Posted by: Ethan | August 12, 2010

Who is Responsible for Promoting Women’s Athletics?

Things have been rather fluffy around here of late (put mildly), and it’s time for something more substantial. To anyone who makes a regular habit of checking this blog, I admire your tenacity.

In reading my server logs I came across an article from July 2010 called Women Fighting for Greater Role in Athletics. (Disclaimer: My other blog is cited in the linked article.) I will provide some comments following some excerpts:

It is a shame that there are already so few women’s professional sports teams. And those that do exist are constantly struggling for attendance and interest. I think that it is especially important for young girls, and even women college athletes, to know that there are existing opportunities for them to make a living with their talent and skills that they work so hard to perfect. The Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by former professional tennis player Billie Jean King, agrees and explains that “when our sons and daughters watch a national network telecast and see the most celebrated female athletes valued less than their male counterparts, they are learning to believe that it is okay that females are less respected and less rewarded in our society.”

The Billie Jean King quote at the end sums up my rationale for this site, and my larger mission, beautifully.

But this really begs the question: why are women’s sports considered lesser than men’s? What makes them inferior? Low attendance and interest isn’t just apparent in the WNBA. It is a problem that faces all women athletes. They shouldn’t have to play their sports in short tennis skirts or skimpy bikinis on the beach just to attract viewers and recognition. Women’s athletics need to be taken more seriously and given a greater role in society.

I would caution against making too many sweeping generalizations, but I understand if not agree in principle with the author.

How many women athletes can you name? Can you name any baseball or softball players? How about golf or soccer? Did you know there was a women’s football league?

There are, at last count, at least four women’s football leagues: The IWFL, LFL (I hate to add this but fair is fair), WFA, and WSFL. Not to nitpick or anything.

I won’t rattle off names to show how hip I am to female athletes, but instead will seize on the learning opportunity in that no names spring to mind when I think of female baseball players. Softball, yes. I apparently need to do some homework.

What can we do to draw more attention to women’s athletics? For starters, the WNBA tries to support the community and generate fan awareness.

I think talking about the various leagues, teams, events, and players as often as possible (in context) is a great start. “Hope Solo would have saved that goal,” or “if he would have set his feet like Kelly Mazzante before taking the shot it would have gone in” are some ways to spark up the conversation. Many times, people will dismiss the topic (or comparison) partly out of ignorance. I don’t mean that it is necessarily sexist or negative, I do mean that if someone doesn’t know who these people are they don’t have much information to work with as opposed to being prepared to argue Tiger Woods versus Phil Michelson or Shaq versus Kobe. It does thrill me to expose people to women’s athletics and have them discover new teams, leagues, and heroes.

This has been discussed (and probably still is) ad infinitum on fan boards like RebKell, but some of the leagues – like the WNBA – do make an effort to market the league and teams; the issue generally concerns how effective their efforts are – or are perceived to be.

I feel like there has to be some way to better increase fan interest and paid attendance for the WNBA and for women’s athletics as a whole. Maybe more teams need to create big stars or heroes that make fans want to watch. Or maybe there needs to be more widespread advertising and more games to be shown on television.

Well, sure. Television exposure can really put a team/league on the map, and conversely, not being on TV at all, or not often enough can stigmatize the league as not being “serious”. Not everyone has the money to attend all of these games, and equally, not every league can afford to carpet the airwaves with advertisements. Just because I never saw any TV spots for the Dallas Diamonds does not mean that the team or league is not “serious”. That throws back to aiding the team with word-of-mouth enthusiasm and a willingness to bring your friends. Not everyone is willing to share what they consider to be their “private” experiences, which boggles my mind, frankly.

As for heroes and star power, again, these can be effective but not in a vacuum. If the TV and print media isn’t willing or able to provide coverage or raise awareness of these stars, heroes, teams, leagues and so on, there’s not much hope for whipping up interest in the casual fan or interested bystander. On the flip side, I am always stunned at how sparse the attendance is for WPS games because truly, the best players in the world are right there in “intimate” venues but not filling the stands. Then again, the WPS is not the same as the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ (coming 2011 to a TV near you), hence (I think) the disconnect. I also wonder if WPS is still too new for the sporting public and they want more longevity before committing to supporting the league, which, if that is in fact the case, drives me bonkers. It’s like the guy who told me he would join my rock band once I found more people. Um, no band if nobody agrees to be in it!

So if I can offer any useful advice to those who are frustrated with the real or imagined lack of interest in women’s athletics – or a specific league, sport, team, or player – WOM, WOM, WOM. (Word of Mouth.) Yes, the league, team, sport or players should be getting word out too, but rather than waiting for word to get out “top down”, why not provide some genuine grassroots support “bottom up”? I confess that I haven’t been as vocal as I would like on this site lately, but now that I am “in market” for leagues like the WNBA and WPS I believe I can make a more meaningful impact on providing genuine and timely grassroots support for my passion.

My thanks to the Choices Campus Blog for the spark I needed to get back on track.

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