Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where are the fans??

So here's what I really want to know. Why did we have to come up with Title IX in the first place? And what I mean by that is, why haven't women's sports ever been enough on their own to earn equality and recognition?

Why do women's teams continue to struggle to fill their stadiums? I thought girls' participation in sports was higher than it's ever been, and growing exponentially! So why don't we see more of them in the bleachers, cheering obnoxiously for the home team?

Why don't the Sex and the City girls ditch their swanky clubs and dirty martinis for a $4 Coors Light and a foot long hot dog at the ballpark? Why does every professional women's team have to pander to youth leagues, senior citizens, and lesbians?

Where are all the straight women ages 20-50? Why do they simply disappear from the sports world entirely? Unless they're playing "team mom" for the night and dragging the carpool to a local college women's game, they are sorely missing from these events. And what makes it even worse is that their husbands are still rabid season ticket holders. The guys are still dawning their over-sized jerseys and foam hands and packing into the stadiums, even if they never touched a football in their life. They're still making small-talk about "last night's game" when they show up to work each morning.

We may be back to the age-old nature/nurture debate. Are guys simply more interested in sports because they are generally stronger, taller, and faster than girls? Maybe. But I know a LOT of guys who are about as coordinated as the mismatched socks they're wearing. Guys who don't play sports still watch 'em. So why isn't it the same with women?

I'll be looking into this as an ongoing research question for this blog. If you participated in sports but now you can't remember the last time you attended a professional women's game, tell me what you think happened. I want to know.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A quick shout out to the WNBA

Detroit beat San Antonio in the WNBA finals. It only took 3 games for them to sweep the series...their 3rd national title in 6 years. Congrats to Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan, and their amazing crew.

And by the way, congrats to Candace Parker who managed to bring home a WNBA MVP award, a WNBA Rookie of the Year award, a collegiate national championship, and an Olympic gold medal. All in 2008.

Watching Game 2 of the WNBA finals, I realized that the WNBA has come a long way. They actually had fans in the stands. They had major partners like T-Mobile presenting the MVP award. IHOP sponsored the half-time show, Discover card was all over the commercials and the arena, and the usual suspects Nike and Gatorade had their own signage up. Overall, I have to say that I was impressed. I was impressed by Katie Smith's ridiculous athleticism (and rather muscular physique) and I was impressed by the general professionalism of the event. It didn't feel like a rec league for overgrown children. It felt like a professional basketball game.

I ran across this letter written by the President of the WNBA, Donna Orender, and posted by Seattle Storm blogger, Jayda Evans. Here's the par t of the letter that struck me the most:

After 12 years, the WNBA deserves more credit for what it has accomplished -- for the athleticism of the players, for the power of the game, for the emotional connection created when our teams nakedly put their passions on the floor.

The product is great; these women are fantastic. Our fans have responded to the high level of play by pushing increased attendance -- including a record 46 sellouts -- TV ratings, Web traffic and merchandise sales. These women are spreading this work ethic and universal language around the world -- note the 41 current-and-former WNBA players on Olympic rosters in Beijing, including the 12 members of Team USA who brought home their fourth consecutive gold medal.

So here we sit after the Finals, with one team -- San Antonio -- coming up short after bringing the excitement of a championship round to their city for the first time, while another team -- Detroit -- cements its legacy as a dynasty by winning their third title in six years. We were squeezed in with the baseball playoffs and football season, competing for the eyes of sports fans, but it is worth noting that just over a decade ago, the choice to tune in to the WNBA didn't exist at all, and that is something worth recognizing.

We do need to recognize the WNBA for its success. I can't believe they actually had 46 sellouts this season. But I'm still a little disappointed about a few things:

1. The Finals could only be found on ESPN2...regardless of the baseball and football seasons, they should have had at least the FINALS with a primetime spot on ESPN.

2. The Finals didn't appear to be sold out, despite the other 46 sellouts in the league this year. If you still haven't filled your stadium at that point, start giving the tickets away. Players should never have to see empty seats in the lower bowl during the WNBA Finals.

3. Please change the color of the damn orange and white basketball. For some reason, that ball makes the athletes seem less athletic. I'm being totally serious. When that ball bricks off the back of the rim, it looks worse than the standard brown basketball doing the same thing in a college or NBA game.

Considering those are my only real complaints, it looks like things are going pretty well. Madd props to you, WNBA, for boosting your ticket sales and improving your web traffic and fan interaction throughout the season. More madd props for getting better-qualified broadcasters with cooler graphics for the half-time analysis. And madd props for staying afloat for 12 whole years--you've proved a lot of people wrong.

I look forward to next year's season already.