July 17, 2010

Doing Research while Watching Sports Center

KS_2010a By Karen Sternheimer

Think about how many people you know whose days are punctuated by checking sports scores, and whose bedtime stories come courtesy of ESPN’s Sports Center. Even something that seems as mundane as tracking sports coverage has sociological meaning.

Suppose you wanted to learn more about this practice. You might use sociological research methods such as in-depth interviews with fans, surveys of television audience members, or ethnography of how news agencies produce sports programming to collect your data.

Another interesting method tends to be overlooked in many research methods texts and courses. Content analysis involves systematically observing the content of a text, including written, visual, and audio texts. Often used in communications research, sociologists also use content analysis to take a deeper look into media we might otherwise take for granted.

Essentially, content analysis involves counting the occurrence of specific phenomena that researchers are interested in learning more about. One of the first tenets of good content analysis is to establish specific guidelines to make sure researchers are clear and consistent about what they are counting. More than just watching TV and writing an overall opinion, content analysis requires clear definitions of a sample and the procedure the researchers will use to analyze their findings.

Something as familiar as Sports Center can be systematically analyzed, with clear quantitative and qualitative results. Sociologists Michael Messner and Cheryl Cooky recently completed a content analysis of Sports Center and the sports coverage of the three Los Angeles network news affiliates. Their report, Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlight Shows, 1989-2009, features the results of their content analysis over five separate periods: one in 1989, 1993, 1999, 2004, and 2009.

As their title suggests, the researchers wanted to learn about how much sports coverage is devoted to male and female athletes, as well as to better understand the context of the coverage about sports. They measured six weeks of local news coverage, selecting three two-week periods at various times of the year. In addition, they also recorded three weeks of Sports Center during similar time periods as the local news. The researchers timed the amount of coverage men’s sports and women’s sports received, including the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

If you are a regular viewer of sports coverage, you won’t be surprised to learn that men’s sports coverage dramatically overshadows women’s coverage. You might even conclude that this finding is so obvious that it isn’t necessary to conduct a systematic study.

But you might be shocked to learn that local coverage of women’s sports has dramatically declined over the past twenty years (and in the last ten especially), as the graph below illustrates. This is something we can only learn through repeated content analysis studies.


After a rise in local news coverage between 1989 and 1999, women’s sports coverage declined dramatically from 8.7% of all sports coverage to 1.6%. Likewise, Sports Center’s coverage (only included in the last three time periods of the study) declined as well, albeit not as dramatically because women’s sports coverage was low to begin with.

Why the decline? We might even predict that coverage would increase rather than decrease; as the researchers point out, girls' and women's participation in sports has increased dramatically over the past twenty years. In 1989, 1.8 million high school girls participated in sports, compared with 3.1 million in 2009. Women are more likely to play collegiate-level sports, and women’s opportunities to play professional sports—most notably in the WNBA—expanded too. So it seems counterintuitive that coverage would decline.

While Messner & Cooky note that fans now have numerous ways besides television to get sports updates (including fan websites and smart phone apps, for example), they conclude that to understand why women’s sports coverage declined it would be necessary to study “the assumptions and values [that] guide the decisions of producers, editors and TV sports commentators on what sports stories are important to cover, and how to cover them.”

The researchers hypothesize that the structure of televised sports coverage might help us understand the lack of women’s sports coverage. As Messner & Cooky point out, the network’s promise to deliver an audience of young men to advertisers provides a financial incentive to not only keep coverage of women’s sports to a minimum, but also to portray women in specific ways:

A foundational assumption of those who create programming for men on programs like SportsCenter seems to be that men want to think of women clip_image002as sexual objects of desire, or perhaps as mothers, but not as powerful, competitive athletes.

This long-term study found another interesting change: despite the reduced coverage of women’s sports, when women are part of sports coverage the tone was more respectful in 2009 than it had been in the past. Most of the time women appear in sports coverage as male athletes’ girlfriends, wives, or mothers, and yet some coverage now focuses more on women’s athletic prowess.

By contrast, the authors observed that in the past, sports coverage frequently ridiculed women. For instance, a 1999 story on women who bungee jumped nude and a 2004 story about a “weightlifting granny” made women appear more like comic relief than serious athletes. These stories haven’t completely gone away, but they were less common in 2009. The authors conclude that involving more women in the sports news production process might produce more favorable coverage of women’s sports, but concede that there’s no guarantee. For example, female reporters might be hired more for their looks than for their sports background.

As you can see, content analysis can take an everyday activity like watching sports coverage and analyze its deeper meanings. What other kinds of sociological information might content analysis give us?


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I think that men sports are more action oriented than women because womens games tend to be slower and I hate to say this kind of boring.

Men social structure shows that men sports are action paced over women sports. For an example not as many woman can dunk in the basketball league. Also their is not a national woman football team either.

I think mens sports are covered more bacause they have more sports than women. Mens sports are also more action packed.

I think that woman sports get much more attention these days then it did 20 years ago! Perhaps this isn't the most glorious time, but things are brightening up, and the future still seems bright.

Women's sports have a lot of ingrown prejudices to overcome before they can be on the same level, in terms of popularity, as male sports. For the longest time, male sports was the only options, and women's sports will have to deal with this.

I have a seventeen year old step-daughter and am constantly reminded by her that women can do anything men can do, and better at times. A question that comes to mind is whether she would rather watch a WNBA game over an NBA game? She would definitely choose the NBA game and her decisions for other sports would most likely fall in this same pattern of male dominated sports. Male athletes are physiologically stronger and faster than their female counterparts. This being said, it would somewhat make sense for male sports coverage to be great and the female coverage almost nonexistent.
This article made me think more about the differences between men and women in sports particularly because I have a 14 month old son, who if I hope one day will be a strong athlete. However if I had little girl instead, I would be supportive of her athletic endeavors as well. It also makes me think about the inequalities of men and women. It is unfair that female athletes don’t make as much money, have as much media coverage, or get the same respect as the male athlete does.
It is interesting how society views our women. Women play so many roles in our society such as mothers, daughters, doctors, nurses, etc. But unfortunately as female athletes, they are seen as less interesting. For example when you see women’s tennis being covered by the media they are usually wearing small skirts, maybe that is to keep the men interested. Hardly ever do you see women’s hockey, or bike riding highlights as you would typically always see the male highlights of these sports.
I hope that sports coverage in the future changes to become more equal for men and women as women continue to make gains in achieving true equal rights. As long as we keep objectifying women in our society this shift will be difficult o make. But perhaps if we change the way we perceive women and their abilities then maybe we will see more of a positive change to be more inclusive for women in the male dominated sports world as the studies above have shown.

As an avid viewer of sports center i see little by little the attention women sports are getting nowadays. it still isn't at the level as men's sports but it should be because explosive sports such as basketball have amazing talent in players such as Diana Turasi and Candace Parker. But the future of women sports being covered will grow overtime.

It's not that men's sport are faster paced. They play some of the game games. But many sports use the biggest, fastest, strongest players. That is why we watch these sports, to see the very best of the best.

hmm... ! i agree that the gender doesn't matter in the performance of the games because it totally depend on the enthusiasm of the sport person.. anyway thanks for sharing the nice stuff....

here some thing new and make your self update about the live matches.. just log on here..


This article brings up a lot of interesting facts that could be open for discussion or people taking certain positions. I am not shocked by the numbers given about women’s sports coverage, because I am an avid sports fan and girls don’t exactly have “highlights” during their highlight reels during Sports Center as men do. If you watch WNBA highlights all you will be seeing is a low tempo basketball game with maybe one slam-dunk if you are lucky. If you watch NBA highlights then you will see dunk after dunk, extremely athletic plays both on the offensive and defensive side, it will be an up-tempo game with things happening by a snap of a finger, and much more. Male athletes are physiologically stronger and faster than their female counterparts. This right here just makes more sense that male sports coverage would be a lot more intriguing than females because not only males but also females would be more interested and attracted to it.
A lot of people would say that it is unfair that males get more coverage time than females but it is all about the money in the United States and the male coverage brings in the viewers. Males also play a lot more professional sports than females such as, football, baseball, Nascar, and others. There is more opportunity for male highlights and sports coverage because of all the sports. I also think that the numbers might be the way they are because back in the day, women didn’t play sports it was a “man” thing and now times are changing. So now we just can wait and see what might happen in the future you never know how the numbers can change. That being said I don’t think female coverage will ever get up higher than 5% because it just isn’t as exciting and that’s what highlights and sports coverage is supposed to be about.
Content analysis was the most efficient way that a sociologist could have collected all these findings. It gave the researchers good results that they could put into a graph and put into percentages. They not only could use the television but they could also use written things such as the newspaper or magazines if they had chosen to. As professor Stein and Kerry Ferris put it, “conduct tests that will explain the variables and relationships between them” (Ferris & Stein 78). Content analysis is exactly what the researchers did to conduct this study.
My dad has watched basketball for over 50 years and he not once has watched a WNBA game and he will never, he claims, “they are just too darn boring to watch”. I agree with him 100%, girls just don’t have the athletic ability that men do, or the explosiveness so they cannot produce the highlights that the men can. Also men get a much higher pay roll than professional women do because they get a lot more media attention and a lot more coverage, which both bring in a large amount of money. I wish women could bring up the coverage numbers but it just won’t happen for a very long time or maybe even forever.

I was surprised that the viewers watching women's sports is declining. There are many more girls playing sports and you would think the viewership would increase. I guess the same issues that are found in the home are found on the field. Men are more likely to watch sports on tv. Women are usually only interested if there is a personal story involved. That goes back to the natural tendencies that are in men and women.

Being a woman that grew up playing sports, I was always disappointed in how many people would come and see us play compared to the guys. Like half the stadium would empty. I couldnt understand why we couldnt get the same friday night news coverage the guys got, no matter what they were playin. even till this day woman in the WNBA don't make nearlly what the guys get in salary and they work just as hard. just like the woman's coach of Tennessee, she has won so many titles that She should be in the hall of fame for just being a coach, but The only reason they talked about her so much the other week was becuse of her illness that she has. I think that is sad.

Honestly, anyone that says women's sports are "boring" compared to men's must never have seen a game of women's volleyball. It can be pretty amazing.

For the women who say that men and women are created equally are separated from reality. Modern day examples are plenty, but even going back to are homo sapien beginnings, men were hunters and females were gatherers. There are talented female athletes but it is a fact that men are more talented in today's popular sports.

hahaha that is pretty funny because when I was at the university, I tented to do a research while I was watching Sports Center, or at least I pretended to, it took me too long to finish my research LOL so I know what you said

I don't agree with the idea of finding women games as boring. There's no denying the fact the in WNBA we can actually salute all the players from the different teams because of their every effort just to have a win. We can't directly compare men's games to women's games because women are actually not that good as men, but there are men's game which is boring and not that interesting to watch.

I think it would need much more than this if you ask me.

maybe women's sports are considered so boring and less high-energy because we don't give them a chance. i think that could also explain why we think women are physiologically less strong/fast-- maybe we just never give them the chance to be? don't you think that by keeping these thoughts in mind, and by constantly reducing women's talents, it contributes to their lack of coverage in sports today? i would imagine that those that are in sports are also micromanaged by people who tell them to maintain their femininity as well. that's why WNBA games don't really feature dunking or as much athletic prowess/cockiness. even as someone who doesn't pay attention to sports, i think it's a shame we are still upholding these myths and it's holding female athletes back.

Great post there. For sure, sports a great role in the society. Nowadays, sports are enjoyed by all genders, with a lot psychological fulfillment.

mens sport

Good post! I have a random question for you. How do you get your blog indexed by bing? I have a related web blog

Doing Research while Watching Sports Cente is a great article that I have read. It really useful grapes sports lovers in the world. Therefore, people should read this article many times. If you love football, you can visit the website TructiepVip to enjoy the top football match. So do not miss this opportunity to enjoy football

Thank you very much for this great post

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