Whether it’s soccer or cycling: Tuning in matters

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by Anne-Marije Rook

“I didn't realize you were such a big soccer fan,” a friend commented recently, as I have been spending my mornings getting up early, only to very uncharacteristically plant myself in front of a TV.

As a sport journalist my work has predominantly focused on cycling but I do keep an eye on other sports as well, and every three years or so I happily join the billions of people around the world in celebrating the world’s most beloved sport during the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups.

But it’s not just fandom that gets me to turn on the TV.

With a time difference of eight or more hours between the West Coast and Europe, global sports — especially soccer games and cycling events — often take place in the early morning hours. And thus, catching the replays or highlights later in the day would seem more reasonable.

But I don’t.

I drag myself out of bed at whatever ungodly hour (— like 3 or 4 a.m. to catch the Cyclocross World Cup races —), for two reasons: 1. I love women’s sports and  2. to be counted.

When it comes to women’s sports, coverage is still disdainfully lacking, so when coverage is provided, I do my best to show my support and tune in. It’s a small part that I and you and all of us can do to help women’s sports grow. Media coverage — and live TV coverage in particular —  is absolutely crucial for any sport to thrive. To grow, not just in popularity, but in professionalism and, ultimately, equality.

The sports industry is convoluted and complex but it breaks down to a rather simple cycle of:

Coverage > increase in exposure of the sport and its athletes > increase in sponsorship opportunities, funding and other resources > more exposure > new talent > growth in enthusiasts and fans > increased demand for more coverage…

Modern sport is entertainment. And it’s extremely difficult to draw fans, future talent and sponsors to a sport they can’t see or worse, they’ve never even been exposed to.

Of course, critics are quick to argue that the sport industry is a simple demand-and-supply economy. There’s so little coverage of women’s sports because people don’t want to watch women’s sports.

I’d personally argue that there are more systemic factors at play here like misogyny, patriarchy and good ol’ sexism, because sport —and the storytelling with it — transcends gender.

The athletes’ dedication is the same (and with the lack funding often even more so!). The blood, the sweat, the passion, the action, the emotions are all the same.

Plus, the “no one wants to watch women’s sports” argument is false. There is a real demand for women’s sport coverage, and the more coverage there is, the bigger the demand will grow.

Four years ago, 750 million viewers worldwide watched the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup — a number that could very well be broken this time around as the US delegation (USWNT) hopes to defend its title while simultaneously furthering the plight for equality.

By tuning in this year in support of the USWNT, you’re not just getting an incredible showcasing of athleticism and teamwork, you’re supporting a call for equality.

Off the pitch, 28 members of the USWNT are preparing for a courtroom battle, one that athletes in women’s sports of all kinds are watching eagerly. The team is suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. Their ask? Equal pay for equal work.

Taking a stance for fellow women athletes and women all around the world, they demand be compensated and treated equally to their male counterparts.While equal pay for equal work seems like a straightforward claim in and of itself, what should be noted here is the wild success of the women’s team.

Plain and simple: the USWNT is the winningest team in the sport. They have a record three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals to their name, and has been ranked as the world’s number 1 team for the better part of two decades now. The US men’s team meanwhile has had little success on a bigger stage and failed to qualify for the last World Cup altogether.

Furthermore, the women’s team brought in nearly $20 million more in revenue than the men yet earned only a quarter of their pay.

Of course this revenue comes, in part, thanks to coverage and to the millions of people tuning in. Yes, the fight for equality is far from over, but it starts with coverage.

In cycling, with pitiful salaries and prize purses, little professionalism in contracts and abysmal media coverage, we’re even further from equality.

Spectators follow the 2018 Colorado Classic via a live stream displayed at the finish line.

Spectators follow the 2018 Colorado Classic via a live stream displayed at the finish line.

Just last month, cycling’s biggest race organizer, the Amaury Sports Organizations, threatened to remove two of its biggest cycling events of the women’s WorldTour calendar if it’s forced to meet the new minimum TV coverage requirements.

Meanwhile, well aware of the gross disparity in sports, RPM Events Group is joining the fight for equality with the 2019 Colorado ClassicⓇ presented by VF Corporation.

Flipping the script, the race has dropped its men’s event altogether in favor of creating a world-class standalone women’s race with a quadrupled prize purse (higher than that of its previous men’s races), an international status, financial support for attending team, more challenging routes, and yes, live coverage.

Live-streaming will be made available world-wide on various websites, social media platforms and mobile apps for FREE. Plus, on-demand replays will be available as well.

Of course, these viewing numbers will be counted and serve a crucial role in the event’s continuation, attracting sponsorships, athletes’ individual careers, teams and the sport in a whole.

So please, join me in tuning in. Tune in to the 2019 FIFA World Cup as the USWNT defends their title and plight for equality. And come August, tune in for the Colorado Classic. Together, let’s tune in to grow women’s sports!