Monday, May 16, 2022

Googling ‘March Madness’ is still standard for men’s games

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Sweet Sixteen games in this year’s March Madness kick off tonight and tomorrow – all exciting games (like reigning National Champion Stanford vs. Maryland) and one that will be very stressful for me personally (Connecticut vs. Indiana – go Huskies).

You’d be forgiven for thinking the games started yesterday. As of this writing, the search for “sweet March 16 craze” is yielding a schedule for the men’s tournament, where that round did start yesterday. The women’s games have been relegated to a ribbon at the bottom.

This is the first year that the college women’s basketball tournament could use the high-profile March Madness branding. The change came after a uproar over the embarrassingly unjust circumstances at last year’s women’s games and spent a few more months highlighting the many, many ways the NCAA has failed it’s feminine athletes. It should take a year to rectify some of the mistakes of previous editions of the tournament and bring the women’s game to the level it has long deserved.

But things still haven’t caught up with Google. When I googled for ‘March Madness’, the first thing that came up was a box with the men’s tournament schedule. The sidebar on the right is also for the men’s tournament. Scroll down and there’s the results ribbon for the women’s games, but no real links to more information. “College Basketball Championship” also draws only the men’s games.

Google spokesperson Ned Adriance said in a statement: The edge that search takes into account trending searches and game times when trying to understand what teams or games people are searching for and which Google created improvements around March Madness. “When people come to Search to find sports information for women and especially details for men’s teams, we know it’s not a great experience,” he said.

A screenshot taken on March 25th.

It’s a frustrating experience for sports reporter Claire Watkins, who writes the newsletter for Only women’s sports and also sees mostly male scores appear in its search results. The ribbon taped to the bottom of the men’s tournament box does not contain any important details or links for women’s games. If she wants the detailed information box for the women’s tournament, she must specifically add “women” for searches in March Madness.

“I never want to type ‘women’ at the end of a search again,” Watkins tweeted

The same thing happens when I search for other sports using supposedly gender neutral search terms: Champions League (which has both men’s and women’s iterations), US Soccer (which has a women’s and men’s team, and the women’s team is much more successful† For both, the men’s schedule is first on the agenda. Watkins told me that her searches for things like “Notre Dame ACC” correctly find that she’s looking for information about basketball, but gives her results for the men’s team.

Adriance said sometimes it’s hard for Google Searching to unravel sports information for reasons other than gender (such as when multiple sports teams have the same name), and that sometimes the women’s version of a sport comes up first (such as in searches for gymnastics or beach volleyball teams). Search also returns results based on the prevalence of a particular type of content online – so having more ‘relevant, current and high-quality media’ coverage of a men’s sport can affect search results. “That said, when it comes to our sporting functions, this is something we’re actively working to improve,” he said.

It’s frustrating to see something like Google make the argument that they might not show women’s sports because there might not be that much information available about it. Women’s sports are still trying to shake off decades of undermining by organizations like the NCAA and underinvested by networks and media. It’s a choice to follow that baseline de-prioritization rather than take active steps to counter it. Interest and viewers follow from the choices made by TV networks and technology companies about what to promote. If those groups properly invest in the women’s game and promote it, and treat it as a product in itself rather than one second class subjectpeople watch

Google Search does this well with tennis – a tournament search generates a score box with the option to switch between the men’s and women’s match-ups, and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. Adriance didn’t say if that was a consideration for March Madness.

Personally, I think it would be nice to just trade things and have March Madness only do women’s sports and force people to type in “men” if that’s the tournament they want to find. But I’ll settle for not having to type “women.” If I’m looking for basketball this month, the games I’m interested in don’t need that qualification.

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