Written by: Katie Lebel, Assistant Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University
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.
What happens when word gets out
News stories about Andreescu increased 286 per cent after her Rogers Cup victory in August and were up another 214 per cent after her U.S. 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.
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 familiarizing 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.
Coverage breeds interest
TSN reported more than 7.4 million Canadian viewers tuned in to watch Andreescu’s championship match against Serena Williams. On ESPN, the match boasted its highest-ever ratings for the event, up 13 per cent from the previous record. Audiences ate this story up.
According to Zoomph, a leading digital intelligence company, Andreescu’s victory generated 3.6 billion — yes, billion —impressions on social media, contributing to an impression value of US$19.8 million. That’s proof women’s sport can be both exciting and lucrative.
Seeing is believing
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.
To be sure, there’s no shortage of female role models in sport, but it’s rare that we have the opportunity to get to know them as fans. Brooke Henderson has taken the LPGA by storm and there will be an impressive collection of Olympians touring North America for the Dream Gap Tour over the next few weeks.
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.
If you build it, they will come
On the heels of Andreescu’s win, Roger Martin, the former chairman of Tennis Canada, astutely pointed out the “bold strategy” the organization adopted in 2005 to overcome what he termed a “long track record of mediocrity.”
Martin described the evolution of an organizational philosophy based upon “higher aspirations and more distinctive strategies.”
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. (Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic have made it to Grand Slam semi-final matches, and several junior players have won Junior Grand Slam finals in recent 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.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.