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Still a Man’s Game? Monitoring the Scottish Sports Media

By Andrew Jenkin, University of Strathclyde

For all the talk of COVID-19 and its impact upon men’s football, you may not have heard much about the implications of Coronavirus for the women’s game. Yet, given the different calendar for the women’s game - the new Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) season kicked off just over a month ago, for instance – the impact is arguably greater. Indeed, one of the early casualties of the lockdown was Glasgow City’s Champion’s League quarter final with Wolfsburg.

The media marginalisation of women’s football is not specific to this crisis. Over the 2019 women’s season, I monitored how much coverage the women’s game received. Following previous blogs in which I outlined how the Scottish sports news dealt with women’s football before and during last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, this blog looks at what happened next. After the women’s national team’s (SWNT) historic participation in the World Cup, did the coverage of women’s football in the Scottish media improve?

In total, I monitored 156 days of coverage across print, television and social media in 2019:

  • 4th February – 9th April = Routine Period 1 (Pre-2019 WWC)
  • 28th May – 22nd June = Event Period (2019 WWC)
  • 30th July – 2nd October = Routine Period 2 (Post-2019 WWC)

The publications, accounts and television programmes I focused on were:


What I found was, depressingly, in line with other studies of gender and sports reporting globally with women’s sports the subject of just 9% of all sports news stories across the newspapers, television news and social media accounts monitored.

In likelihood, the 9.48% generated by this study is higher than might be expected for the entire output of 2019 due to the time periods monitored being set specifically around the women’s season and 2019 WWC.

Looking specifically at coverage of football, the chart below shows how the total number of stories about football were divided between the men’s and women’s game.

In total I gathered 34,943 stories about (men and women’s) football with just 7.14% of these stories about the women’s game. Remember, this is despite the fact that my monitoring periods were set around the 2019 SWPL and the Women’s World Cup (WWC).

If we put this in the context of sports coverage more broadly, women’s football made up 4.7% of all sports news coverage in Scotland whilst the men’s game was the subject of 69.2% of all sports stories. This shows that reporters continually delivered stories on men’s football – even when men weren’t actually playing football. Domestic men’s football was still the focus of 65.4%, 43.2% and 29.3% of all social media, newspaper and TV sports news stories (respectively) during the Women’s World Cup period, despite the fact the men’s Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) season ended on May 19th. This meant even though there were 81 days in which the SPFL was ‘off-season’ – and the women were playing in an actual World Cup - coverage of domestic men’s football far exceeded the coverage of all women’s sports, whether those women’s sports were in season or out of season.

As an example of this, during the ‘Event’ period, the Twitter accounts monitored shared a combined total of 235 tweets speculating about Motherwell player David Turnbull’s potential transfer to Celtic (which ultimately didn’t materialise). Meanwhile, the same accounts shared a combined total of just 167 tweets about domestic women’s football across all three time periods monitored. It does not appear to be the case that the generous coverage of men’s football left no time for coverage of the women’s league (or indeed other women’s sports) but rather, decision makers choose to cover more men’s football stories instead.


Routine versus Event Coverage

Given my research is particularly focused on the Scotland women’s national team, I was keen to see whether the Women’s World Cup had any legacy on routine coverage of women’s football in particular, or women’s sport more generally. The following chart shows how coverage of men and women’s sports changed over the course of the three time periods monitored.

The numbers paint an interesting picture. In the first instance, this study reaffirms previous studies which have demonstrated increases in the levels of women’s sports coverage during major events (Bruce et al., 2010). This is perhaps not surprising given the Scottish media’s interest in football. However, the fact that on average, women’s sports represented just over a fifth of all sports news coverage during the ‘event’ period would not suggest that gender completely overrides notions of nationalism.

Perhaps of greater concern are the levels of coverage given to women’s sports during ‘routine’ periods. Some sports news outlets barely cover women’s sports at all (0.1% of all Daily Record Sport tweets in my study focused on women’s sport), and even BBC Scotland TV news – which came out best in my study – only devoted 15% of their ‘routine’ stories to women’s sport.

The results above also show there was a slight overall increase in women’s sports coverage between the first and second ‘Routine’ periods (5.44% to 7.35%).

This modest rise is mirrored when we drill down to look at domestic football coverage specifically (as above). This is encouraging, but whether this is reflected in coverage of the women’s domestic game when league action eventually resumes remains to be seen.

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