Girl Athletes Bring In Crowds — So Why Don't Grown Women?S

Girls' sports may draw bigger crowds — and raise more money — than boys' sports, so how come women's pro leagues aren't more successful?

According to a story by Katie Thomas in today's Times, families are more likely to travel with their daughters to sporting events than with their sons. "There are far more people who will travel with 12-year-old girls than even 12-year-old boys," explains Don Schumacher, executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, "And vastly more people will travel with 12-year-old girls than 18-year-old boys." This may have to do with families being more protective of girls, or with moms being more likely to attend girls' events.

Whatever the cause, the phenomenon translates into money. Families who travel with their kids stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and buy things. Mika Ryan, president of a sporting commission in New Jersey, says she considers the often more lucrative nature of girls' sports when booking events. And now that it has built a new softball complex, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee is enjoying a boost in revenue from girls and their families. At least one naysayer doubts that girl athletes buy more than boys. Bobby Dodd, president of the Amateur Athletic Union, says, "I have three granddaughters. They love to shop. But I can tell you my boys darn near love to shop as much as the girls." Dodd's words notwithstanding, it's clear that girls' sports are getting attention from families and businesses alike.

Though it's a little sad that families feel they have to "protect" their girl athletes more than their boys, it's nice to hear that the days of ignoring girls' sports are over. Not so, however, for women's sports. On NPR, Frank Deford examines the financial difficulties of many women's pro leagues. The Women's United Soccer Association folded in 2003, the WNBA's Houston Comets are the only major sports team so far to go out of business in the recession, and the LPGA recently fired its commissioner amid a loss of sponsorship contracts. According to Deford, women just don't want to pay to watch women's games.

The solution: sex! Reacting to a Wimbledon official's comment that it's often the hottest female players who are chosen to play on show courts, Deford writes,

Everybody was aghast at such overt chauvinism, only the harsh reality is that until women start stepping up and buying tickets for women's games, then - like it or not - sex may simply be good box office.

Ten years later, what do most people remember about the 1999 World Cup - that Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal? No, that Brandi Chastain took her shirt off.

But apparently teams think only the "right" kind of sex sells tickets. According to Mike Wise of the Washington Post, the WNBA's Washington Mystics don't have a kiss-cam at their games because they're worried about displaying lesbian fans kissing. Lindsey Harding, the team's point guard (pictured, right), says, "We wouldn't broadcast on our Jumbotron about abortion issues because of the religious and political conflicts it would cause. It's a similar, sensitive subject. We don't want to put anything out there to turn down certain fans." A lesbian kiss similar to abortion? Apparently, if all you're thinking about is the box office, yes. Wise writes,

This is a seminal, scary time for women's professional sports. Ten years after Brandi Chastain's ab-crunching moment in the women's World Cup ushered in a new era of empowerment, less than half of the LPGA Tour's 29 events have secured sponsorship for next year. Though attendance numbers are up in Washington, the league can barely pull in an average of 8,000 people per game and many of its arenas hold 20,000.

In a time when TV networks stay silent about male athletes' rape allegations, how come women's teams have to curry favor with bigoted fans? Is it really true that women don't want to pay to watch women play? Or are women's professional sports just too new — and as yet too under-marketed — to capture the kind of audience that men's sports have? Just because we live in a culture where women are more often celebrated for their looks than their athletic prowess doesn't mean all women athletes have to take off their shirts. It just means we need to train audiences to follow women's sports with the same rabid passion they've long had for the Dodgers or the Lakers. And given the fact that families seem to turn out in droves to watch their girls compete, that shouldn't be so hard to do.

Girls' Sports Pack Economic Punch [NYT]
Deford: 'That's No Lady, That's An Athlete!' [NPR]
Mystics Give Big Issue The Kiss-Off [Washington Post, via Pandagon]