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Scotland’s biggest challenge this World Cup might be the Scottish media

By Andrew Jenkin (University of Strathclyde and University of Stirling)

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last year described the Scottish Women National Team’s qualification for the 2019 FIFA World Cup (their first and a first for any Scotland football team since 1998) as ‘potentially transformational’ for women’s sport in Scotland, claiming their recent successes can ‘inspire the next generation to get involved’.

Indeed, the future of women’s football looks promising. It seems every week a new story comes out regarding barriers being broken, whether they be record attendances, investment and sponsorship or generally more equality for female athletes.

Here in Scotland, a positive picture is beginning to emerge.

Last year, Celtic announced plans to form Scotland's first full-time professional women's football team. The women’s game is also more accessible than ever to TV viewers: BBC Alba now broadcast some domestic games, as well as Glasgow City’s Champions League home games. This summer, they will also broadcast all the SWNT World Cup matches from France. At a grassroots level, participation is also on the rise with the Scottish FA last year reporting that the number of girls playing football had almost doubled since 2013 (Palmer, 2018).

However, despite these positives, women’s football in Scotland has had a fraught relationship with the media. The media have the power to help build audiences but instead have historically undermined and trivialized the women’s game. In 2013, Tam Cowan stated Fir Park Stadium should have been ‘torched after it hosted a women's football match.

With the World Cup just over a month away, I wanted to better understand where women’s football is at in terms of media coverage in Scotland. Between February and April of this year I monitored mainstream media sports news output across the press (sports pages of the Daily Record, Scotsman and Herald), television (BBC Scotland and STV News) and on social media (twitter accounts for the Daily Record, Herald, Scotsman, BBC Scotland and STV). This was a busy time for women’s football with the Scottish Women’s Premier League kicking off in February and the SWNT in action in both the Algarve Cup in March and then in friendlies against Chile (a draw) and Brazil (a Scottish victory) in April. This of course took place against the backdrop of the men’s league and two Euro 2020 qualifiers for the men’s national team (against Kazakhstan and San Marino).

The findings are stark.

To put this in context, I first looked at the proportion of coverage devoted to all men’s and women’s sport. It didn’t get off to a good start: less than 5% of press coverage was devoted to women’s sport, with the Daily Record ranking lowest, devoting just 2.1% of coverage to women’s sports. Television was a bit better, with just over 13% of stories focusing on women’s sport. However, when I looked at total airtime dedicated to women's sport this statistic worsened with women’s sport representing just 6.1% of the airtime. Across the period studied this meant BBC Scottish news devoted a grand total of 15 minutes to women’s sport (compared to 97 minutes to men, and 23 minutes of gender-neutral coverage), whilst STV screened just 7 minutes for women (compared to 203 minutes of men’s sport, and 14 minutes gender neutral coverage).

The social media accounts of the media organisations I looked at were no better. Apart from BBC Scotland’s sports account (where 7.5% tweets related to women’s sports), none of the others devoted even 3% of their sports’ posts to women. In fact, the Daily Record (0.1%) and Scotsman (0.5%) didn’t even reach whole figures.

The chart below summarises the findings across media platforms.

Turning specifically to football coverage, perhaps not surprisingly, men’s football dominated nearly all sports media platforms, representing an average of 65% of all sports content. On the other hand, despite all the positive developments of the women’s game over the past 12 months, between February and April women’s football was the subject of just 2.2% of the total sport media output.

My research so far has shown that for all the positives of women’s football on the pitch, overall, women’s sport is still dramatically underrepresented within mainstream media in Scotland. In 1994 Cramer wrote that the amount of women’s sports coverage is ‘‘at best sporadic and at worst non-existent’’ in traditional mass media (p. 173). This research has suggested not much has changed in the intervening years with men’s football in Scotland remaining the king of content.

There are a few limitations worth highlighting within this research, one being the relatively thin spread of newspapers analysed. I will be developing this research over the summer, looking at both The National and the Scottish Sun’s sports pages and will update the findings accordingly. In a later blog post I’ll also address questions about what women’s sport coverage actually looks like, examining factors such as placement, use of photos and match footage. I’m also going to be repeating the analysis across all platforms analysis during the Women’s World Cup, so this will make for an interesting comparison.

Outside the mainstream media, there is a healthy online community supporting and spreading news and content about the positive developments of the women’s game in Scotland.

Watch this space!

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