Women’s basketball needs female fans

Oregon's Bev Smith (#24) puts up a shot against Louisiana State while teammate Allison Lang (#52) looks on, Dec. 16, 1981. Photo by Brent Wojahn.
Oregon’s Bev Smith (#24) puts up a shot against Louisiana State while teammate Allison Lang (#52) looks on, Dec. 16, 1981. Photo by Brent Wojahn.

Much has been made of the fact that the popularity of women’s sports lags far behind men’s sports – particularly in basketball, and more specifically, in the WNBA. It has been widely thought that what the league needs to do is to capture the attention of the male sports fans, as they constitute the vast majority of the sports viewing audience.

But the gap issue doesn’t seem to stem from male sports fans. Rather, it is the lack of female fans of women’s sports that is a major contributor in the sport stalling in popularity. There are simply not enough women supporting women in basketball.

I attend every WNBA game in Los Angeles each summer, and like other WNBA crowds, the fans consist mostly of younger kids, middle-aged folks and seniors. There are some teens there of both sexes, but not many. I see more men in their 20’s and 30’s in the crowd than women of the same age groups.

It’s men who I talk to about women’s basketball. Male hoops fans know who the WNBA players are, as well as many of the top college ballers. Meanwhile, women and teen girls are clueless.

It has been men who have been willing to write for my website,womenshoopsworld.com. All the new women’s basketball websites and blogs seem to be mostly staffed by men, if not operated by men, as well.

I work at a high school and deal with young athletes. In 2010 I traveled with the Cal Sparks to a summer club ball tournament. I asked each one of the girls on the premiere team who their favorite player was, and all but one named an NBA player. One girl named Diana Taurasi as her favorite.

If I went out and did the same experiment right now, the result would still be the same. Most girls aren’t raised to watch women’s sports – not even women playing their own sport. It saddens me deeply.

My Dad is and was a progressive thinker. He began taking me to women’s basketball games at our local university during the 1981-1982 season, when I was a young teen. I watched star forwards Bev Smith and Allison Lang smash records, and lead the team to the first-ever NCAA Tournament for women that year. Though they lost in the early rounds, I was inspired for life.

It was because of the influence of those women that I began not only watching basketball, but other sports. Then I began playing sports, and I slowly morphed into an athlete, which I remain today. The toughness and resilience I acquired in becoming an athlete has got me through many a tough time, and past many obstacles where I have seen others fall. Seeing examples of strong women playing sports changed the trajectory of my life for the better.

If I were the WNBA, I’d make a concerted effort to get women – and especially girls – to games. Let them witness all the possibilities. Show them what strength and confidence and beauty all wrapped up together looks like. Help them to witness and appreciate all the different types of women there are on the planet, and not just the distorted views of media. The world would open up to become a much bigger place, along with their own possibilities.

Women’s basketball doesn’t need more male fans; it needs the support of its own people.

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  1. Sadly, spot on. I meet many female fans that only follow the men’s game and deride WBB players with comments like “they’re so masculine!” A combination of cultural factors & lack of exposure drives poor viewership & attendance by women. The whole Banham/Kobe story, though promoting interest in WBB, I found condescending & underscores the problem. Why doesn’t Rachel hero-worship WNBA stars? I inderstand fame & fortune drives celebrity & fan interest but which comes first. People forget how the NBA struggled to find a market in the early 70’s finally and finally propelled by the Celtic/Lakers-Bird/Magic rivalry. Hopefully the young girls we see at WBB games will change the future. But is this realistic? I’m a STH for Miami and these girls see the stands are empty. What message does this send?

  2. The W needs to acknowledge and accept that it is a niche product. As a niche product, it needs to elevate ALL of its community – elevate all of its players, elevate its coaching team, elevate its fans – and stop trying to reach out to people who don’t give a damn about them. Let each team have in-depth stories of its players and its staff. Let us see the interviews. Let us see the photos of different types of fans enjoying the game. Let us see the young ladies, let us see the men, let us see dads and their daughters, let us see the moms and the aunties supporting their team.

    Let us read about what the players think about their game, about their teammates and about how to deal with their competition. Let every player feel important. Let each team have more videos showing all their players doing stuff together– like the ones Merc had of Cayla, Alex, Pree and Griner. Put up more videos of players doing stuff like Sky had of EDD in her superhero suit doing dunks. (Let us see LESS emphasis put on NBA players tweets and female coaches while our own coaches and players get no love).

    Throw in some interviews with some fans asking their background story and how they came to follow the game. Let each team form a social media fan base – people who will be actively engaging in social media and cheering for their team as the games go on. Let each player do their part in posting photos, posts and videos about the game. The star players in engaging with their teammates and fans and the teams and the W can have a weekly post on the buzz on social media. And of course, the W and the teams should decide which hashtags to display prominently and the fans will pick up on this. Let us see the links to blogs that post about the W.

    The bottom line being:

    Every sport has a community. Every community loves to be appreciated. Everyone in a community has a story. Everyone who has a story has people in his or her life who would be proud to see someone they know tell their story. And those people are surrounded with people who they’ll tell ‘Hey, that’s my sister, cousin, friend etc’. Once those who are outside looking in get to see this awesome community having fan and enjoying its product, some will be attracted to it and join in. And those who are ‘trolls’ will have no foot to stand on as nobody will be giving them time of day as they will be too busy enjoying their community. They will be too busy lifting their community up. And this will in turn, make others want to join in and be part of such a vibrant community.