16 Jul 2022

Media paying more attention to women's sport but concerns remain

11:08 am on 16 July 2022

New research from Sport New Zealand shows women's sport now makes up a fifth of all sports news coverage, a six percent increase on the year before and more than five times the global average of four percent.

But many say while the results show progress and a positive shift in the sector, there is still more work to be done.

Grace Steinmetz celebrates her try with Amy du Plessis (L) and Rosie Kelly.

Rugby, cricket and football represent 60 percent of all sports news coverage, but women's coverage of those sports averages 11 percent, the report says. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

News coverage of women's sport in New Zealand is most likely to be about netball - which accounts for 20 per cent of all women's sport - but only four percent of all sports coverage.

Netball New Zealand chief executive Jennie Wyllie said while netball has always been a female-dominated sport it has had to push hard for visibility.

"What we do know is the cost of our young people not participating in sport, and the gap for young women and girls in that participation, it plays out in terms of media coverage, so if you can't see it, you can't be it."

The ongoing Sports Media and Gender study looks at athlete portrayal and gender balance in sports news coverage across New Zealand.

Read the full report (PDF 5MB)

The 2021 figures showed all major media companies were doing better with RNZ and the Otago Daily Times the top performers for gender balance of coverage. Stuff's 6.3 percent increase in women's coverage was also considered significant because it produced 42 percent of all sports news coverage, the report said.

Wyllie said coverage of the ANZ Premiership league and the Silver Ferns meant women could be seen competing in elite sports year round, which was not the case for any other female sport.

"It shows our young people that women, who are 50 percent of our community, are visible and valued by the other 50 percent and themselves. I think it's vital; netball is currently 20 percent of the coverage, if it wasn't provided in the format that it was, our stats would continue to be pretty woeful."

Aliyah Dunn

Netball makes up a large proportion of the media coverage. Photo: Photosport

Sport NZ project lead Philip Clark said the country's three biggest sports - rugby, cricket and football - represented 60 percent of all sports news coverage, but women's coverage of those sports averages 11 percent.

"Those sports all have now got women's leagues so you'll get the week-in week-out coverage and if we're going to shift the dial on this, where you're going to need to see change is within those big sports and we are seeing change in these big sports."

The report shows women's sport now accounts for 21 percent of all sports news coverage, a six percent increase on the previous year.

University of Waikato Professor of sport, gender and youth culture Holly Thorpe said it was not surprising given that in 2021 we celebrated the Olympics, Paralympics and Winter Olympics - where New Zealand's female athletes excelled.

"I think it's important to ask ourselves why are we at 21 percent? When we have more than 50 percent of the athletes going to the Commonwealth Games are women, we had similar kind of ratios at Tokyo - why are we not seeing 50 percent [female sport] coverage? We've still got a long way to go."

Lisa Carrington. Olympic Gold Medal K1 500.

Triple gold medallist Lisa Carrington was among athletes who ensured a large amount of coverage for women at last year's Tokyo Olympics. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

She said media coverage of women's sport was vital.

"It builds audiences and fan bases, it helps build venues around events that contribute to sponsorship and therefore increasing financial opportunities for women in sport.

"The girls and women in New Zealand are seeing more and more sportswomen as role models and that's wonderful. We've always had the talent there, but so many stories have been lost over the years without a lot of coverage."

Fewer women journalists covering sport

The report also found there was an increase in the number of female sports presenters, but fewer female sports journalists.

University of Canterbury broadcast journalism lecturer Jo Malcolm has seen an increase in the number of female students wanting to be sports reporters, with two women from the 2022 class aiming to get into the industry.

"I think in terms of pathways, it's really important to have female reporters out there reporting on all sports, and not just women reporting on women's sports and men reporting on men's sports, because I think it adds a really different perspective and a different voice."

Malcolm also works in communications for the All Blacks where she said it was clear sports reporting remained male dominated.

While the number of women covering sport had increased since Malcolm herself covered NRL while working as a foreign correspondent for TVNZ in Australia, she said there was still a need for more female sports reporters on the ground.

"I do think women approach sports stories a little differently, sometimes it's personality but I think it's really important to have different voices asking different questions."

The study showed the female share of bylines on sports stories at most major media outlets was trending downward - except at RNZ where more than a quarter of sports stories were produced by women.

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