Why do Women Watch Sports?

Olympic events are watched by women far more often than regular female sports coverage

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Women, even former athletes, say they’re too busy to keep up with women’s sports. The notable exception is Olympic events, which are less frequent and bring out national pride.

A recent study surveyed a focus group of women to understand why women’s sports are under viewed.

Spending time watching TV with spouses and/or family members was more important to most women than who was playing which sport.

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Erin Whiteside, PhD, assistant professor of communications at the University of Tennessee, and Marie Hardin, PhD, associate director for research at Pennsylvania State University, teamed up to investigate women’s sports viewing patterns and tastes.

Researchers surveyed a female focus group consisting of 19 women separated into 3 groups for a 90-minute session. Ages ranged from 26-43 and most of the women were middle class and married with children.

Their research suggested that women are more likely to watch the Olympics instead of a sport with a longer season. And they are more likely to watch sports where females are prevalent like gymnastics and figure skating.

Dr. Hardin said, “Our research provides some insight into why the Olympics remain popular with women. It’s not just about the types of sports that are featured, although that is certainly a big part of it.”

“It’s also about the way in which the Olympics is delivered: in bite-sized chunks that may require just a 10-minute commitment to see an exciting sporting event, during a time of day when women feel they can make that commitment.”

Dr. Whiteside said, “Women preferred the condensed style of coverage, something they described as easy to follow.”

Inspiration for this study came from the assumption that after Title IX, when women were given equal rights to and funding in college sports, women would be more interested in watching sports in the media.

This has not been the case. Sports audiences are still primarily male. Boys who play sports commonly grow up and watch men’s sports in their adulthood. But, despite the increase in girl’s sports participation, women have yet to grow up and watch women’s sports.

In the study, authors said, “[W]e argue that sports media consumption is tied to gender roles and related domestic work.”

Authors found that even if the women surveyed were former athletes they did not justify sitting down to watch a full-length event unless their husbands or other family members wanted to watch it too.

The women admitted to feeling the need to multi-task when at home to keep up with household duties and not having the time to watch a game.

This is where the draw to watching the Olympics fit in. Olympic events only happen for a few weeks every two years, and the events are on mass coverage. It’s hard to miss the Olympics, even when multi-tasking.

This study was conducted based on a small, undiversified group; further research is needed to understand the sports media consumption of the rest of the female population.

This study was published in the June issue of Communication, Culture & Critique. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
July 6, 2012
Last Updated:
December 20, 2012