(By: Sean Addis)
On Friday January 29, the Ryerson Rams Network aired the first all-female live sports broadcast in Canada. Dubbed “The Takeover,” the broadcast of the women’s hockey game versus Windsor signaled a commitment to changing the role of women in the industry. But it was just one part of a larger movement that is gaining momentum within Ryerson’s sports media community.
“I think this [was] a fantastic opportunity for young women who would like to work in the world of live sports,” said Karen Sebesta, an instructor with Ryerson’s sports media program and senior producer of the 2016 Rio Olympics. “It’s a tough and demanding career choice, but Ryerson is showing great leadership by encouraging and supporting these kinds of opportunities.”
Ryerson students Leandra Vermeulen, Erin Graham, Keerthika Uthayakumar and Maria Papadakis organized and directed the event. They said the process was made easier and more fulfilling because of the support and encouragement from the RTA School of Media, the faculty of communication and design, and the support of the Rams Network executive producer Brian Withers.
The Rams Network began initiatives for greater female leadership in sports media in September, with the hiring of a 10-student executive team that includes the four female organizers of the Takeover. To promote women in on-air opportunities, most of which go to men, three first-year female students have been trained to be colour commentators for basketball, hockey and volleyball broadcasts
“These initiatives and decisions were instrumental to setting the groundwork and culture to make this event a reality,” said Uthayakumar.
Aside from the broadcast itself, the organizers also had a pre-event for the volunteers: a networking night with women from the industry. TSN’s Dawn Landis and Olympic gold medallist Tessa Bonhomme were among those who shared their experiences in the field.
“Between the women at this event and the professors here at Ryerson, I really have been able to learn a lot about both the sport media world as well as myself,” said Savannah Prokopetz, the colour commentator for women’s hockey telecasts. “Talking with Tessa was a major game changer for me as she gave me so many useful tips and pointers to help me better prepare for games.”
Within the RTA School of Media and the Rams Network, there is an ongoing culture change with regard to the role of women in sports media. The student organizers and faculty have created awareness for the need for greater opportunities for women in the industry.
“My biggest hope is that these women will realize their value to this industry,” said Vermuelen, who is in her final semester. “I want these amazing women that we work with to be fully confident in the knowledge that they are contributors to a team and that they are capable of anything.”