Economist David Berri, in Forbes, lays out the case that Connecticut’s dominance is not an issue when it comes to relative fan interest in college basketball. He demonstrates that it is not an issue with other sports where teams have dominated, and no one cries about the demise of the sport when Alabama destroys Vanderbilt in college football. That part of the article was good. Most complaints about the lack of parity in women’s college basketball are pre-textual, and provided as an excuse, rather than the actual reason, for lack of interest.
But when Berri talks about what is bad for women’s basketball when it comes to interest, I think he gets the causation mostly wrong.
So, is the University of Connecticut bad for women’s basketball? Whether we look at the historical or economic evidence, it seems very clear that the Huskies dominating women’s college basketball is really not a problem.
There is, though, something that is bad for women’s basketball.
Here are few fun facts about the sports media.
- about 90% of sports editors are male
- it is estimated that only about 10% of sports coverage is created by women.
- although 40% of athletes are women, women’s sports only receives about 4% of sports coverage.
- And last November, I noted that major internet sites are more likely to cover animals than they are to cover women’s sports.
If you look for coverage for the women’s college basketball tournament you will not find much (if anything) at CBSsports.com. And on the front page at Yahoo Sports, ESPN.com, or the Bleacher Report you will have to hunt before you find a single story.
This seems to put the issue on the (male-dominated) sports media. If only the dang media would talk about women’s basketball more, people would be interested and watch!
The more likely causation flows the other way. The consumer interest is relatively low in news articles and analysis of women’s basketball, and thus there is less coverage. This isn’t to say there aren’t passionate fans who support their teams and programs. Some of the biggest women’s programs fill arenas and have many supporters. But compared to the scale of other sports (and if you are a general sports website, you are concerned on scale), they may get like 10% or less the interest of men’s college basketball (which is far less than say, football).
And I say this as someone who enjoys watching some women’s basketball. I watched my alma mater, Missouri, with Sophie Cunningham, several times this year. I am a father of two daughters, one of whom plays basketball and is working on her crossover and can shoot from outside in 3rd grade. I want her to succeed in every way possible and have all the opportunities ahead of her in whatever she chooses.
But I don’t think the interest mainly goes the direction that Berri believes. Sure, maybe in the past the old, male-dominated homogenous sports media dictated tastes. Now, with ability to measure and see responses to topics, tastes can dictate coverage. ESPN didn’t start covering WWE because they wanted to promote it and change attitudes; they saw the responses and interest (the same thing we see) when wrestling material is produced.
So I think “the media” is an easy bogeyman, every bit as much as saying that Connecticut’s dominance is the reason. The truth is that a large segment of the sports-consuming public doesn’t care about women’s sports. I would gladly write a women’s bracketology column like I do for the men’s tournament if I thought anyone would read it.
In today’s media culture, many, like myself, came from other backgrounds and came into this by turning a passion into work. We found a niche and wrote about it. If the interest is there, and the media really is underserving that interest, then it is a ripe opportunity for specialized blogs who focus on women’s coverage to thrive. We’ve seen this with companies that cover things like recruiting or the NFL draft specifically, or MMA, or professional wrestling.
The media is not a monolith. People can cover what they want, and what will pay the bills. If the interest is there, coverage will follow.