Being a Good Sport
Yesterday, I went to watch HuffPost Live because one of the guests was Jennifer Kahnweiler, mother of the oft-mentioned here writer-director-actress Jessie, who've I've written about on these pages. The mother part of the equation has a Ph.D. and is an expert on introverts, having written several books on the subject.
(It remains one of the great whimsies that Jennifer Kahnweiler is an expert on introverts and daughter Jessie is one of the world's great extroverts, so clearly Dr. Kahnweiler had one less subject to study as her child grew up. Either that or Jessie paid close attention to mom and learned how to do the opposite.)
The point here, though, has nothing to do with that. Meaning you could have started here at the third paragraph. I mention it, however, because the Live segment before that one, as I was waiting, had to do with women in sports, and there was discussion about why women get so much less coverage on ESPN and even are relegated to having their own channel, as if they were so separate.
While it's a valid subject to discuss, and has some valid points, it also misses a greater reality. (And misses that having a separate channel gives far more coverage than they'd otherwise get.) That reality did slightly get touched on, but only very briefly and only from the wrong perspective.
What this reality is, is that sports on TV -- for both men and women -- is driven by the same engine that drives ALL of anything that is on television. And that's advertising. The ability to sell products.
Sitcoms are driven by advertising, dramas are driven by advertising, game shows, soap operas, variety specials, new, documentaries -- and sports. Everything. Everything. It's not ratings (although that's related to what drives things), but it's advertising. Advertisers sponsor TV shows to sell their products. It's why a TV show can have good ratings, but be cancelled because it's the wrong "demographics." Why TV doesn't go after shows that will appeal to senior citizens, even if it would attract huge numbers, because they aren't as readily swayed by advertising as is the prized 18-49 year-old group.
While it's true that more men watch sports than women, that's less a driving issue, as well. Even if the numbers were the same (which they're not, and not close), it's the advertising that is the larger factor. Who buys footballs, jerseys, helmets, baseball gloves, bats, baseballs, caps, athletic shoes, basketballs, gym trunks, hockey sticks, skates, tennis racguets, tennis balls, golf clubs, golf balls. Golf may well have low ratings, but selling golf clubs and golf balls and golf shoes is huge business. That's a major reason why golf is on television. And why women's golf is on television, since it's one of the sports where there are major sales for women. Perhaps not as much as for men, but it's significant. (It is no accident that the two women sports that have healthy TV coverage -- golf and tennis -- are the ones that likely sell the most product.)
It's true for all of television. It's not about bias, nor sexism. It's about how TV works -- selling product. Can you sell soap? Can you sell cars. Can you sell athletic shoes. Can you sell anything?
What will change TV coverage is if the culture outside of television changes. And if the outside culture changes, and women and young girls not only start playing sports to a massive extent, and start attending sports events to a massive extent and then -- and most importantly -- start buying sports-related equipment to a massive extent...then on that day, as sure as you are reading this, TV will start covering women sports to a massive extent.
Because what's on TV is not about what's right, or what's best, or what's entertaining. That's a very good starting point -- but what's on television is because of whether it can sell enough of The Product. Whatever the product. And whether that's sports or anything on television.
10/10/2013 03:33:43 pm
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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