It’s been rough at times.
Sure, I’ll admit to feeling wounds upon my ego, whenever I stumble upon a group of male colleagues deep in conversation about the cricket, football or [insert whatever sporting event here], and hear the proverbial water cooler conversation die.
If they don’t know me, chances are that at best, they’ll engage me if it’s tennis.
Time out, here guys. I don’t live to hyperventilate on the sports almanac, but I hold a Masters Degree in Sport Business and yeah, I know my rules. But I can’t be bothered standing up on the desk, fist knuckled upon the heart to declare it.
Yet, I greet the growling rumble of #females in sport finally getting airplay with mixed emotions. There’s a lot of hope pinned on 2017 being the breakout year where equality in intrigue is finally achieved
In Australia, the lauded Australian Rules code of football – the AFL – is kicking off its inaugural semi-professional women’s league tournament this Friday.
The government backed #changeourgame has recently launched, with a focus on improving representation of women in leadership roles, tackling recruitment angles and building female-friendly facilities.
Yet I sit in doubt, listening to the rhetoric.
Why is that?
A matter of Identity
Ever heard of Ladyball?
European supermarket chain Lidl launched a product in early 2016, described as “soft-touch for a woman’s grip, eazi-play for a woman’s ability, and fashion-driven for a woman’s style.”
After creating a social media storm, the chain then revealed the hoax and the deeper message was that “it’s time to take women’s sport seriously”.
A great campaign for Lidl, generating brilliant publicity without even needing to build a legit product. What did it do for women’s sport though?
It’s a necessary step. One of many that need to be taken. Yet even if the system is wrong, we still can’t just stomp our feet and demand views to change. You cannot demand respect and attention. There’s a deeper psyche at play if we want to influence attitudes.
A matter of Spectators
Who does a sport hoping to attract? A male audience or a female audience?
A 2015 Nielson study shows that globally, some 46% of women are interested in sport. That’s a massive audience and consumer base. What the research doesn’t tell us, is whether this market is watching men in sport, or supporting their female compatriots.
In one camp, the case is “build it and they will come!” What this means is that sports media is a circa-90% dominated institution – one that plays a strong hand in influencing our sporting taste buds. It might thus be a self-fulfilling prophecy that these male gurus believe that women’s sport is not in demand, thus media cannot justify giving it attention.
Or are we sweeping the ghosts under the carpet? Sure, women can compete in sports where the dominant mindset is male, but would it not be an more logical path to promote those niches where female talent is stronger and more appreciated.
Netball for example, has thrived by knowing its audience and working out its assets. It has highly competitive, quality teams and its audience-base is clear.
A sports scientist, radio presenter explained how he preferred to watch women in certain disciplines such as gymnastics and diving – sports renowned for grace – but tuned out of women in sports that were more about toughness and aggression.
In the AFLW, there may well be an opportunity to test these concepts and prove that the cycle and system that can be overthrown.
A matter of Quality
We want it when the competition is hot and our eyes are glued to the set even when the kettle is squealing out of steam and our bladders are begging for release.
The most high profile sports women – think the Williams sisters in tennis, Marta and Mia Hamm in football, at one stage Ronda Rousey – can do wonders for their sport. Their names are synonymous with their sporting prowess.
Sure, beautiful women athletes bring profile, but glamour often takes more away from the sport than it gives, running only so deep and few can play that game.
A cloud of unknowns hovers over the inaugural AFL women’s tournament, with teams built from scratch and players having limited opportunity to train together.
The novelty factor will be there, but the hype risks being overcome by any faltering quality. Only time will tell, and there’s gonna be quite a few hearts in hands as the matches play out.
A matter of Women
It’s hard to talk about the glaring fact, that women are an entity, with characteristics that can be at complete odds with the values of sport.
Female competitiveness is a tough gig to market. It’s bloody complex and rarely aspirational. Who’s fault is that?
The types of peer-pressure amongst girls at junior levels can be downright nasty. It can lead to girls dropping out from competing.
Whilst female rivalries can make for great stories, it’s arguable how many are remembered in a positive spirit. The nastier ones are damaging to the sport and women in general.
Rivalries are often couched in catty terms, rather than in same revered vein as say a #fedal or Frazier v Ali.
Sadly ladies, you are thus, often your own worst enemy.
A matter of So What?
I love sport and there is undoubtedly a growing population of females like myself. We’d love to see the day where women sports are compelling in their own right, competitive and captivating their share of newspaper columns and channel rights.
The ambition needs to be earned. It’s a hard slog, but the story would be brilliant if it happens organically. Let’s not be too demanding – a damaging female trait – but just brilliant. Because marketing of brilliance is a fait accompli.
A shout out to the AFLW this weekend. Hope you ladies make waves.