(TIME)– With the London Olympics a few weeks away, a new study shows that women will be watching the Games, but that they will likely go back to tuning out from sports after the last medal is awarded.
Since Title IX was passed in 1972, requiring that girls have equal opportunities to participate in sports at federally funded schools, more women have taken advantage of the chance to join school teams or enjoy sports recreationally. Within six years of the law’s passage, for example, the number of high school girls participating in sports jumped six fold. Marketers eager to tap into a new sports-enthused population willing to watch female athletes on television, however, has been disappointed, since this viewing audience has yet to materialize.
In a new study published in Communication, Culture & Critique, Erin Whiteside, an assistant professor in the school of journalism and electronic media at the University of Tenn., and Marie Hardin, at the College of Communication at Penn State University, explore why women may be participating in sports but not watching it on TV. The researchers interviewed 19 women aged 26 to 43 in small groups for about 90 minutes each. They asked the participants about what sports they watched on television, why they watched, and what factors influenced their viewing habits. Overall, it’s clear that despite participating in sports, women still don’t watch athletic events on television for a variety of surprisingly gender-based reasons.
“The public narrative that as more women play sports, more women are going to watch sports, is simply not happening,” says Whiteside. “And one reason for that is the role that women have in the family unit. Their role as domestic caretakers trumps their role as fan.”
In the interviews, the women, some of whom were stay-at-home moms, and others who worked outside the home, all acknowledged that household chores such as cleaning, and family responsibilities such as driving their children to school and after-school activities, took priority over watching sports on TV. And when they did watch sports, they rarely caught events in their entirety, catching sporadic bits and pieces instead. “Women’s TV sports consumption habits were more mediated by their personal schedules than by team schedules or TV schedules,” says Whiteside.
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