour. In 2011, for the first time in WTA history ten different nations were represented in the world’s Top 10 rankings. There were more than 2300 athletes that comprised the WTA membership totaling 92 nations and over $100 million in prize money across 54 annually sponsored events and four Glam Slams (Women’s Tennis Association, 2017).
While the formation of the WTA incurred many challenges, female tennis players had experienced success on the court over the years. Martina Navratilova was the first female professional tennis player to earn more prize money in one season than the men’s number one ranked player. In 1990, she won a record ninth Wimbledon singles title and she retired as the winningest tennis player – male or female – since the introduction of the Open era that commenced in 1968 (LaGrave, 2014). Female tennis athletes’ accomplishments have continued on the court which led to greater financial success. Serena Williams became the first woman to eclipse the $50 million prize money mark and fourth all-time on the court earnings list for both female and male tennis players (Cork, 2015; Zaccardi, 2013). In 2015, Sharapova and Williams were among the top-100 athletes featured on Forbes highest paid list that included endorsement and competition earnings (Badenhausen, 2015).
To a large extent, the success that women’s professional tennis experienced has been attributed to the decision made in 2007 to amend critical elements of the Tour by the WTA Board of Directors. According to the WTA’s official website, the reform created a roadmap circuit that incentivized the top-100 women to compete in major and high profile WTA sponsored events. In addition, they shortened the regular season, restructured the format to be more fan friendly, and increased the Tour’s prize money (Women’s Tennis Association, 2017). Since 2009, the changes required the top-10 female players to compete in tournaments (i.e., BNP Paribas Open, Miami Open, Mutua Madrileña Open, and China Open) that featured the top male professional tennis players. The new structure also required women in the top-10 to participate in six premier events during the tennis season. Thus, the revised format encouraged overlap between the best female and male tennis players to compete in the same tournaments throughout the year. Since those changes were implemented, no research has examined if the new policies changed how the media covered the sport and whether coverage was delivered to consumers with a focus on gender equity.
Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the amount of coverage women’s and men’s professional tennis received in the sport-specific print media outlet Tennis magazine. This study was conducted to determine if Tennis magazine extended equitable coverage or maintained the status quo of males receiving more media coverage than their female counterparts (Fink, 2015; Fink & Kensicki, 2002). Given that sports were perceived to be feminine based largely on the attire worn by female athletes (Lumpkin, 2007), sportswomen receive increased coverage in the media in sports that were not deemed masculine. Socially-accepted, gender-appropriate sports for female athletes such as tennis tended to receive coverage in the mass media (Kim & Saga, 2014). Davis and Tuggle (2012) noted “for female athletes to garner media coverage, they must be involved in socially acceptable individual sports and/or sports that highlight body type” (p. 61). Thus, this study investigated the coverage in Tennis magazine from 2007 to 2012. This study included the years 2007 and 2008 to examine the coverage before the implementation of the Tour changes. Because the 2009 changes were intended to increase the visibility of women tennis players, it was important to examine whether that visibility had increased. Although previous studies have found that female athletes in tennis tend to receive media coverage (Lumpkin, 2009), to the knowledge of the investigators, there were no earlier studies that examined their coverage in a magazine devoted to tennis. Therefore, the researchers elected to undertake such an examination by focusing on the premier print, tennis-specific publication. The investigation analyzed cover page pictorial content, featured articles, and accompanied featured article photographs of the 46 issues published during the timeframe of the study.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
This study utilized the theoretical frameworks of agenda setting and hegemonic masculinity. Agenda setting theory conceptualizes the mass media is a powerful institution capable of shaping public opinion by the amount of coverage a topic receives and how media attention adds value to viewers, listeners, and readers (Kiousis, McDevitt, & Wu, 2005; Pedersen, Miloch, & Laucella, 2007; Martin, Williams, Whisenant, & Dees, 2014). The more coverage mass media outlets give an issue, the more likely it becomes salient to consumers (Tedesco, 2005). Based on the seminal work of McCombs and Shaw (1972), agenda-setting functioned as a process where the media play a critical role in selecting what topics the public thinks about and even how to think about those topics. As researchers have previously suggested (Burch, Frederick, Zimmerman, & Clavio, 2012), “agenda setting is primarily concerned with the placement of news as well as the amount of coverage that certain issues receive” (p. 216).
McCombs (1992) asserted the utility of agenda setting has expanded beyond its original intent of media coverage and political issues. Research that utilized the theory has extended to other areas such as sport to determine if differences exist between media coverage of female and male athletes. For example, Pedersen (2002) found the total number of articles and the length of articles devoted to female athletics in print publications underrepresented their sport activities. An investigation of a highly circulated print publication revealed female sports received significantly less coverage during the examined timeframe than did male sports thus undermining the accomplishments of female athletes (Cooper, Eagleman, & Laucella, 2009). In an examination of featured articles and accompanied pictorial content, Eagleman, Pedersen, and Wharton (2009) discovered the attention allotted to female athletes paled in comparison to their male counterparts. Nearly 97% of the article coverage was devoted to male sports while female sports received roughly 3% during the examined timeframe. Similarly, male sports garnered almost 95% of the photographic content whereas female sports were only allocated 5% of the total photographs.
While some studies have revealed progress in sports reporting for female athletes during mega-events such as the Olympic Games, research suggested that the coverage of female sport accomplishments were nearly absent after the conclusion of a hallmark sporting event (O’Neill & Mulready, 2015). When articles devoted to Olympic Game coverage were omitted from the study, the researchers discovered only 1% of the content in the examined print publications were devoted to female athletes. Therefore, more research is needed to determine if the previously mentioned gender disparities in media coverage existed in a sport-specific print outlet dedicated to tennis. Given that tennis is one of a few sports in which women receive comparable coverage to men (Lumpkin, 2009), research in this area is necessary to advance the literature on the relationship between gender and sport media coverage.
In terms of hegemony, Antonio Gramsci (1971) outlined this concept that helped to explain social order and how individuals or groups imposed dominance and power over other societal groups. Gramsci suggested groups from within the ruling class exercised authority by way of unforced or non-coercive symbols constructed through social institutions such as the media. Consequently, the preservation of power was maintained through the media as hegemonic messages appeared natural and organic to consumers. According to Greer and Murray (2014), social elites’ exacted power by limited or no media coverage of certain groups which aided in the maintenance of the social order.
Sports media provided an outlet for the male superiority discourse to persist as the practices and principles of sport served as a hegemonic institution. Hardin, Dodd, and Lauffer (2006) suggested sport media preserved social order, and they denied female athletes consistent and regular exposure for their athletic prowess and achievements. Some researchers asserted sport editors made little effort to include female athletics and even considered their talents inferior to male athletics (Pedersen et al., 2007). As proposed by Eagleman et al. (2009), “when female sports receive limited coverage in a major sports magazine or any other media outlet, the results of the coverage undermine and devalue the activities, accomplishments, and involvement of women in sports” (p. 238). Researchers suggested that since male athletes received high levels of visibility through media portrayals, the glorification of their athletic activities transformed the sport space into a male space and thus created an atmosphere that female sport activities were essentially inferior (Whiteside & Hardin, 2013). Furthermore, the influential nature of the sport media complex simultaneously benefits certain groups (e.g., male athletes) and impedes the progress of other groups (e.g., female athletes) (Fink, 2015a). While media coverage has failed to keep pace between women and men in sport, female tennis players seemingly receive analogous coverage to their male counterparts (Kian & Clavio, 2011). Therefore, more research was needed to analyze how females were treated in a publication that focused on the sport of tennis.
Media Coverage of Men’s and Women’s Sports
According to Lumpkin (2009), consumers’ thoughts and ideas are shaped by the sports sections of newspapers, sport Internet sites, televised programs, sport talk radio, sports found on cable and satellite television, and sports magazines. Sport researchers noted mass media not only shaped but also perpetuated ideological beliefs for the public (Pratt, Grappendorf, Grundvig, & LeBlanc, 2008). Pratt and colleagues (2008) speculated that the sports media obstructed societal acceptance of female athletes and observed that women were covered much less than men. It was also inferred in a longitudinal study that scant and narrow coverage of female athletes likely influenced consumers’ perceptions of girls and women in sports (Turner, 2014).
Print publications revealed much of the same. Research conducted on USA Today discovered at no point during the timeframe of the study did sportsmen receive significantly less coverage than sportswomen (Cooper et al., 2009). Conversely, the researchers reported several instances in which women in sport received far less print coverage than men. Crossman et al. (2007) examined the quantity of sports coverage given to women that competed in international sporting events on major daily newspapers and discovered the amount of coverage for women athletes was not equitable. The same proved true in other major dailies which found no evidence of improved reported information related to women’s sports (Packer et al., 2015). The investigators also revealed that host cities newspapers for major sport events underrepresented women in their coverage as well. Furthermore, despite the marked increase in opportunities for news media to cover female activities, two of the biggest American dailies, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, followed previous patterns and devoted fewer column inches, fewer stories, and fewer female sports than they had for male athletes and their sports (Pratt et al., 2008).
In regard to general interest sport magazines treatment of female athletes, Weber and Carini (2012) found women in the 1950s and 1960s appeared more than twice as much on the cover page of Sports Illustrated than the investigated period of 2000 to 2011. Earlier observations of the popular magazine discovered issues related to the coverage afforded to female athletes. Lumpkin (2007) revealed Sports Illustrated lagged well behind in their coverage of female athletes when compared with their participation rates. This only reaffirmed that male athletes tended to receive preferential treatment by the popular sport magazine. According to the researcher’s results, the one female sport that received the most cover page pictorial content during the 1990s was tennis.
Tennis was one of a few sports in which female and male players received comparable media attention as both competed simultaneously during Grand Slam events (Kian & Clavio, 2011). Crossman et al. (2007) found that female tennis players who participated in the Wimbledon Championships garnered equitable coverage when compared to their male counterparts. Tennis was one of the few sports played by females that received comparable media attention to males (Lumpkin, 2009). Previous research also discovered female tennis players were more inclined to receive prominent coverage than were females in any other sport (Lumpkin, 2007). Researchers suggested individual sports deemed “gender appropriate” such as tennis earned the attention of the media (Crossman et al., 2007). When female athletes looked and acted the part in a socially acceptable sport, media extended those events, activities, and competition coverage (Alexander, 1994; Tuggle, Huffman, & Rosengard, 2007). In addition, Davis and Tuggle (2012) posited that in order for the media to extend coverage to sportswomen they must participate in a socially accepted, individual sport that exposed the female body. Therefore, this study examined the treatment of female athletes in a sport-specific traditional media publication to determine how often female tennis players garnered media attention. The research was important for it helped to fill a gap in the literature. More information was needed to develop an understanding of how female athletes that competed in major events simultaneously with male athletes were treated in a magazine that focused on tennis. Thus, the research questions for this study were as follows:
- RQ1: What amount of written coverage was dedicated to female and male tennis players in feature articles on the Tennis magazine?
- RQ2: What amount of photographic coverage was dedicated to female and male tennis players through the number of photographs on the cover of the Tennis magazine?
- RQ3: Was there any change in the coverage of female athletes after 2009 when the WTA instituted new policies for female tennis athletes to compete in required events that also featured male tennis athletes?
Data was collected from a six year timeframe in order to measure the coverage that women’s professional tennis received in comparison to men’s professional tennis. The amount of coverage was examined in the single sport periodical of Tennis magazine from 2007 to 2012. Tennis magazine had a reported rate base of 600,000 and an audience of 1.4 million readers (The Tennis Media Company, 2016). The majority of the magazine’s readership includes adults 25-54 whom have a median household income of nearly $178,000, and approximately 40% of the readers are females. Tennis magazine’s editorial board, staff writers, and expert contributors consisted of three women and nine men. To the knowledge of the investigators, no earlier research investigated the sport-specific periodical’s treatment of women on its pages.
This study was important as it allowed for a unique analysis of both female and male athletes that participated simultaneously in annual tennis tournaments. The years were selected because in 2009, the Board of Directors of the WTA implemented new conditions for the players that required female professional tennis athletes to participate in more noteworthy tournaments that also featured male professional tennis players. In addition, this study included the years of 2007 and 2008 to establish the level of coverage prior to the WTA revisions. Based on Bishop (2003), a feature article was defined as one that was described at length in the issue’s Table of Contents. Thus, the study examined featured articles, accompanied feature story pictorial content, and cover page photos of 46 issues during the six-year period. Every magazine issue from 2007 to 2012 was included in the investigation. Issues outside of the examined timeframe were not included in the study.
The total number of the feature articles was 215. Feature articles included in this study had to have a byline that briefly explained the article in the magazine’s Table of Content. One coder independently coded 122 (56.7%) articles, while the second coder autonomously coded 93 (43.2%) articles. First, coders identified whether the articles were about male, female, or both male and female tennis players. Second, the researchers coded the focus of the articles (e.g., an individual athlete, sport issue focus, tennis strategy). Third, coders also categorized the prominence of the article such as front half of the magazine, back half of the magazine, and articles located within the stapled crease. Lastly, coders counted the page numbers comprised in the articles.
Data collected for photographs only included male and female pictures. The total numbers of the pictures for the study was 1,725. One coder independently coded 927 (53.7%) pictures and the second coder individually coded 798 (46.2%). First, the coders identified whether the articles were about male or female tennis players. Second, the researchers coded the focus of the photographs (e.g., an individual athlete, multiple athletes, sport issue focus). Third, coders also categorized the prominence of the pictures such as the front half of the magazine, back half of the magazine, cover page, and double cover page. Fourth, coders identified the types of photographs to determine whether the photos were an action shot, a still shot, a mug shot, a posed shot, a sport equipment shot, or other (e.g., a combination of list). Lastly, coders measured the size of the pictures small (less than 1/4 of the page), medium (between ¼ and ½ of the page), or large (greater than ½ of the page).
Two trained coders were used for the investigation of the content analysis and worked autonomously to code data extracted from Tennis magazine. Prior to the data collection, the investigators completed several extensive training sessions that was designed to familiarize the coders with each protocol variable and to ensure coding accuracy. The pretest also focused on the maximum amount of time each coder could commit to a coding session to minimize the prospect of coding fatigue. The research team was focused on accuracy, stability, and the ability to replicate the measures for future examinations because these serve as cornerstone principles to achieve reliability (Krippendorf, 2004). The training session did not use data found in the larger study.
To evaluate reliability, Riffe, Lacy, and Fico (2014) recommended an overlap of the same examined content that ranged from 10% to 100%. More than 14% of the studied content was randomly sampled to check for coder reliability. Both coders coded the same 30 articles and 242 photographs. An acceptable level for reliability agreement was situated at around 80% and the standard number for correlations for chance agreement was around .70. The overlap agreement between coders resulted in percentages that ranged from 93% to 100% for articles and ranging from 93.3% to 100% for photographs. Scott’s Pi was utilized for probability of chance agreement and the scores ranged from .87 to 1.00 for articles and .91 to 1.00 for photographs.
Out of the 215 articles included in the study, 88 articles were written about male players and 35 articles were about female players while 92 articles were written about male and female athletes together (see table 1). Of the 215 articles, most written content covered multiple players (f = 92, 42.8%) or an individual player (f = 62, 28.8%). There were 29 articles (13.5%) written about tennis strategy (see table 1). The authors also analyzed the prominence of the article based on the position in the magazine. Most articles (f = 103, 47.9%) were located in the front half of the magazines (see table 1). In terms of the total pages of the articles, the majority of articles were four pages long (f = 77, 35.8%) followed by six or more pages long (f = 50, 23.3%) (see table 1).
In addition, the researchers conducted a cross tabulation analysis between two variables (i.e., gender and focus) to see if there was a difference in the article focus based on gender. Interestingly, when articles dealt with a ‘person but not an athlete’ (f = 13) or ‘strategy’ (f = 14), more articles were written about males compared to females. X² analysis (i.e., chi-square test of independence) was conducted to test if categorical variables were independent or dependent. In other words, X² analysis tested if the frequency difference among the cells in the table was significantly different statistically. The result showed the cross tabulation analysis was significant (X² = 116.75, df = 12, α < .001, Cramer’s V = .52).
Another cross tabulation analysis between gender and prominence was conducted. The results showed that more male articles were placed on the back half of the magazine (f = 38) compared to the other locations, while female articles were placed more on the front half of the magazine (f = 22). X² analysis concluded that the prominence and gender were not independent (X² = 9.74, df = 4, α = .045, Cramer’s V = .15). Additional cross tabulation analysis between gender and page number was conducted. Both male and female athletes’ articles were primarily four pages long (f = 34, 14). When the article covered male and female tennis players at the same time, six or more pages were allocated to the article (f = 36). X² analysis concluded the cross tabulation analysis was significant (X² = 29.43, df = 10, α = .001, Cramer’s V = .26). Lastly, the researchers analyzed another cross tabulation analysis between gender and year. Although the research question expected there would be more female players’ articles by time, the statistical results showed the changes were not significant (X² = 7.01, df = 10, α = .725, Cramer’s V = .13). The four cross tabulation analyses were summarized in the table 2.
Of the 1,725 pictures, most photos pictured one player (f = 1,315, 76.2%) followed by multiple players (f = 171, 9.9%) and others (f = 99, 5.7%). (see table 3). Compared to the written content, most articles covered multiple athletes, while the pictures mostly featured one tennis player. As for photo location prominence, nearly half (f = 823, 47.7%) were located in the front half of the magazines. In terms of photograph type, most pictures were identified as action shots (f = 724, 42.0%), followed by still pictures (f = 443, 25.7%), and posed shots (f = 286, 16.6%). The coders also measured the size of photos and most pictorial content was identified as small pictures (f = 1,121, 65.0%).
The researchers conducted a cross tabulation analysis between two variables (i.e., gender and focus) to determine if there was a difference in the photos focus based on gender. The results revealed the focus on one player in the picture was most common for both female (f = 506, 86.20%) and male athletes (f = 802, 78.55%). X² analysis (i.e., chi-square test of independence) showed the cross tabulation analysis was significant (X² = 636.03, df = 10, α < .001, Cramer’s V = .43).
Another cross tabulation analysis between gender and prominence was conducted. The results showed that male players’ photos mostly landed on the front half (f = 467) and back half (f = 449) compared to the other locations. Similarly, female players’ photos primarily were found on the front half (f = 311) and back half (f = 220) of the magazine. X² analysis concluded the cross tabulation analysis was significant (X² = 18.70, df = 8, α = .017, Cramer’s V = .07).
Additional cross tabulation analysis was performed between gender and photograph type. While action photos were most common for both male (f = 463) and female athletes (f = 253), many female tennis players’ pictures consisted of posed shots (f = 115, 19.60%). In addition, posed shots (f = 30) and other (f = 60) type of pictures were usually comprised of both genders. X² analysis concluded the cross tabulation analysis was significant (X² = 423.23, df = 10, α < .001, Cramer’s V = .35). There were no difference between gender and size. X² analysis concluded the cross tabulation analysis was significant (X² = 12.74, df = 4, α = .013, Cramer’s V = .06). Lastly, the researchers conducted a cross tabulation analysis between gender and year. One of the research questions sought to determine whether female tennis players would receive more pictorial coverage over time. There was no statistical difference by time (X² = 33.89, df = 10, α < .001, Cramer’s V = .10). All five cross tabulation analyses were summarized in the table 4.
In a study of feature articles in Tennis magazine from 2007 to 2012, more feature articles were dedicated to male athletes than their female counterparts. An interesting finding revealed when articles covered tennis personnel (e.g., coaches, tennis officials), tennis tactics, and strategies, more articles were written about male players compared to female players. Female athletes received significantly more prominent article coverage than did their male counterparts. Additionally, written articles devoted to female tennis players were similar in length to males. However, article coverage of female athletes did not increase with the new policy that required more participation during the tennis season for female competitors.
In terms of photographs, the majority of the pictures included in the study were devoted to male athletes. Similar to males, female tennis players’ pictorial content mostly appeared in the front half of the magazine. Furthermore, female athletes were primarily photographed in action shots. The results of the study determined many of the female tennis players’ photos were posed shots that had nothing to do with the sport. Additionally, photographic coverage for female athletes did not increase over the course of the study.
The findings of this study upheld previous research that females in tennis tend to be fairly represented (Lumpkin, 2009). One example of this was the similarity in the length of articles for female and male tennis players during the investigated timeframe. Female tennis athletes also received more prominent attention on the pages of the magazine. Across the time period in the study, there was no real evidence of change. However, the findings of this study reflect the idea that media have the power to help change the presence of females in sports in the minds of consumers by providing representative and favorable coverage (Fink, 2015a). Thus, the influence of the media can transform consumer salience and even deconstruct the notion of hegemonic masculinity with a more focused commitment to prominently representing and showcasing female athletes.
The aforementioned information should be tempered for the apparent advancements covered above also reinforced longstanding concerns with the coverage of females in sport. The results supported the idea that females garnered favorable media attention when they participated in individual sports that were considered gender-appropriate and highlighted their physical attributes (Crossman et al., 2007; Davis & Tuggle, 2012). This perpetuates the erroneous positon that female athletes’ relevancy is limited in scope to the select sports media elect to cover. Unfortunately, limits placed on female sport activities in the media influence consumer consumption and even how the presented content should be viewed. Moreover, if only a select few sports (e.g., tennis) featuring female athletes are covered in the media, this is likely to influence how the public arrives at a conclusion about those sports or any other sport featuring female athletes.
The findings from the studied period of 2007 to 2012 revealed female tennis players received less total article coverage than their male counterparts. When an article exclusively focused on female tennis players, they received less overall written coverage during the timeframe of the investigation than male tennis players. This reaffirmed the media’s agenda setting ability and capacity to forge hegemonic masculinity ideology that was found in previous works in this area (Eagleman et al., 2009; Pedersen, 2002; Whiteside & Hardin, 2013). This also challenged the belief sportswomen in gender-appropriate sports that highlighted their body would garner equitable coverage to sportsmen (Davis & Tuggle, 2012; Kim & Saga, 2014). Regardless of the sport, female athletes have a difficult time securing similar amounts of coverage from the media.
Interestingly, female tennis players did receive equitable coverage when an article featured both male and female players. Combining the number of articles solely devoted to female tennis players and the articles that included sportswomen and sportsmen, female tennis players were copiously covered in Tennis magazine. In essence, female athletes can receive fair representation and help to champion change in how they are perceived by consumers (Fink, 2015a).
Another interesting finding was the article focus. The results indicated that there was a significant difference in articles that focused on males affiliated with the game (e.g., coaches, officials) and male tennis strategies than their female counterparts. These findings unveiled some longstanding issues that continue to persist in the advancement of women in sports. Coaching positions and key administrative roles for women in professional sports are rare and thus preserve the male dominated power structure in sports (Lavoi & Kane, 2014). The overemphasis of articles related to male tennis players’ court strategies in comparison to female tennis players questions the authenticity of the latter as legitimate athletes (Kane, LaVoi, & Fink, 2013). Seldom are males confronted with this challenge, and legitimacy is often assumed. Implicit legitimacy is not extended to female athletes. Instead, it is contested in social institutions such as the media as this study revealed.
In terms of photographic content, there were some positives discovered in the results. The majority of female tennis players’ pictorial coverage was situated prominently in the front of the magazine. There were no disparities in the size of photographs for females in comparison to their male counterparts. The majority of the coded photographic content was similar. These findings support the results of previous research that suggested reporting of female accomplishments were improving in the print media particularly for major sporting events (Biscomb & Griggs, 2013). This also enforces earlier research in that the media chooses to elevate or relegate the sport activities of females (Kane, 2013). Moreover, the media have the power to change the narrative for consumers by placing considerably more interest on improving their coverage. This is critically important with respect to photographic representation. Pictorial content has historically assisted media observers to understand cultural norms, values, and ideas (Rowe, 1999).
The pictorial results also revealed that the magazine set an agenda that closely favored the composition of its readership. Female tennis players secured 34% of total pictures included in this inquiry while male tennis players were allotted nearly 60% of the study’s photographs. In addition, 6.8% of the pictures featured both female and male tennis players together. Thus, the cultural acceptance associated with female athletes that participate in tennis and the media attention typically allocated to sportswomen in individual sports was supported in this study (Crossman et al., 2007; Davis & Tuggle, 2012). Although there was no impact on the total amount of coverage over the years before and after the installation of the new policy, the magazine’s pictorial content closely aligned with the makeup of its audience. According to Tennis magazine’s demographic information, 40% of the readers are female (The Tennis Media Company, 2016). Though there was a difference in the total number of photographs included in the study, the magazine fairly represented female athletes comparable to its readership.
While the findings revealed the magazine made progress in female athletes pictorial coverage in comparison to female circulation numbers, females were photographed in poses unrelated to tennis significantly higher than their male counterparts. Images of female athletes in non-competitive poses continue to appear in the media at a much higher rate than that of male athletes (Godoy-Pressland & Griggs, 2014). Photographs that continuously showcase female athletes outside of their sport undermine their athletic achievements and this type of coverage may even ignore the preference of audiences. It also challenges the notion of females as athletes which males rarely encounter. Fink (2015a) contended differential media coverage adversely impacts spectator perception of women’s sport and female athletes. When sportswomen are treated differently in the media than sportsmen, it trivializes and minimizes their position in the sport landscape. Given that elite female athletes’ preferred photographic representation that highlighted their athletic accomplishments (Kane et al., 2013), more questions should be directed at why this is not reflected in media coverage. Incessant imagery of female athletes pictured in unrelated poses to their sport reduces them to a fictitious position of second-class athletes. These types of reoccurring images can diminish how consumers view their female sport activities.
Limitations and Future Research
This study helped to fill a gap in the literature in terms of a sport-specific print publication. To the knowledge of the researchers, no other study examined whether gender disparities existed in the coverage of Tennis magazine. It was important to investigate Tennis magazine because of its prominent position in the landscape of the sport as the magazine annually has strong circulation numbers and a significant number of its readers are female. Though the study revealed some interesting findings, there were limitations to the research. The study’s results cannot be generalized as only one print publication was examined. Inferences about the investigation’s findings are only applicable to the examined timeframe. Given that no other media platforms were included in the examination, the results do not allow for any conclusions to be drawn beyond the examined magazine. Furthermore, this study only investigated article and pictorial coverage.
Future research in this area should focus its attention on consumer perception of female athletes in team and individual sports and how they are portrayed in the media. More information is needed in regard to how female athletes in individual sports represent and portray themselves on social media. An examination of journalists and editors that surveys their perception of female athletes’ treatment in the media would help to occupy a void in the current literature. An extended time frame may also be considered for examination.
The results of this study did shed some new light on how female athletes were represented in a sport-specific magazine. It also helped to provide additional information about the media coverage of female competitors in a sport that is largely deemed acceptable for sportswomen. Females were prominently represented at times better than or similarly to their male counterparts. This supported earlier work in this area that suggested female competitors in gender-appropriate sports that showcased their physical attributes tended to receive more coverage (Crossman et al., 2007; Davis & Tuggle; Kim & Saga, 2014). The findings also revealed pictorial content for female tennis players was proportionate to female readership.
Given this information, there are a few points that must be considered based on the results. There was some progress in the findings of this study particularly in the coverage allocated to female tennis players that was commensurate to the magazine’s female audience. From that perspective, the argument could be made that female athletes were fairly represented during the timeframe of the investigation. Conversely, it is also reasonable to infer that not much has changed because female competitors historically received more attention in the media when they fit into a culturally accepted sport paradigm. Furthermore, this study lends support to the notion that media can change how female athletes are represented and even change public perception.
The scope of this study focused on the largely individual sport of tennis which was often perceived as feminine and gender-appropriate for female competitors (Crossman et al., 2007; Kim & Saga, 2014; Lumpkin, 2007). In addition, the investigation examined a tennis magazine to better understand how female athletes were treated on its pages before and after a critical policy was adopted that increased participation for females at high profile tennis tournaments and other events throughout the tennis season. Some advances were made in the coverage of female athletes that was comparable to the magazine’s female readership. Nonetheless, those advances should be tempered as female tennis player’s total coverage was less than their male counterparts and stereotypical reporting discovered in the findings. The results of the study reaffirmed the difficulty sportswomen have elevating their position in the sport marketplace and separating from reporting that focuses on trivial information. Given the metrics in terms of female participation rates, women’s purchasing power, and women’s inclination to support female athletes (Fink, 2015b), it makes smart business sense for the media to bolster more quality attention and exposure of female sport activities and accomplishments.
APPLICATIONS IN SPORT
The findings of this study are provide a better understanding of the role media could play in advancing females in sport. More equitable coverage of female sport accomplishments could aid in dismantling the notion of sport being a space primarily for male athletes. Although participation numbers for female athletes have continued to rise since the passing of the landmark Title IX legislation (Whisenant, Forsyth, & Martin, 2014), more favorable coverage allocated to female sport competitors in the media could have an even greater impact on those numbers. Increased equitable coverage of female athletes could play an important role in boosting girls and women’s self-confidence, self-esteem, and even minimizing associated stigmas of females in sport. As the results of this study revealed, the media can provide favorable coverage to female sport participants. However, media coverage of female athletes must extend beyond gender-appropriate sports such as tennis to help transform societal norms about females in sport.
The current study was not funded by any grant awarding foundation or financial institution.
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