Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Women Fighting for Greater Role in Athletics

Last week I went to a WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) basketball game. The Los Angeles Sparks played against the Phoenix Mercury at the Staples Center. It was a lot of fun, and the Sparks fought back from Phoenix's 20-point lead, but unfortunately, they lost in the end. However, I was shocked and disappointed by the lack of fans. The arena was not even half full, and most of the concession stands were closed! And Tom Hanks was apparently the only celebrity in attendance.

The Staples Center is a large stadium that seats up to about 19,000. On average in 2009, the Los Angeles Sparks only filled approximately 55% of it. The Los Angeles Lakers use the same stadium to play their games in the NBA. Last year, whereas the Sparks had an average attendance of a little over 10,000, the Lakers had an average attendance of almost 19,000! And there were almost always dozens of celebrities in attendance.

It turns out this is not just an issue for the Los Angeles team, but is a bigger problem, encompassing the entire WNBA. According to Bleacher Report, in 2009 seven of the thirteen WNBA teams experienced declines in their home opener attendance. This also seems to be the case so far in the 2010 season. In addition, Women's Basketball Online has attendance records that demonstrate a league-wide decline in attendance over the course of the WNBA's fourteen years.

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."

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.

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? As far as women's professional athletics go, tennis seems to be one of the most successful, attracting great television ratings and fans to watch their well-known players. In fact, in 2007, for the first time, the French Open and Wimbledon awarded equal prize money to women and men! However, just about every sport has a thriving professional men's league. In addition, the four largest American pro sports leagues are all-male: the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Football League (NFL).

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. They have a few initiatives, such as the WNBA Read to Acheive, WNBA Breast Health Awareness, and Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA as well as links to WNBA sponsors and WNBA History/Greatest Moments. However, as much as they try to increase interest and attendance, it is still evident that the stadiums across the country aren't filling up the way they should; all but a few barely end up filling half the arena.

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. Perhaps there should be more special discount offers and promotions like the Sparks' Candace's Corner and GO Passes.

What do you think should be done? What would you suggest in order to increase attendance, ticket sales, and overall interest in the WNBA and women in sports in general?

No comments: