It’s time to put our money where our mouth is for women’s sport, says Rikki Swannell

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28 March 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

New Zealand’s first female rugby commentator, sports writer Rikki Swannell, asks why women’s teams are getting more attention but not more cash.

It’s mid-January already and many of us are aware that our New Year resolutions to do better – including eating less and exercising more – have been quietly sidelined, despite our good intentions.

However, one area in 2022 where I’d like to see a determined and unflagging push is promoting women’s sport.

Simply put, this needs to be the year where we put our money where our mouth is.

We view ourselves as a progressive nation, proud of our “firsts” – getting women the vote, our female prime ministers past and present, our willingness to stand up for what we believe is right. On the sports field, we often hear the well-worn “punch above our weight” and “putting us on the map” (actually, can we resolve, in 2022, to never use those again?). We’ve been innovators and leaders in the world of sport, taken on billionaires and won with our ingenuity. Our teams and athletes have always found a way.

But I fear we could be left behind in some areas, namely commercial support and media coverage of women’s sport.

Research by Sport NZ last year showed we are actually ahead of Australia when it comes to coverage of women’s sport and we saw 2 percent growth in the first six months of 2021. However, that may be largely due to the blossoming in the past three years of Newsroom’s wonderful LockerRoom, which exclusively covers female athletes and tells their stories.

Also, that increase has been from 15 percent to 17 percent; numbers that are hardly cause to celebrate. According to Dot Loves Data, men’s rugby receives more coverage than all women’s sport combined.

The editorial decisions in the sports departments of most major media outlets are made by men, and there are very few women of seniority in the newsrooms who feel they can push the case for parity. Don’t get me wrong, I love men’s sport as well and make my living by commenting on it, but there is an untapped well of stories, issues and personalities in women’s sport that are still being ignored.

There has no doubt been huge shifts in attitudes from when I started as a journalist, ahem, a few years ago and I’ve started to feel more hopeful about where our media outlets are heading, but this year they must resolve to do more and be better.

Corporate organisations can play a huge part in shaping the narrative. It beggars belief that it effectively took a public plea by Wellington Phoenix general manager David Dome – just days before the start of the season – to find a front-of-shirt sponsor for their new women’s team.

Dome and his counterpart at New Zealand Rugby, Mark Robinson, have both said that, while they understand it’s a challenging time for sponsorship, they thought corporate dollars would be more readily forthcoming for their women’s sides.

It seems that a lot of corporates are talking a good game when it comes to equity and equality – looking perhaps for a “pink tick” – but aren’t fronting up with their wallets open. Women’s sport receives 10 percent of the global sponsorship dollar, yet Google’s data shows the average weekly search for “women’s team” is 50 percent higher than for “men’s team”.

Brands are not only missing out on the opportunity to elevate women’s voices and performances, but also the chance to get a great sponsorship deal at the start-up level of what is the biggest growth area for many sports.

In Aotearoa, we have a massive chance to change some of this in 2022 when we host both the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup and Rugby World Cup 2021 (being played in 2022). They are global events the media can’t ignore and they will attract millions of TV eyeballs that sponsors should be licking their lips over.

Collectively, we can also do our bit.

Did you know that Instagram’s algorithm prioritises “saved” posts… so if you hit “save” when you see a post about say, the White Ferns, they’ll receive more exposure? Simple: like, comment, share.

Buy a ticket and help fill the stadiums. If there is one single thing I’d love everyone to do, it’s to attend a game of either the Cricket or Rugby World Cup or think about it as a gift idea. Ticket prices for the cricket start at $7 for a child. Bums on seats will be how we start to close the revenue gender gap between men’s and women’s sport.

We can be the ones to show media and corporates why they should do more to invest in women’s sport.

All it takes is a little bit of resolve.

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