On April 24, 1996, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was created, consisting of twelve teams to act as counterpart to the National Basketball Association (NBA). At that point, for the first time women could compete and earn a living through basketball – the dream that had only been attainable by men for 50 years prior.
When comparing the two leagues, however, one can’t help but notice the incredibly large wage gap. The absolute minimum salary in the NBA is about $850,00, compared to the average WNBA salary of around $70,000. This can be attributed to the large differences in market sizes and game attendance.
Consequently, there is an airtime deficit on TV that influences the public’s view of the validity and importance of women’s sports compared to men’s. The implications around these adverse views of women’s sports have consequences for women athletes, including their low wages.
The minimal airtime is a manifestation of sexism. There may be more games played in the NBA, but the WNBA is just as competitive, despite only being formed thirty years ago.
It is said that men’s sports attract more fans and advertisements, meaning men’s games would create more profit for such networks. The idea that women’s sports would not generate enough monetary capital for a respectable amount of airtime is tied to sexist assumptions.
Social influences from television and advertising companies have profound effects on the thoughts and stereotypes in society. The the lack of women’s representation in the media inadvertently puts sports for men on a higher pedestal. Men’s sports are held to a higher degree of competition, emotion and skill by the public and by the networks following the leagues. The idea that all women are not as physically inclined as men, making the competition less aggressive and therefore less exciting, is a well-known stereotype which hinders the appearance of women’s sports league as a whole.
Networks hold an element of social influence through their usage of airtime. Television exposure has been noted to promote a belief system that affects viewer expectations. The lack of airtime for the WNBA conveys an underlying message of the unimportance of women’s sports. If the network thought it was important to cover the WNBA, it would be on television. The public therefore keeps the women’s league in the shadow of the NBA.
Networks are able to continue using sexist methods through self-justification of revenue from advertising. No one seems to hold TV companies accountable for their lack of the promotion of women’s athletics.
The selection of which league to broadcast creates an ingroup and outgroup which encourages highlights and conversation of one but not the other.
Despite rarely being covered, when female athletes are interviewed in any depth, it’s to portray them in other roles and contexts, diminishing their status as athletes. Women are shown in an incompetent light in terms of athletics, and that light is followed by the formation of harmful and degrading stereotypes. An emotional appeal seen in interviews on TV adds to the degrading, unfavorable view of women.
That television exposure impacts the views of the public is apparent, whether the viewer is aware of this fact or not, and the networks’ lack of attention towards women’s sports creates a stigma of irrelevance concerning their competitions.
As coverage continues to be minimal, the public is reinforced to take more interest in men’s athletics. As a result, women’s athletics becomes an afterthought of television networking and public opinion.
Increasing airtime of WNBA games is a way to work against the divide between men’s and women’s professional sports.
There is no question that broadcasting networks need to strategically increase their showings of women’s athletic events, and they need to be held more accountable for not doing so.