Friday, November 28, 2014

College | Volleyball fans ask: where was the media?

So tells us, dear readers: How would it benefit Seattle-area media if they paid more attention to volleyball?

Match point, Washington vs. Stanford
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

The Volleyblog Seattle inbox was a bit stuffed this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday night, 8,646 fans witnessed Washington volleyball’s exhilarating upset of previously-undefeated, top-ranked Stanford. When those fans finally arrived home, many switched on the TV, hoping to see video highlights of the big win and historic crowd—the largest crowd in Washington volleyball history and the biggest attendance of any match in the nation this year.

But there were no local video highlights. Not a single local television station sent a camera or reporter to the match.

Thursday morning, many of those same fans sifted through the huge Thanksgiving newspaper on their kitchen table. Only one daily paper, the Seattle Times, sent a reporter to the match. But Terry Wood’s story was both brief (one skinny column) and buried (page 9). There were no photos.

And that, on Turkey Day, prompted several Volleyblog Seattle readers to wipe the cranberry sauce from their fingers and head for their keyboards:

The local media need to take it seriously. You probably won't say it, but I will: there's a tremendous amount of sexism in Seattle Times, PI and local TV sports editorial decision making. They need to be called out on it, and Seattle, of all places, should not be willing to meekly tolerate it.

As for the rest of the media, you are missing out on another great season by a team that will be good for many seasons to come. Please show some respect.

Another mediocre football season with numerous articles and not a single one on this great team. SEXISM DEFINED!

Don't think it's sexism. It's lack of respect for volleyball because the newspapers think women's basketball is a bigger deal -- even when the fans disagree!

I agree that the sports media shows systemic sexism and that even accounting for the bias towards covering higher revenue sports under represents the accomplishments of female athletes. When a current National Player of the Year like Krista Vansant in a sport with the popularity of women's volleyball gets the miniscule coverage she's received this year, you gotta say something's fishy.

We at Volleyblog Seattle would like to add our two cents. After that, we’re going to ask you to take a minute to do something yourself.

First, a couple of numbers:
Washington's Krista Vansant
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
  • For most of the past decade, women’s volleyball has attracted larger average crowds than any sport at the University of Washington other than football and men’s basketball.
  • Wednesday’s home attendance of 8,646—an early match on a rainy weeknight at the start of a four-day holiday when most UW students were not in school and many fans were heading to Grandma’s house—was larger than any UW men’s or women’s basketball home game all last season. The previous season, only one men’s home game beat that total, by a mere 100 fans. UW women’s basketball has never drawn a home crowd that large in its entire history.
  • Since 2004, the only other University of Washington sports teams producing such consistently dominant win/loss records are women’s and men’s rowing. Volleyball has steadily been a top ten national power, tallying more postseason tournament appearances and postseason wins than any other UW sport over than span. In the past ten years, volleyball has the most All-Conference and All-Americans of any UW sport, while dozens of its athletes have gone on to international professional careers, many of them lucrative. Volleyball alumni over the past decade include players who are now assistant coaches at major programs, plus two Olympians, Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro.
  • Seattle has hosted just one major NCAA D1 team sport championship in the last two decades—women’s volleyball. Last December, every seat in Key Arena was occupied on both nights of the Final Four, even when Washington failed to advance to the championship match.
  • In the State of Washington, more girls play high school volleyball than any other girls’ high school sport. More than basketball. More than soccer. More than softball.
  • Around the globe, volleyball is the second most popular sport (behind soccer) in huge swaths of the planet. Many of the sport’s biggest stars are Americans playing abroad.

So, why can’t volleyball generate more interest from Seattle-area media? Why, for example, would the Seattle Times run an extended front-Sports-page profile of a talented UW sophomore women’s basketball player during volleyball season (before basketball even started), but provide no equivalent coverage all this season of Washington senior Krista Vansant, the reigning National Player of the Year? Why has it been a decade since local television stations sent photographers to UW home matches? Where are the radio talk shows, the sports commentators, the region’s other media?

We at Volleyblog Seattle have plenty of mainstream media experience, including a decade reporting for KING-TV, another decade for CNN, and dozens of assignments for newspapers and magazines, including the Seattle Times, with whom Volleyblog Seattle is a grateful news partner. With that background, we know this much to be true:
  • Most sports editors would love to cover volleyball. In fact, they’d love to cover many more sports than they do. If they had their druthers, their sports coverage would be far more extensive with many more reporters and photographers.
  • Unfortunately, we in the media began offering our content for free (over the Internet) just as mainstream media revenue—already slipping—collapsed during the 2008 recession. Newsroom staffs, including sports, are now bare-bones. Once-extensive coverage of prep sports, for example, has all but disappeared.
  • For journalists, there are always more great stories than resources and space to cover them. In fact, the essence of good journalism is applying both clear data and experienced instinct to decide what to cover and what to ignore. It isn’t always easy, but it comes with the job.
  • In Seattle, no reputable sports department would survive without decent coverage of football, both the Seahawks and Pac-12. Likewise, the Seattle Mariners require an understandable commitment of resources. That leaves a whole lot of other sports scrambling for the occasional spotlight.
  • Often, readers and viewers are ahead of media when it comes to recognizing emerging and waning sports. Many Seattle media were slow to embrace the Seattle Sounders and MLS, even as the team was packing NFL-sized crowds in an NFL stadium. Likewise, most Seattle media continue to give disproportionate coverage to basketball, despite their own reports of its declining popularity at all levels. Other reports have documented significant downward interest in tennis, golf and auto sports.

Kathy DeBoer, Executive Director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, is often asked whether volleyball’s inability to sustain media attention is evidence of sports department sexism. DeBoer points out that volleyball is the only American sport played by men and women where women are demonstrably dominant. Only a handful of colleges field men’s volleyball teams, while thousands of colleges compete—and offer scholarships—in women’s volleyball. Coaches of top women’s volleyball teams are paid far more than those who coach men.

Washington's Lianna Sybeldon attacks against Stanford's Inky Ajanaku
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
We know several sports journalists who are surprised to learn how sophisticated modern volleyball has become. Systems are complicated, strategies are complex, nothing like the PE and picnic jungle ball most sportswriters and sportscasters once knew. Some have noticed that we may have already passed a tipping point: America’s best women athletes are increasingly choosing volleyball over basketball and soccer.

And yet, those same sports journalists admit that they struggle to master the nuances of today’s volleyball. It takes time and effort with any sport to learn enough to explain just why one team won or lost, or why a team that should have won didn’t, or why a player’s performance was more exceptional than expected. It’s far easier to pass judgment on games you played yourself growing up, and few sports journalists played real volleyball.

Here, then, is the bottom line: sports media will pay more attention to volleyball if that attention serves their own benefit. In our view, we’ve reached that point in the Pacific Northwest. Wednesday’s crowd of 8,646 included more UW students than we might have expected, considering most were headed home for Thanksgiving. Far more revealing, however, was the huge number of young girls in attendance, many not yet high school age. They held signs, they painted their faces. They came with family, came with friends. They shrieked when Krista Vansant and Kaleigh Nelson were introduced. They screamed BOOM! whenever Cassie Strickland served. They oohed and ahhed when Melanie Wade or Lianna Sybeldon slammed a ball past Inky Ajanaku. These kids--and their parents--know their volleyball.

And that, dear fellow media, is the future. No one expects that you’ll suddenly fill the front page with volleyball, especially when the Seahawks are playing San Francisco, the Huskies and Cougars are preparing for the Apple Cup and the Sounders are on the verge of their first MLS title. But those young fans—and the others who were part of the biggest Alaska Airlines Arena crowd in any sport the past two seasons—will eagerly watch your broadcasts or buy your paper or like your Facebook page if you stay ahead, not behind, the volleyball curve.

Washington volleyball fans
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

Now, dear readers, it’s your turn.

We promise you that sports editors in our region already know how Volleyblog Seattle feels. So do the folks at the University of Washington Athletic Department. Frankly, this is what they expect from us, and our influence with them is not all that great.

A few of you, however, took a moment yesterday to initiate this discussion. We now invite the rest of you to join in. Send us a sentence or a concise paragraph with this specific point in mind: How would it benefit Seattle-area media if they paid more attention to volleyball? Feel free to elaborate on a point we’ve already made, or add new ones on your own.

If we hear from you, we’ll combine excerpts of your comments into an open memo to our fellow sports journalists in the region. What they do with it is up to them, but it will certainly have more effect if you tell them why it’s in THEIR interest to pay more attention.

Finally, Alaska Airlines Arena will host four more matches this season. Three other teams—to be announced Sunday night—will join the Huskies for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament next week. The following week, whether or not Washington advances, Alaska Airlines Arena will host the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. We guarantee that local media will be watching to see whether another 8,000 fans have enough interest to attend any or all of those contests.


  1. In an age where traditional media outlets are focused on monetizing their online content, niche markets such as volleyball seem like a no brainer. Is the average sports fan likely to pay for content about the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, etc... when they can read it for free on a wide variety of national sites? Or is a fan of a sport such as volleyball, who has a difficult finding quality coverage of the sport, likely to pay a small monthly or annual fee to view content that they cannot find anywhere else? Dedicating resources to the coverage of sports that do not get covered elsewhere could be a powerful strategy to building a loyal online readership.

  2. I really appreciate all the facts you have gathered here, and they are compelling for sure. But in a couple of ways, I think you can target your argument better.

    First, it is of course true that "no reputable sports department would survive without decent coverage of football." But if "decent" is defined by the excessive depth and redundancy of coverage we get of football, then clearly it is impossible for Seattle media to provide "decent" coverage of any other sport, and obviously impossible for Seattle media to offer "decent" coverage of Sports (plural).

    Do you think any serious media outlet would agree with that last statement? Then the problem lies in what we mean by "decent." How much does it really cost to attend a few big matches with cameras 5-10 times a year, and publish stories and scores, and link to these stories about big matches on the front page of the web site, and maybe hype a few big matches in advance? We're not talking about full-time staff here.

    I also find it hard to imagine that local media sports reporters are so dumb that they can't learn to write insightful stories about volleyball. I'm just a volleyball parent and I picked it up pretty fast. I think we still have professional sports journalists in Seattle, don't we? These folks won't write with the depth and insight that we get from a specialist like yourself, and I promise I'll still read your blog faithfully regardless. But come on, they can do it, they can write something of value.

    Second, I doubt that writing more articles about volleyball will sell more copies of the Seattle Times. It's no mystery why this argument doesn't persuade them. They are a monopoly. There's a bigger picture, and that is that volleyball, even high school and college volleyball, is a business. Writing more about volleyball should attract advertisers. Having more people interested in volleyball should mean selling more volleyball gear and training and tickets and popcorn. And for TV stations, where competition actually still exists, volleyball coverage is a way of standing out from the competition, and maybe attracting viewers.

    So much about sports is hype, getting people excited about an event, so they will view or attend the event, enjoying it immensely, and being motivated then to spend money. It's an ecosystem. Having a great team which the fans immensely enjoy is the hardest part, but the Huskies have that covered, and you have documented the proof. So now we need all of the rest of the ecosystem to step up. Seems to me these things grow organically, so you can't get any one part to make big changes all at once. So it makes more sense to get the media to give a little, and the suppliers of athletic gear as advertisers, and the UW Athletic Office, and local volleyball clubs, and other stakeholders, all to give a little, spiraling up.

    As a fan the only thing I want from this is to see more people at the matches. I think these are the things that will do it.

  3. I am a pretty dedicated football and soccer fan. I've never played volleyball and don't have any kids who play volleyball. But... I happened across it on TV about 3 years ago and was amazed at how fast and entertaining the game was. I would much rather get a little coverage of this than the 20th article on the Seahawks or 5 hours straight of talk radio on how big Russell Wilson's hands are.

  4. Jack,
    Speaking of things the mainstream sports media are unlikely to cover, we're counting on you to give us a report on Beals and what looked like may have been a serious season-ending knee injury in Pullman this afternoon. I hope not, but it didn't look good on the TV broadcast.

    Also, it would be great to get a status on Jones. She was still wearing the boot in Pullman. Will she be ready next Friday.

    Keep up the great work. Your blog is the go-to spot for volleyball coverage.

    1. Local media support would aid the U of W in their effort to further strengthen their volleyball recruiting program. I can't imagine that a top level recruit browsing Seattle media to gauge community interest would not be impressed by timely and insightful coverage of Husky Volleyball along side other major sports coverage . Success breads more success. U-Dub volleyball will only continue to become more popular. Having local media leading the charge will in turn, create interest and draw readers back to the media.

      I was at the Oregon State football game last weekend and the University missed a gem of an opportunity to acknowledge the team and program at half time. Why not have had a call-out for the team. Who knows, the national media might have picked up on this as well.

      I discovered Volleyball Blog Seattle (VBS) on line and VBS is now my primary source Husky volleyball coverage. VBS coverage is assume but inadequate to satisfy my hunger for more and ever more coverage. May be the Times should employ your reporting to quickly transform their sows ear effort into your silk purse coverage

    2. UW football brought the volleyball team on to the field earlier this season. The OSU game would not have been a good idea since the ladies had an 11am match the next morning.

  5. Jack - thanks for the excellent analysis!

    The Seattle area media will benefit by providing more coverage of UW volleyball because a large percentage of their current and future readers are playing the sport; "
    In the State of Washington, more girls play high school volleyball than any other girls’ high school sport. More than basketball. More than soccer. More than softball."

  6. I have been frustrated with the media coverage all season. Any local team, in any sport, which is competing high at the national level should get more coverage. The local media is full of elitist broadcasters. They cover meaningless activities in the major sports months out of season when local teams in Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer and Crew are all national contenders. And yes, the women's teams get even less notice. The media needs to up it's credibility with wider coverage of minor sports and less coverage of the meaningless details in the major sports.

  7. If the Seattle Times ran more articles about volleyball, I would finally purchase a subscription.

  8. Thanks to your blog updates, most of us on-line can keep up with the only in-depth, >1 inch coverage of one of the most stellar womens volleyball programs in the nation. In this era of rapidly diminishing print media, one would think that the Seattle Times would have the sense to see that 8,464 attendees, perhaps a majority of them families, at a UDub volleyball match just might represent embodiment of a future generation of readers if they bothered to give any but trivial attention to their sport!

  9. There is simply no more exciting spectator sport than womens volleyball. The sport combines intense action, high drama and frequent strategic adjustments. I never played organized volleyball, but I am hooked. UW womens volleyball is by far the best value event ticket in the city. These women play their hearts out, with smiles on their faces and and intensity and focus unrivaled in any other athletic endeavor. Increased coverage would expose this fact to many new fans and failing to provide that reporting is doing this potentially larger fan Base a diservice.

  10. I voted with my money, but these days that might just drive more media out of business. After a young UCLA team gave your 2005 championship squad its only loss for Andy's 1000th win, I eagerly looked through my Sunday LA Times for the story to cut out for my scrapbook, and found nothing, even in the "Other Sports" paragraphs. I called and canceled my subscription, and made them send me a refund for the rest of it, but I don't think anyone noticed. I think your point about lack of knowledge of the sport is the biggest factor, even with UW attendance figures. I know that the average TV/Internet announcing is fairly ignorant.

  11. Yes, women's volleyball is more popular and the coaches make more than the men's counterparts. However, Title IX all but men's volleyball at the collegiate level. AVCA: you can't have it both ways on sexism.

  12. I found myself with the same disappointment with the lack of coverage for UW volleyball this time around, when they played against Stanford, as two years ago, when they played against Oregon in a wild, awesome match that left me feeling like I had just exited a great, fantastical roller coaster ride that left me exhilarated, exhausted and euphoric. There was absolutely NO representation in the mass media that acknowledged or reveled in the same glory that the fans experienced. And we are THOUSANDS. It is disenfranchisement. It is sexist. It is extremely disappointing. And if these media outlets, from both print and video media, don't care about my chosen sport, I have no reason to regard them in whatever sport news they deem important. No volleyball? Then, No, thank you. I won't be supporting your other sports. Maybe if volleyball was included, I might pay a little attention to the other sports on their eye view.


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