Social Media for Female Athletes as Contested Terrain

6 11 2009

imblanced scaleCurrently I’m at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) in Ottawa. I’ve heard A LOT of great research and ideas that much head is spinning a bit.  I was in a session today that crystallized some thoughts about social media and women’s sports, and the dialogue that is occuring. Social media is a contested terrain-meaning that it is a site where struggle is occurring on many levels. Some of the issues that have arisen during the dialogue happening in many places (like here, here, and here) encompasses such questions as:  Who will control social media? Who decides? Is social media good or bad for women’s sports? I have some additional thoughts, albeit jumbled, I’ll add here to add to the conversation.

Social media is both good and bad, both positive and negative. It challenges and reproduces gender stereotypes. It allows female athletes and advocates of women’s sport to control the message and it is also a residual of traditional media (meaning social media has converged with traditional sport media…like ESPN channel and its social media correlate ESPN.com so therefore it really is not different). Social media is a space to promote women’s sport in the abasence of traditional media coverage and it is a site of unedited and unmediated backlash towards women’s sports. It is a powerful tool to promte women’s sports and also a tool that can hinder its progress.

Discussing social media in binary terms of good/bad erases the fact that women’s sports are forced to turn to and use social media as a way to promote themselves and their sport because of the lack of coverage in mainstream media. I think that is the bigger issue.  How can we tap into more progressive notions and mobilize ourselves to create social change–both in mainstream and social media.

However, this notion is predicated on the idea that everyone involved in women’s sports is on the same page. This is just not true. Diverse viewpoints  fosters rich dialogue and how issues are taken up varies,  for example: “Serena on the cover of ESPN magazine is beautiful” to “Serena is setting back women’s sport”.

Here is my question: Is it possible to create social change and challenge the system if we’re not all on the same page? Who’s page counts? Who decides?

What do you think?

Advertisements




Top 5 Take Aways: Social Media & Women’s Sports

20 10 2009

Social Media Pic_iStock_000009648196XSmall

On Monday, October 19 I took part in the Tucker Center Distinguished Lecture Series on The Impact of Social Media on Women’s Sports-which you can view in its entirety here. There were so many great ideas  and critical thinking from so many perspectives that I’m still processing, but here are my Top 5 as of now.

1. Women’s sport marketing & promotions have always been viral and no one is really sure how to measure return on investment. Social media should be about building relationships and you can’t always measure the impact of relationship building.  (@DigitalMaxwell, Dr. Heather Maxwell)

2. The success of female sports journalists depends on the success of women’s sports, but half of female sport journalists surveyed don’t feel a responsibility to cover women’s sports. They don’t want to be pigeon-holed.(@mariahardinpsu, Dr. Marie Hardin)

3. Is it fair to place the burden of marketing & promoting women’s sports on the shoulders of the female athletes-especially those in “non-traditional” sports like ice hockey? Is this the new model we are left with as social media envelops traditional sport media (where female athletes get 6-8% of the coverage)? (@angelaruggiero, Angela Ruggiero, US Women’s National Ice Hockey Team)

4. Interest in women’s sport is being measured by “click throughs” in online editions of newspapers & websites. So if people don’t click on women’s sport stories, it is interpreted as “non interest”. Those who support women’s sports have to CLICK the stories that we can find!  (Rachel Blount, Sports Columnist, Star Tribune)

5. Time remains to take control of social media and use it effectively to grow women’s sports, but time is running out (Rachel Blount, Sports Columnist, Star Tribune)

If you watched it what were your thoughts?





FINALLY! A Worthy Comparison

9 10 2009

wnbaOn the eve of the final WNBA playoff game, I just watched a fantastic video made by a WNBA Intern, that I saw due to a Tweet by Minnesota Lynx player Candice Wiggins (@candicwiggins). In the video, clips featuring similar plays from the NBA and WNBA are shown back-to-back or simultaneously.  What this sets up is that WNBA players are as athletic as, and do exactly the same exciting plays as their NBA counterparts. Female athletes are depicted in action, on the court, in uniform doing what they do best (in contrast to passive, off the court, and NOT in *cough* uniform Serena Williams). Brilliant! Usually when female athletes are compared to male athletes, the male version of the game is constructed as “better than”, more exciting, or the real version. Not in this video!

Advice to the WNBA: HIRE THIS INTERN. Whomever you are Intern, NICE WORK! This is exactly the kind of marketing and fresh thinking the WNBA needs to sustain the league.

Update: I’ve been advised that credit may be due to more than one intern. In that case, hire them all!





How NOT to use Social Media….

29 09 2009

Since I still have social media on the brain this week, and have been reading the discussion about social media and its impact on women’s sport on The Tucker Center blog…Thanks to ASC, I came across this story on SportsAgentBlog.com about how not to use Twitter. This is precisely how social media can be detrimental to athletes. While this example involves a male college football player, it won’t be too long before we have an example of a female athlete getting into hot water over an inappropriate Tweet about her coach. Wait for it…..





Social Media & Sport Apologies

14 09 2009

Discussion in the Tucker Center this morning was very lively around the topic of Serena Williams’ U.S. Open semifinal outburst, fine, and subsequent apology via her blog and Twitter account (also see picture here).

serena apology

I have a few other thoughts on Williams’ ill-timed and ill-fated outburst.
1. From a sport psychology perspective one cannot control the calls made by the umpire or referee, regardless of if a “bad” call occurs on match point or the first point of the match. Let it go. An athlete can only control his/her reaction to the call. This particular reaction showed a lack of mental toughness. In her blog Williams wrote, “We all learn from experiences both good and bad. I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.” I’m sure it will also make her an even better competitor than she already is.

2. How has social media changed the way athletes interact with fans and the media? Even though Serena lost control of her emotions on the court, she took control of her “brand” off the court by quickly posting apologies using social media tools. It left us wondering if these tools existed when John McEnroe was in the heyday of his outbursts (which were much more frequent, prolonged and arguably egregious), would he of used social media to apologize? (NOTE: In a Google search for “John McEnroe apologizes” I found one result for apologizing for bad behavior, and one story of an apology for bad play.)

3. Then it got me thinking how race and gender intersect with the outburst issue. Do we expect female athletes to apologize more frequently than we do male athletes? We certainly expect female athletes to act “ladylike”, refrain from grunting loudly, not throw tantrums or have outbursts. How much of the criticism leveled against Serena Williams has to do with the fact she is African American? Would the public react similarly if the outburst came from a White female tennis player–for example Maria Sharapova? After perusing one of my favorite blogs–After Atalanta–it seems I am not the only one who noticed or is thinking about these issues. What do you think?





A strange day in the world of sport media

23 07 2009

You know how people claim “bad things happen in threes” well after the last 24 hours of things I’ve seen and read in the sport media, I believe it!

1. “The Erin Andrews Peep Show” which if you haven’t heard about by now, then you’re not reading or watching the sport media (To read about what happened and the critical analysis “it” go to the Sports, Media, & Society blog, After Atlanta blog, or a post on Feministing.com titled “A long History of Objectifying Erin Andrews”.) Unfortunately as After Atlanta points out, nearly 20 years ago we had the Lisa Olson “incident” in the Patriots’ locker room, which documents a long history of sexual harassment and objectification of female sport journalists who dare to cover and/or write about male athletes. What I found almost as irksome is the public’s reaction to USA Today sport columnist Christine Brennan’s tweets (@cbrennansports) about the issue in which she said female sport journalists shouldn’t “play to the frat boys” but write or respond as if she were talking to a “12 year old girl sitting on her couch.” Brennan’s remarks were misconstrued and she herself was called “sexist”. Anyone who knows or has followed Christine Brennan knows this is ridiculous! But on the flip side, as Marie Hardin (one of the leading experts on media & gender) points out, female sport journalists in her research often play the blame game when a female colleague is discriminated against. However, which ever side you fall, I think much of the public response to Brennan was yet another example of the sanctioning of female sport journalists…in part, the the traffic over both these issues crashed the server at Women Talk Sports! Even that is sad…that BAD and icky news about women’s sport and female sport journalists have people searching those terms and THEN click upon Women Talk Sports.

2. Then I read on the @womentalksports Twitter an unedited USOC headline: “Can an Olympic athlete be a pimp?” The first line of the story reads, “A lot of women will need to have a lot of sex with a lot of men to get Logan Campbell to the 2012 Olympic Games.Yes, you read that right. Campbell, to cut a long story short, is a New Zealand taekwondo athlete who has opened a brothel to finance his ambition of winning an Olympic medal in London…He has more than a dozen women handing over half their earnings to him. It is, in his words, ‘a good moneymaking industry.’ ” I think this story speaks for itself, but the most disturbing part as it pertains to sport media is that the story was ON THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE U.S. OLYMPIC COMMITTEE.

3. And to round out the trifecta of sexist sport stories, an article about Bernadette Locke Mattox one of only three women in NCAA history to have coached in Division I men’s basketball. “Cool!”, I thought given my research on the dearth of female coaches at all levels….and then I read it. Rick Pitino hired Mattox because “he needed a woman to burnish the image of Kentucky basketball and to emphasize academics, career planning and integrity,” and the assistants reported she smelled good….but “she was just one of the guys.” You leave the article feeling like Pitino hired a pseudo-mother for “his boys” and her pioneering position and obvious skill as a coach were lost. This type of blatant gender bias in sport media is one of the many contributing factors as to why coaching men remains off limits to women at all levels (~2-4% of boys and men are coached by females at every level) and female coaches are routinely perceived as less competent than their male counterparts according to research.

Tomorrow is a new day….





New Twitter research: Help in marketing women’s sport?

10 06 2009

A new study from Harvard provides information to those banking on Twitter to help market, promote, and sustain women’s sports. Here are some snippets if you don’t want to read the entire article or the post on Harvard Business Publishing:
1. “Just 10% of Twitter users generate more than 90% of the content”…superchirpthese people are called “super users”. Super Users can now make money through a just launched service called Super Chirp

2. “…very, very few people tweet and the Nielsen data says very, very few people listen consistently.”

3. “Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one”

and my favorite bit….Tweet bird

4. “…an average man was almost twice as likely to follow another man than a woman, despite the reverse being true on other social networks. The sort of content that drives men to look at women on other social networks does not exist on Twitter,” said Mr. Heil (one of the researchers). “By that I mean pictures, extended articles and biographical information.”

Twitter may be reaching a certain audience, but probably not males who don’t opt in and follow women’s sport.

Take home message for female athletes and women’s professional sport leagues: Use sexy pictures you download onto TwitPic to garner millions of followers (given the stack of research on how female athletes are sexualized in the sport media, such a picture shouldn’t be hard to find), then start charging your followers money to follow your Tweets. Voila!...instant revenue!

Given Heil’s findings, this may unfortunately lend some credence to the “sex sells” women’s sport debate (for more on this debate click here and here). But… I still contend that sex sells sex, not women’s sport.