Change the Game: Accessibility a key to achieving further progress in women's sports

The 'Change the Game: The Future of Women's Sports' panel hosted by CBC Sports' Andi Pertillo featured rugby player Charity Williams, baseball player Claire Eccles, hockey player Laura Stacey, The Gist co-founder Jacie deHoop and Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson.

Panel discusses where responsibility lies in amplifying interest in women's product

Canadian rugby sevens player Charity Williams was one of five members of the 'Change the Game: The Future of Women's Sports' panel hosted by CBC Sports on Wednesday. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Charity Williams, a Canadian Olympic bronze medallist in rugby, believes people would attend and watch women's sports a lot more if women were marketed in a way that allowed them to be visible to larger audiences.

Williams, who participated in the 'Change the Game: The Future of Women's Sports' panel discussion hosted by CBC Sports' Andi Petrillo on Wednesday, acknowledged that progress has been made in marketing the women's product but wants to see more done to push it to new heights.

Being in Victoria, B.C., with the Canadian rugby team, she mentioned people weren't very aware of who they were and that they played for Canada on the Olympic level, using it as an example as to the work that could be done regarding visibility.

"Sometimes I feel like, for some reason, folks don't think we can get that much attention or bring in revenue or whatever. But that's so not the case," Williams said. "It's just that people don't know. I think if people knew in my case, in rugby, that we were there [in Victoria, B.C.], people would watch and show up to the games.

"I think it's about accessibility. If you know, then you want to see. But if you don't know, then we're just a university team at that point."

Williams was joined on the panel by hockey player Laura Stacey, baseball player Claire Eccles, The Gist co-founder Jacie deHoop and Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson.

Impact of social media

Through various popular platforms, including The Gist, Eccles believes social media stands as a viable option for amplifying the visibility of women's sports.

"I think social media has been a huge thing. Just even with the whole NCAA [inequality] issue, Sedona Prince from Oregon — her social media presence has really helped the numbers for the women's basketball tournament," Eccles said. 

"I think giving women that platform and having them be more viewed and seen, and The Gist for example, having those kind of platforms that broadcast more of what's going on in women's sports helps everyone see more of what's going on."

A part of the required growth for any product is accessibility to potential fans in other countries. When evaluating the growth of other popular leagues, deHoop says broadcasting on a larger scale is a crucial element to improving audience sizes.

"We've found that with having both American and Canadian audiences — just the fact that our Canadian audience can't watch the NWSL or the WNBA very readily, there just isn't a fan base," deHoop said.

"It really is difficult to generate a real interest in those sports and those athletes. ... I do think that [accessibility is] a huge step and it's very important to growing [women's sports]."

'People do want to watch women's sports'

Another hurdle is the way women's sports is handled from a timing standpoint in television programming, Stacey explained.

"A female event is not going to be watched if it's in the middle of a Wednesday when everybody's working," Stacey said. "I think it's been very obvious as of late that people do want to invest, people do want to watch women's sports.

"I think for us as women's hockey players, we see it at every single Olympics. The women's final, even the games throughout the preliminary rounds at the Olympics — everybody's watching. The numbers are huge. The three years in between, nobody exists anymore."

In Henderson's eyes, the media landscape could only benefit from greater integration with women's sports.

"Make women such an integral part of your sport — you've got way more things to talk about, you've got way more interesting athletes to see, more events that make you more money," Henderson said.

"You've got more people interested in what it is you have to say and our women are so good that men are equally interested in how well they do, as they are with the men's athletes."

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