By Dominic LoVallo
In Buffalo sports media, a heavy workload goes into covering the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres and even the University at Buffalo Bulls football and basketball teams. A decent amount of effort goes into covering the Buffalo Bisons and the Buffalo Bandits. But for most of the past few years, as a women’s revolution has taken the nation by storm, especially in sports, Western New York still lacks in coverage of women’s athletics.
The Earth is no longer a man’s world. Across the nation, women are empowered to push and fight their way to do anything that men have always been deemed to have the right to do for years.
Hillary Clinton, in 2016 became the first woman to receive the presidential nomination from a major political party. People like Serena Williams and Beyoncé use their names and talents to empower women and people of color. They do this while drawing audiences in the millions. In April, women headlined the biggest show of the year for the WWE, WrestleMania, for the first time ever.
More and more, women prove they can be just as talented as men. But, the media’s attention to women’s athletics is still not all there. In Buffalo, New York, the sports media does not cover women’s athletics enough.
It’s not just men anymore
For media in Buffalo, women’s athletics (at least on a professional level) is a newer development. The Buffalo Beauts, a National Women’s Hockey League Team (NWHL), only came into existence four years ago. But in that four years, the Beauts have made the finals every season. In the team’s second year, they hoisted the Isobel Cup championship trophy. The team oozes success early in its development.
College basketball has also been big for many areas coverage wise. Think of how much buzz March Madness creates every year. The city of Minneapolis made a projected $142 million from hosting the NCAA Final Four (Wallet Hub).
The University at Buffalo (UB) had recent success with not only its men’s basketball squad, but its women’s team as well. The Bulls won the women’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to powerhouse University of Connecticut (UCONN). They did so with the help of Cierra Dillard. She averaged 25 points per game.
Men remain in the forefront
There are successful women’s sports team in Buffalo. The teams have certainly been more impressive than the Buffalo Bills or Sabres have been in the past four years at least. The Beauts have gone to four consecutive finals. The Bulls have made two consecutive NCAA tournaments. The Sabres have missed the playoffs for eight consecutive years. The Bills have made the playoffs once in the past 18 seasons.
Go to mostly any sports page of a Buffalo media source and a tab will appear for different teams. Every site will have a tab for the Bills and Sabres. Most sites will have a tab for the UB Bulls athletics which will cover some women’s basketball stories. But, not a single site had a tab for the Buffalo Beauts. There were more tabs available for the Buffalo Bisons who are a minor league team. Buffalo’s main sports radio station, WGR550, doesn’t have a tab for the NWHL or the Beauts on the radio stations website. What it does have is a tab for the NBA and the MLB. There is not an NBA or MLB team in Buffalo.
In the most recent season of the NWHL, players were compensated somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000 (TheIceGarden.com). Compared to players in the NHL, the compensations look laughable. The minimum compensation allowed to an NHL player in the 2018-19 season was $650,000. To be put in perspective, that averages to around $7,900 per regular season game. That is more than a NWHL player will made this entire contract year.
Sabres and Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula coined the phrase “One Buffalo” to connect all Buffalo sports franchises. That term expanded to Beauts when the Pegula’s became the owners as it previously expanded to UB athletics. But Kim Pegula, and the Pegula Sports Entertainment “empire” her family has created in Western New York, recently announced they will no longer be the owner of the Beauts.
Kim Pegula released a statement following the announcement.
“Our main goal has always been fostering the growth of women’s hockey across all ages,” Pegula said “We thank our Beauts players, staff, and fans for their support this past season. We will continue to look for ways to successfully grow the women’s game.” (WKBW Twitter).
If you want to grow the game, why would the Pegula’s not continue to the own the team? As a team owner, money and business still come into play. But, the Sabres haven’t been the best money makers for the past eight years. Why have the Pegulas not put the Sabres up on the market? Because in their eyes, there already is a market for an NHL team. They were not ready for the long haul of growing the NWHL.
What kind of media coverage is there right now?
Studies done is 2014 showed a serious skew in how the media covered female athletics across the nation.
“Forty percent of all sports participants are female, yet women’s sports receive only 4% of all sport media coverage and female athletes are much more likely than male athletes to be portrayed in sexually provocative poses (Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport).
A study was done in Los Angeles in 2014 as well.
“Ongoing since 1989, three LA-based stations dedicated, on average, 3.2 percent of their sports coverage to women’s sports, according to the 2014 results, the latest available” (NiemanReports.org)
Evidence to support more coverage of women’s athletics
In 1997, potential for women’s boxing was noticed by the USA Network.
“Now that balance is changing as TV producers see the sport’s potential. In January, USA Network will be the first to broadcast a women’s tournament. And come February, ESPN, which has carried mixed-gender cards in the past, will present basic cable’s first telecast of an all-female card. ‘This is a test case, but it looks pretty good, given the ratings spikes during women’s bouts on [predominately] male cards’” (Bierck).
Almost two decades later, Ronda Rousey stormed onto the UFC scene after being a bronze medalist in judo at the 2008 Olympics. In 2016, she main evented the UFC 207 match card with Amanda Nunes. At an event with only one women’s match, she was big enough to be considered more important than the men.
In 2018, women’s sports had two huge milestones. For the U.S Open, the women’s final gained more viewers than the men’s final.
“In all, the women’s final attracted 3,101,000 viewers, while the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro drew in 2,065,000 viewers” (Tennis.com).
At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the United States faced Canada women’s ice hockey gold medal game. For Eastern Daylight Time, the game ended at 3:20 a.m., but the entire was still streamed on NBCSN. It became the networks best late-night rating. (NBC Sports PR Twitter)
Especially when it comes to hockey, Buffalo is a known market. The city consistently leads the nation in viewership ratings during the NHL regular season and playoffs. Those stats gain importance when looking at the lack of winning seasons in Buffalo. More consistent coverage of women’s hockey in the Nickel City could make the sport thrive there.
Nothing about women’s sports coverage increasing and higher salaries is black and white. Men have been broadcasted for longer, paid higher and treated better for a long time in the sports world. Nothing about this can be changed overnight. But recognition that there is potential for the further coverage of women’s athletics can be what leads to future success of the sports themselves.
News sites that cover sports in Western New York should have tabs on women’s sports. The tabs should be the literal tabs that lead to top stories on the teams, and constant tabs on the team’s ins-and-outs.
Outside of the media, if fans do what more coverage of women’s athletics, they should vocalize it. The Beauts were able to draw crowds to the Harbor Center in Buffalo to watch the team’s games. Fans should voice interest in coverage because it appeared to be there.
In so many ways in Americans day to day lives, we look to find equality for men and women. Giving women the opportunities men have in sports would be a step in the right direction. If the media upped their coverage of Women’s athletics, we’d be one step closer.
Dominic LoVallo is a graduate of the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonmaventure University.
7 Eyewitness News. Twitter, 8 May 2019, twitter.com/WKBW/status/1126199408763330560.
“7 Ways to Improve Coverage of Women’s Sports.” Nieman Reports, niemanreports.org/articles/covering-womens-sports/.
Bierck, Richard. “Women Become the Main Event.” U.S. News & World Report, vol. 123, no. 23, Dec. 1997, p. 10. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9712100550&site=ehost-live.
Kiernan, John S. “2019 March Madness Stats & Facts.” Wallethub.com, 2019, wallethub.com/blog/march-madness-statistics/11016/.
“Media Coverage & Female Athletes A Tucker Center/TptMN Video Documentary.” Cehd.umn.edu.
“NBC Sports Graphic.” Twitter, NBC Sports PR, 2018, twitter.com/NBCSportsPR/status/966685711138213888.
Tandon, Kamaski. “US Open Ratings Increase with Big Numbers during Chaotic Women’s Final.” Tennis.com, 2018, http://www.tennis.com/pro-game/2018/09/ratings-increase-tv-numbers-us-open-final-djokovic-serena-osaka/76898/.