Academic journal article The Sport Journal

The Demise of the WNBA in Florida: A Mixed Method Case Study of Newspaper Coverage about Women's Professional Basketball

Academic journal article The Sport Journal

The Demise of the WNBA in Florida: A Mixed Method Case Study of Newspaper Coverage about Women's Professional Basketball

Article excerpt

The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) is a hot phenomenon on the American sports scene. With its recent popularity, the question has been raised as to whether newspaper coverage of the teams is pivotal to the survival of the fledgling franchises. This study sought to discover if the actual coverage of the Miami Sol and the Orlando Miracle, two now defunct WNBA teams, affected the demise of the franchises.

Our mixed method case study compared a qualitative inquiry (interviews) with an empirical examination of the newspaper coverage. It examined the development of coverage for the two franchises, story placement, the average number of column inches for each story, use of photographs, and story content. It attempted to discover the viewpoints of the beat writers for the two teams at the Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel. Additionally, a perspective was shown of how prevalent the Sol and Miracle public relations directors think their teams' coverage is.

The study examined whether women were depicted as sex objects through commoditization or objectification, whether gender marking was present in the stories, and whether the coverage was written from a female or male perspective.

By examining the newspaper coverage of the most popular women's sport in our country, conclusions were drawn as to whether the sports media has accepted the popularity of women's sports, or whether masculine hegemonic practices of sports editors are still in place.

Introduction:

The conceptual genesis of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), and the "We Got Next" campaign, with the approval of the male dominated NBA Board of Governors, was formally approved on April 24, 1996 amidst great fanfare from women's professional basketball enthusiasts. Shortly thereafter, the new women's league began its trek toward a June 1997 date for its first official tip-off. Many "firsts" soon followed: the league's first commissioner, Val Ackerman, was hired; Lisa Leslie became the first woman to sign a contract; broadcast partnerships with NBC, ESPN, and Lifetime Television were inked; and eight fledgling franchises were initiated throughout the United States.

What didn't follow amidst the hoopla surrounding the new league was extensive media coverage. To examine this phenomenon, a mixed method case study of Florida's two now defunct WNBA franchises, the Orlando Miracle and the Miami Sol, was conducted to show that not only was limited newspaper coverage by the two major newspapers in the teams' coverage areas partially to blame for the two franchises' demise, but there was also a marked deference by sports editors to existing stereotypes regarding media content decisions.

The Orlando Miracle joined the WNBA as an expansion franchise in 1999. The Miami Sol followed its sister Florida team into the league in 2000. The Miracle lasted four seasons, and compiled a 60-68 record with one playoff appearance before the franchise was transferred to the Connecticut Sun in 2003. The Sol was in existence three years and it amassed a record of 48-48 with one playoff appearance before it was disbanded in 2003.

This study will seek to discover if newspaper coverage by the two respective newspapers, the Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel, contributed to the short tenure of the two ill-fated WNBA teams in the state of Florida. Newspaper coverage of women's professional basketball in the United States has been marginal in the markets where the WNBA competes. Boutilier and SanGiovanni (1983) referred to newspaper coverage of women's sports as ghettoization because sports editors generally treat women's sporting news as essentially not newsworthy. When coverage exists, it is assigned to non-prominent space (Boutilier & SanGiovanni, 1983). Some experts believe that sports editors act as gatekeepers and, through their purported biased decision-making, erect barriers to coverage, adversely affecting female participation (Matheson and Flatten, 1996). …

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