Why women’s basketball is under appreciated
If someone told you that Louisville lost in the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament, you would probably correct him or her by saying that they won 82-76 over the Michigan Wolverines. But Louisville’s basketball team did in fact lose in the NCAA championship game — the women’s team, that is.
In case you weren’t one of the 3.2 million people that tuned into the women’s championship game, the UConn Huskies crushed Louisville 93-60. Both teams played through injuries, with UConn’s leading scorer Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis playing through a stress fracture and a foot injury yet managing to add 18 points to the board.
There were plenty of compelling story lines that should have generated more interest in the game, but failed to gain any attention. Louisville was attempting to become the second school to win the men’s and women’s championship in the same season. The only other school to do that was none other than their opponent, UConn, who completed that feat in 2004.
UConn’s win gave coach Geno Auriemma his eighth title, tying him with the legendary Pat Summitt for the most NCAA women’s basketball titles won by a head coach. History was to be made no matter which team won.
The games did not have conflicting airtimes, since the men’s game was the night before the women’s. So why did the women’s game yield about 20 million fewer viewers?
Ithaca College men’s basketball coach Jim Mullins feels that the hype around the men’s tournament is what creates the difference in viewers.
“When you think March Madness, the women are not usually included in that category,” Mullins said. “It is almost like the women’s game is a footnote.”
Mullins, an alum of UConn with significant ties to its women’s basketball program, agreed that both tournaments had interesting story lines, but said that men’s and women’s basketball are sometimes regarded as different sports.
“There will always be the ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ argument between the two,” Mullins said, “but an educated fan will take the women’s game for what it is and not try to compare the two.”
According to Mullins, the women’s tournament really needs to be marketed differently. The two have vastly different audiences, and using the same marketing strategies is unfair. “The best fans that really appreciate the [women’s] game, besides the women, are the 40 and over crowd,” Mullins said, adding that these are usually the men with daughters that are interested in basketball. The target audience for men’s basketball games are males in the 15-40 age group.
Ithaca College women’s basketball coach Dan Raymond agreed that the women’s tournament should focus on building their existing fan base in young women and the older populations. “Older generations can relate to the female athletes better,” Raymond said.
Raymond also said that women’s basketball should not bother trying to break into the present men’s audience. “I don’t think they will ever make enough headway into the existing men’s audience,” Raymond said. “It is like pounding your head against a brick wall.”
One promising note is that ESPN’s coverage of the women’s tournament has come miles over the last decade, according to Ithaca College sport management and media professor Stephen Mosher. “ESPN is getting better at covering the product they own,” Mosher said, referring to the women’s NCAA tournament. He commended ESPN for telecasting every game of the tournament, having female play-by-play announcers and having an analyst desk dominated by the female perspective.
The sporting culture has definitely made some headway in supporting women’s basketball. Some have even begun to prefer the women’s game to the men’s.
“People who actually understand basketball, and not just the spectacle, appreciate the way the women are playing because it is a much more interesting game,” Mosher said.
Despite the small victories seen in the coverage and attention given to women’s sports, it still seems that the general public pays no mind to the women’s side. Men’s sports seem to continue to dominate athletics at all levels. This is an antiquated imbalance that should have been eliminated decades ago. Women’s sports are an established entity with a high level of talent — the only thing missing is the respect that they have long ago earned.
The difference in coverage, attention and marketing between men’s and women’s collegiate athletics is pretty much the same across the board. When is the last time you attended a women’s collegiate event?
For about 400 Ithaca College students, it was a recent women’s lacrosse game promoted by a sports marketing class. The class had to get at least 400 people to attend the match as a project. With the promise of free food and the guile of raffles and prizes, they met their goal. But what does this say about the culture surrounding women’s sports here at Ithaca College? It took weeks of promotion, planning and promises to fill seats.
Women’s sports shouldn’t need a perk for people to attend games and appreciate the athletes. This is 2013, Title IX was passed more than 40 years ago and the days of gender inequality in athletics should be gone.
Brittany Romano is a junior journalism major who thinks talent should be recognized. Email her at bromano1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.