Barney Francis, Managing Director, Sky Sports on 'How we can work together to continue to grow women's sport'
As we head towards our third live broadcast of the Sunday Times and Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards in association with Vitality, it felt timely to reflect on the growth of women’s sport and the role we all have to play in continuing to build on this.
At Sky Sports, our involvement in the awards is part of our long-standing commitment to women’s sport that includes support through investment, airtime and working in partnership with rights holders.
You could debate whether as an industry we still need women only awards. We certainly believe they have a place.
There is real momentum behind the growth of women’s sport.
Successes like the Women’s Rugby World Cup win last year and the England Women’s football team achievements this summer help hugely.
They inspire the next generation. Young girls want to get involved. They see sport as a viable career for them. That wouldn’t have been the case twenty years ago.
Media coverage of women’s sport has a part to play in continuing this momentum.
We take our role as a sports broadcaster very seriously. At Sky Sports, it was a commitment that began over two decades ago and has continued.
We show more women’s sport than ever before, with programming every week of the year.
Our live events this year included every ball live of the summer’s Women’s Ashes for the first time; the Solheim Cup; action from the Netball Superleague season and the National Badminton League; the Netball World Cup and US Open tennis.
That’s as well as regular news and features across Sky Sports News HQ, for example we had a reporter in Canada throughout the Women’s World Cup, and our weekly show dedicated to women’s sport, Sportswomen.
Creating a virtuous circle
It’s not just the media that will make a difference. The sports industry needs to work together to create a virtuous circle to continue to grow women’s sport.
Governing bodies need to keep investing in women’s sport to make sure the standard is at its best and there is a year round schedule of fixtures to follow.
Fans will pay to see good quality, competitive sport.
One of the best things people can do to support women’s sport is to get out there and watch it.
If the events are popular and there are busy stadiums, print and broadcast media will want to cover it because there is a demand for it.
Success breeds participation.
If a team is successful, more people will be inspired to give the sport a go.
The bigger the pool of potential talent, in turn the more successful the sport will be at the elite level attracting more investment and so the virtuous circle begins again.
Attracting female sports journalists
Another factor we believe is crucial to help to grow women’s sport is attracting more female sport journalists.
We feel passionately about this at Sky Sports and it’s something Andy Cairns, SSN HQ Executive Editor has championed within the industry.
Currently over half of those on journalism courses are female, but less than 10% are studying sports journalism.
Newsrooms need to be reflective of wider society to ensure they understand their audiences and provide relevant and interesting coverage.
As an industry we need to collectively address this.
Andy does a huge amount of work with the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) and universities to help set the standards and policies of journalism courses, ensuring they are seen as an attractive proposition for women.
We are proud that 30% of Sky Sports News production staff are women and almost half of our presenters are.
A place for women’s only awards
Sky Sports has supported women’s sport for over 20 years and we recognise that coverage of female sporting events has a role to play in raising awareness and framing perceptions of women in sport.
The awards are an important part of that support.
This year is set to be bigger and we hope better than ever before. The Sunday Times has done an amazing job, with the awards now in their 28th year. This year we were delighted to see three times as many nominations than last year, and four times as many from 2013. For the third year in a row we gave the public the chance to vote for their favourite sports team, with a record-breaking response for the Vitality Team of the Year category in 2015.
Some people might question why there are women only awards, when there aren’t any men only awards.
We believe there is absolutely still a place for them. For as long as women’s sport receives less attention, less media coverage and less investment than men’s sport, then they still have an important role to play in helping to raise awareness of women’s sport.
The final report of the Government’s Women and Sport Advisory Board (DCMS) echoed this view, seeing awards that recognise sportswomen as crucial.
The Sportswomen of the Year Awards celebrate the outstanding contribution to sport made by elite performers, as well as showcasing inspirational stories of those behind the scenes supporting women’s sport week in week out.
We hope you will tune in and show your support for women’s sport.
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