1 February 2022

Ash Barty and the Women’s Ashes at Manuka: women’s sport, bring it on!

| Tim Gavel
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The Australian team take the field during day two of the Women's Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Manuka Oval on January 28, 2022. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images. With permission from Cricket ACT.

The Australian team take the field during day two of the Women’s Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Manuka Oval. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.

A decade ago there was hardly any women’s sport on free-to-air or pay television. The only offering was the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, one game a weekend of the WNBL and the W League, the Australian Open Golf and tennis.

For a number of these sports, there was a sense that broadcasters begrudgingly provided coverage of women’s sport as they feared a ratings drop-off.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that if there is no genuine long-term commitment to covering the sport, it stands to reason that viewers have no real affinity with the product and it won’t rate.

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I remember being involved in various think tanks on how to increase the coverage of women’s sport, which in turn leads to greater participation in sport among women with the phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ used to great effect.

The benefits of increased exposure are obvious, including greater revenue coming into the sport providing sportswomen with the ability to go full time in parity with their male counterparts.

There has been somewhat of a revolution since March 2020 when 825,000 viewers tuned in to Nine’s Gem to watch the Australian women’s cricket team win the World Cup.

It put women’s cricket well and truly into the spotlight, proving that viewership would follow if women’s sports events were covered with the same resourcing as the men’s competitions.

Last weekend proves further proof of this. Seven of the top 10 programs on Foxtel on Sunday related to the Women’s Ashes Test at Manuka Oval. There was also free-to-air coverage on Channel 7.

Alana King of Australia runs out Anya Shrubsole of England during day four of the Women's Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Manuka Oval. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images with permission from Cricket ACT.

Alana King of Australia runs out Anya Shrubsole of England during day four of the Women’s Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Manuka Oval. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.

The night before the Ashes coverage, Ash Barty’s victory over American Danielle Collins averaged 3.577 million viewers, with a peak of 4.261 million.

In comparison, the average number of viewers for last year’s AFL men’s Grand Final was 4.11 million.

According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, viewer figures for the women’s test on Sunday stood at 440,000 on free-to-air, with many more watching on streaming services such as Foxtel and Kayo.

Prior to this, Channel 7’s excellent coverage of the Tokyo Olympics, where nine of the top 20 programs involved women’s sports, proved that viewers were there if women’s sport was televised.

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Super Netball has established itself as the major women’s sport on television in winter, while the Super W rugby union and NRL women’s competitions are yet to fully establish a footing.

Over the past couple of weekends, women’s sports has been on every free-to-air television network with cycling, WNBL, A-League Women’s, AFLW, cricket and Women’s Asian Cup Football featuring.

The ability to provide coverage on multiple free-to-air channels has been a significant driver. Pay television coverage has complemented this and enhanced the product on free-to-air on many occasions.

One issue that does stand in the way is the lack of women’s sports events available to television networks to televise.

The majority of premier women’s sporting competitions in Australia take place over summer, including AFLW, the WNBL, A-League Women and women’s cricket, so there is plenty of momentum at the moment for women’s sport on free-to-air television in particular.

This makes Channel 9’s decision to relinquish the rights to the Women’s Cricket World Cup to be staged in New Zealand this year somewhat surprising.

The result of Channel 9’s decision is that it won’t be available for free-to-air viewers but will be available to Foxtel and Kayo subscribers.

This decision signals that there is still some way to go, but there is a sense of a tidal wave with demand for more coverage of women’s sport greater than ever.

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Nice article tim. And to the comment that there was no one at the cricket. I was there last Friday and at least 2000 and pleasantly surprised by the crowd size and interest. Lot of interest in women’s cricket

And as an umpire of junior Aussie rules been great to see huge growth in participation in the women’s game. And the participants are all having such fun and standard lifting every season

It will be interesting next time our “Home Team” in the AFLW plays here.

I wonder what the views of our very progressive territory government are towards the most homophobic team in the AFLW?

For those that missed it, one of the GWS Giants didn’t play last weekend because it was the Gay Pride round and she refused to wear the team’s pride jumper.

She stated that she is aiming to become a future leader in her community and believes that role would be jeopardized if she shows support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Which raises important questions about her community, and her opinions of what makes a leader.

A bit ironic that the ACT government pays money to encourage a team containing such a homophobic player to call Canberra “home”

Capital Retro8:27 am 02 Feb 22

If she becomes a leader in “her community” it will be a historic day.

I’m not sure thats a fair assessment, although I am surprised a little by her actions as a muslim woman playing in a sleeveless guernsey. However, she was probably already under significant pressure from her religion to not do whats she is doing and felt taking that extra step may cause her a lot of issues. She didn’t state any opposition to LGBTQI+ community, she didn’t villify them, she isn’t playing the victim. Clearly she isn’t homophobic given she’d be playing with people and against LGBTQI+ players. Wedging someone whose community is more likely to be homophobic is not necessarily the right way to handle this. empathy on these issues needs to go both ways and while I’m sure her teammates would have been dissappointed, she clearly felt she could not do it for her own reasons, most likely pressure from her family and religion. It will take time, but calling someone homophobic like you have is no better than the actual homop[hobes villifying the LGBTQI+ community.

If someone didn’t play in a round because they didn’t want to wear a themed jumper in a round honouring indigenous culture would you be so forgiving or would you label them nasty and racist?

Capital Retro3:11 pm 02 Feb 22

So you would also empathise with Israel Folau, then? He also competed with and against teams with homosexual players.

Capital Retro8:05 am 02 Feb 22

Speaking of “more revenue coming into the sport”, where is the existing revenue coming from? I guess we ratepayers subsidised most of the recent “Test”.

The clips of the “Test” shown in the news reports rarely panned onto the spectator area but when it was seen there were hardly any spectators seen. Also, the “cheering crowd” that accompanies the news clips appears to be dubbed. I don’t know anybody who supports or watches womens’ cricket.

Foxtel and Kayo are welcome to have it.

The first two days had decent crowds but the washed out day 3 meant most people thought day 4 was going to be a boring draw and probably made other plans. Happens in mens tests also. I was going to go and decided against it for that exact reason.

Capital Retro5:36 pm 02 Feb 22

The media spin was that it was an “exciting draw”. That’s usually about as good as cricket gets.

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