With the start of the Women’s World Cup on July 20, the quality of women’s football is once again in the spotlight. In this discourse, a new study provides interesting insights: According to the study, men’s soccer is only rated significantly better when the gender of the players is clearly identifiable. If this is not the case, women’s and men’s soccer are rated equally well.
Women’s soccer is experiencing remarkable growth and breaking records in fan interest, attendance and revenue. Yet women’s competitions still lag behind. Whether you look at coverage, investment or revenue, men’s games perform better than women’s. And why? ’The conventional wisdom is that men’s sports are simply better than women’s sports because they are bigger, stronger and faster,’ says Carlos Gomez, a researcher and author of the study. ’However, the existence of stereotypes should alert us to another possibility: Gender information can influence our perception of quality.’
In sports, as in other male-dominated professions, women athletes’ abilities are closely scrutinized, and they routinely face criticism about their talent and toughness. Thus, while sexist statements that women’s sports are boring, slow, and unattractive are less common and accepted than in the past, they still exist. Combined with lack of coverage and lower investment, these stereotypes can make women’s sports seem boring compared to men’s sports and negatively impact perceptions of quality.
Morgan or Modric - the main thing is football
Researchers from Zurich have now investigated whether individuals evaluate the quality of women’s and men’s soccer differently when they cannot identify the gender of the players. In the experiment, 613 participants watched goal scenes of top female and male soccer players such as Alex Morgan and Luka ModriÄ. In one group, the gender of the players was blurred so that participants could not tell if they were watching men or women. In the control group, the videos were not changed. Participants watched five men’s videos and five women’s videos and rated the players’ performance on a 5-point scale.
Women’s soccer has not yet reached potential
Results show that men’s soccer videos are rated significantly better only when participants can identify the gender of the players. The differences between the ratings of female and male players’ performances disappear when gender is not identifiable. ’This result refutes the assumption that the low demand for women’s professional soccer is due to the performance quality of female players,’ says Carlos Gomez. ’The study suggests that women’s football, and probably other women’s team sports, have not yet reached their full economic potential. As excitement builds ahead of the Women’s World Cup, this study could make an important contribution to shedding new light on the debate about the quality of women’s football.
Carlos Gomez-Gonzalez, Helmut Dietl, David Berri, Cornel Nesseler. Gender Information and Perceived Quality: An Experiment with Professional Soccer Performance. Sport Management Review, 12 July 2023. doi: 10.1080/14413523.2023.2233341