A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home in front of the TV on a Saturday night, watching sport. At half time in the AFL, I idly flipped through my Foxtel channels. One thing stood out glaringly: across the 12 sport channels, there was not a single female athlete in action.
And it’s only going to get worse. Last night, Foxtel announced it had purchased the rights to content from six major English Premier League clubs and would be adding three new channels to the sports package: 24/7 official channels from Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.
So now it will be fifteen channels, and the three new ones exclusively dedicated to men’s sport. You’ll now be able to watch every Chelsea Under 18s match, while the W-League gets one match broadcast per round.
Fox Sports’ programming is looking a little bit last century.
But there’s a simple solution: Fox Sports could add a 24/7 women’s sport channel and create a place where women’s sport is always the top priority.
Where people who enjoy women’s sport will know they can support female athletes no matter the time of day. Where dedicated space can be given to promoting women’s sport. Where a match between female athletes cannot be trumped by men. Ever.
The demand is there, so where’s the supply?
If they can create a pop-up channel for the Masters Golf Tournament, if they can have a dedicated AFL channel, if they can create three new channels for an English sporting league, surely Fox Sports can do this.
And it’s not just a fair proposition: it’s a good one. It would add a new product to the sport package that can appeal to a different market. In the age of on-demand TV, sport is one of the most important products for generating and maintaining pay TV subscriptions. Providing access to women’s sport that is not available elsewhere is a big selling point.
Recent ratings for the Matildas, Women’s BBL and the women’s AFL exhibition games have shown there is the demand for women’s sport.
Cordoning off a space for women’s sport is also a way to demonstrate the network’s commitment to equality. Too often, female athletes are treated as second or third-class citizens by the networks, with matches only played to fill gaps in the men’s programming or at inconvenient times. Having a dedicated women’s sport channel would mean women’s sport cannot be trumped by a “more important” male match. It would give women’s sport the prime real estate it deserves.
It would provide the opportunity for expanded coverage of women’s sport. With the Women’s Big Bash league, the W-League, the ANZ Championship and next year’s women’s AFL competition, there is plenty of women’s sport content to cover. There’s also plenty of other sports with ample women’s participation that could stand to get better coverage: gymnastics, athletics, women’s rugby league, even sailing.
Fox Sports W?
It could also be a space where women’s sport gets the coverage and analysis it deserves. Imagine a weekly netball talk show, a weekly women’s football program, a daily “today in women’s sport” news show.
It would raise both the quantity and the quality of coverage of women’s sport, especially on television. With well over 80% of TV news coverage of sport devoted to men’s sport, a dedicated women’s sport channel would give the opportunity to address that imbalance.
It would provide additional employment and training opportunities for emerging sports reporters – especially female sports journalists – allowing Fox Sports to address its significant on-air gender imbalance and provide opportunities for smart female sports analysts to provide their interpretations, not just interview players at the side lines.
Fox Sporting Nation includes women too
Now I’ve been around the traps long enough to know suggesting this will lead to suggestions of reverse sexism. But the status quo is sexist: it pushes women’s sport to the periphery. It would be great if we could address that imbalance without having to consciously create a space for women’s sport, but history has shown we have not been able to do so.
So instead, let’s actively and consciously create a space where women’s sport gets the attention it deserves on TV, so that perhaps one day it is entirely unnecessary.