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Women sports stars are taking the world by storm

It is an untapped market brimming with possibilities.

By Katie Lebel, Ann Pegoraro

Published: Mon 16 Sep 2019, 10:07 PM

Last updated: Tue 17 Sep 2019, 12:11 AM

Sometimes the stars align and allow for an unexpected, seemingly impossible feat to occur. But more often, a series of little things are done well over a length of time that put people in a position to succeed.

Bianca Andreescu has become a superstar. While it would be easy to attribute her two-week ride into Canadian sport history to divine intervention, there is evidence to suggest it's the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication combined with countless little things done right.

From this lens, there is much to be learned from the recipe that produced Canada's first grand slam tennis champion and insights that can help to guide us all moving forward.

News stories about Andreescu increased 286 per cent after her Rogers Cup victory in August and were up another 214 per cent after her US Open win. Her success undoubtedly created a moment of national celebration, but it's also an example of how the media can and should cover women's sport and promote the athletic achievement of female athletes with hype and enthusiasm. Viewing parties were held across the country. Celebrities voiced their support in droves, both before and after her victory.

After record-breaking ratings came in for Andreescu's semi-final match, Canada's TSN sports network pre-empted a live Canadian Football League game to rebroadcast the semi-final performance in the lead-up to the championship match. Special pre-game coverage was broadcast to highlight the significance of the moment.

These are uncommon occurrences when it comes to the coverage of women's sport, yet they make an incredible difference in familiarising audiences with an athlete. All the attention serves as a signal that they're witnessing something important.

While the initial arch of the Andreescu storyline left some media flat-footed, commentators quickly sorted out the pronunciation of Andreescu's last name and were able to shape an intriguing narrative around the young Canadian phenom. Commentators picked up on the success story of Andreescu's parents' immigration to Canada and the family's adorable dog.

The semi-final match featured a somewhat painful back and forth around differences in sweat production between the two athletes (and a baseless link to perceived fitness levels), but by the final, the discourse was more squarely focused around Andreescu's mental toughness and her incredible athletic talent.

Language matters. Commentary centred around athletic performance provides credibility to women athletes more so than who they're dating.

According to Zoomph, a digital intelligence company, Andreescu's victory generated 3.6 billion - yes, billion -impressions on social media, contributing to an impression value of $19.8 million. That's proof women's sport can be both exciting and lucrative.

Professional athletes are often seen as role models, and mass media attention can be a catalyst for the promotion of sport participation at the community level. Andreescu has noted the influence of Williams on her career -one can only imagine the legions of youth who were inspired by watching her incredible achievement and the poise with which she carried out the accomplishment.

They're among many women in sport who have incredible talent and remarkably inspirational stories to tell. It is an untapped market brimming with possibilities.

On the heels of Andreescu's win, Roger Martin, the former chairman of Tennis Canada, astutely pointed out the 'bold strategy' the organisation adopted in 2005 to overcome what he termed a "long track record of mediocrity." This initiative was spearheaded by innovative approaches to infrastructure and lead by a patient team that had the wisdom to understand long-term investments take time to flourish.

It's in this atmosphere that Andreescu's talent was nurtured. It's this purposeful strategy that has seen only one other country in the world produce more Grand Slam finalists over the past six years. As women's sports all over the world work to develop infrastructure, tennis's example is worth noting. It's not hard to envision grassroots tennis participation skyrocketing over the next few years and tennis events have become a branding juggernaut.

Andreescu proves that the combination of strategic infrastructure (including training facilities, coaching and support staff) and investment in women's sport can produce big wins. The language we use to describe her success and the media's continued coverage of her rise are lessons we should also keep in mind in the continued push for gender equity in sport. -thewire.in

Katie Lebel is assistant professor at Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.

Ann Pegoraro is full professor of social media and ?sport at Laurentian University

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