In what feels like an incredibly long-awaited move, female athletes are finally getting the recognition they deserve when it comes to media exposure. On Wednesday 2 November, the Women’s Sports Network was launched—offering 24/7 streaming of programming, competitions, documentaries, and more.
According to CNBC, The Women’s Sports Network is a free, ad-supported network featured on streaming services including Amazon, Freevee, Fox Corp, FuboTV, and smart TVs. Planning to start broadcasting games in January 2023, the network already has partnerships with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Women’s Football Alliance, Ladies Professional Golf Association, US Ski and Snowboard, Sports Innovation Lab, and World Surf League, among others.
“It’s a significant step towards narrowing the gap in media coverage for female athletes, for female sports,” Angela Ruggiero, CEO and co-founder of Sports Innovation Lab, four-time ice hockey Olympian and board advisor, told the news outlet.
As numerous publications have noted, this comes as a welcome move since media coverage of female athletes remains incredibly low, despite a surge in viewership and interest in women’s sports.
In 2018, the charity Women in Sport released a research report exposing the lack of visibility of female sport in the media. The report examined: “How well the media represents women’s sport across the five countries and from this evidence base, challenge the current situation with journalists, broadcasters, and the sector as a whole, to understand how best to drive change.”
The report’s ultimate findings were that not only is women’s sport shown significantly less than men’s sport, its coverage failed to achieve above 10 per cent of all sport’s coverage in any single monitoring period. One of the primary considerations the charity recommended was to introduce networks which would broadcast content specifically catered to fans of women’s sports.
Gender imbalance has existed within this industry for far too long. Female athletes deserve to receive the same benefits and exposure as their male counterparts. The Lioness’ triumphant victory during the Women’s EURO 2022 was a tremendous achievement for gender equality within football. Now, we need TV muscle to continue this momentum.
Ruggiero, later on in her interview with CNBC, also emphasised this by stating, “Every men’s league has had decades of a jumpstart on the traditional women’s leagues.”
She continued: “There’s a pent-up demand for women’s sports, but women’s sports typically go under-invested, under-supported, under-viewed, because the ecosystem underneath it hasn’t really been built.”
Hopefully, this new network will mark a positive shift towards genuine, equal representation.
A 27-year-long career, 23 Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals, $450 million in earnings: winning her first Grand Slam title at the age of 17, Serena Williams, alongside her older sister Venus, has been widely credited with changing the face of tennis and women’s sports.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour back in March 2022, the sisters admitted that they were aware of entering an “all-white sport” when they became professional tennis players, but they relished the challenge of redefining the same. “We changed it from being two great black champions to being the best ever, period,” the younger Williams said.
“And that’s what we did. We took out colour and we just became the best… It is what it is, we changed the sport, we changed the fashion, we changed how people think, we changed how people think in business.”
Fast forward to Tuesday 9 August, Williams has now announced her plans to move on from tennis after the 2022 US Open.
“I have never liked the word ‘retirement’,” Williams wrote in a column for Vogue. “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is ‘evolution’. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.” The athlete then went on to detail the struggle of maintaining a work-life balance as a woman, which ultimately prompted her to make the decision.
“Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” she penned. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labour of expanding our family.”
“Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity,” she added.
In an op-ed for CNN back in 2018, the tennis star admitted how she “almost died after giving birth” to her daughter Olympia with her partner Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit. She also highlighted how black women in the US are over three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes.
“I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete,” she wrote for Vogue. “I need to be two feet into tennis or two feet out.” The star also admitted how she had never thought about having kids earlier in her career, but when it comes to Olympia, “nothing is a sacrifice.”
“It all just makes sense,” Williams continued. “I want to teach her how to tie her shoes, how to read, where babies come from, and about God. Just like my mom taught me.” Tennis, by comparison however, has always “felt like a sacrifice” for the athlete, although it was one she enjoyed.
“I’ve been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to move on from playing tennis. Alexis, my husband, and I have hardly talked about it; it’s like a taboo topic. I can’t even have this conversation with my mom and dad. It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud. It comes up, I get an uncomfortable lump in my throat, and I start to cry,” she admitted. “I know that a lot of people are excited about and look forward to retiring, and I really wish I felt that way.”
Williams also mentioned how she would love to stick around and try to beat retired Australian player Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles. “The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus Grand Slams,” she wrote. “But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.”