“There’s actually a lot of things that need to change.”
That’s the message Danielle Warby wants to get across to everyone with an interest in women’s sport.
As an advocate of women in sport, Warby also walks the talk, having founded Sporting Sheilas almost ten years ago. She is also Director at the Australian Womensport & Recreation Association (AWRA).
Warby says media, sports and fans alike aren’t doing enough to promote women’s sport – particularly in the area of media coverage.
“The way that the system works at the moment is obviously: demand drives sponsorship drives viewers drives broadcast deals. All of that is connected. None of it operates within a vacuum so every single part of that ‘wheel’ does need improvement,” she says.
But how do we reach for this improvement?
“The first stop is probably government to provide funding,” Warby says.
“Which they did do a few years ago and that’s what led to the ABC broadcasts in the first place, but that’s petered out and it just wasn’t enough.”
But the government isn’t alone in their lack of support, Warby says.
“The sports didn’t do enough, the fans I don’t think did enough, and sponsors didn’t do enough,” she reckons.
“Without all of those areas contributing a little more, it’s going to be a while before we see that cycle kick started.”
For Warby, doing her bit to “kick start” the cycle of women in sport began in 2006. It was then that her friend and Australian representative in rugby union and rugby league, Bronnie Mackintosh, motivated her to promote women’s sport. It was Mackintosh’s involvement in sport that led Warby to find out that female athletes often have to fundraise for their own uniforms, flights and other expenses involved in representing Australia overseas.
“I thought it was a bit rubbish that players actually have to fundraise for that, so she was my motivation to get involved in promoting women’s sport,” Warby says.
“At the time I was a web designer and a content manager so I basically thought, ‘Why not start a website to also help me hone my skills in that area?’”
And so Sporting Sheilas was born – right as social media was taking off.
“I had a MySpace page first of all, and then Twitter followed in 2007 along with Facebook around the same time,” she says.
“That was sort of my hobby and passion for a while. I never really thought that it would be something I’d do for a living.”
A few years later, Warby was approached by a company also interested in promoting women’s sport.
“They said to me, ‘You actually have the largest online community of women’s sport fans in Australia’, and I thought, ‘Wow, maybe there’s something in this after all.’ And basically, I’ve never looked back.”
Since Warby has started reporting women’s sports, she says she’s noticed an increase in the volume of reporting in women’s sport, particularly online.
“In real terms, yeah, the amount that is devoted to women in sport has decreased, particularly in the mainstream media, so I’m talking television, newspapers, et cetera, absolutely it has decreased, but in the online space, I’m certainly noticing a lot more.”
Warby says this is because the internet has allowed anyone to publish their own content: fans, sporting associations, and even players, who are amassing increasingly larger followings on social media platforms.
“I think it was about four years ago that Twitter really took off among female athletes,” Warby says.
“Before that it was really a struggle to get in touch with them and to report on them, but Twitter has really opened that up, but it’s disgraceful that the mainstream media has not followed suit. There’s less female athletes than horses reported on in mainstream media.”
Warby says cuts to the ABC, the only free-to-air provider of women’s sport in Australia, will be a “massive, massive blow” to women’s sport.
“The ABC will no longer be broadcasting the W-League and the WNBL because they have gotten rid of their outside broadcast vans,” she says.
“You can’t underestimate the impact that that’s actually going to have.
“When you go to W-League games, for example, the crowds at those game might not be particularly large but in terms of how many people [the games] brought in via the ABC broadcast, it was often more than the A-League games.”
However, Warby says that media doesn’t fail all sports.
“The netball is a good example. Foxtel is showing all 72 of the 2015 ANZ Championship games. I tuned in the other weekend and saw about for netball games broadcast so that was fantastic,” Warby explains.
“Also Channel 7 has just agreed to broadcast two women’s AFL games which is absolutely fantastic. The quality of AFL down in Melbourne is really, really good. I think people are going to be really, really excited to see that and for a free-to-air broadcaster to come on board and do that is just great.”
To hear Warby’s opinion on how sports fans can raise media coverage of women’s sports, click here.