March Madness Exposes How Little Viewers Care About Women’s Sports

All the quiet in the bleachers sends a loud message about the popularity of women’s competition these days.

Shannon Cranshaw of the George Washington Colonials shoots the ball against the George Mason Patriots at the nearly empty Charles E. Smith Athletic Center in Washington, D.C., on March 1. (Photo: G Fiume/Getty Images)

 

Mar 29, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

While this year’s March Madness is earning record-high TV ratings for men’s games, women’s college basketball is publicly coping with a persistent problem: empty bleachers.

Earlier this week, the men’s NCAA semifinals on CBS and Turner Sports drew a 25-year high in ratings—the best TV audience the tournament has seen since its current format started in 1991, according to Deadline. Meanwhile, physical attendance—not to mention TV ratings—at NCAA women’s basketball games remains abysmally low. At one Duke University women’s basketball game last weekend, the stadium was only a quarter full, according to The New York Times.

The disparity isn’t unique to NCAA basketball tournaments. Seventy-two percent of all airtime was devoted to men’s basketball, football, and baseball, the University of Southern California’s Center for Feminist Research determined in 2010. While both men’s and women’s college teams compete in March basketball tournaments, news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC stations devoted zero time to women’s basketball, the study found.

The imbalance in viewers between men’s and women’s sports hasn’t gone unnoticed by the NCAA. This year, the association boosted attendance at women’s basketball games by implementing two new strategies: scheduling more weekend games and having top teams host first- and second-round games, according to The Associated Press. One of Duke University’s low-attendance women’s games, for example, was scheduled at noon on Friday.

UConn women’s games also drew less than half their normal attendance, which the team attributed to late-night scheduling. “We took great pride in who we are and what we’ve done and how we’ve done it all these years, and for that to happen, I’m not pointing the finger at anybody, I just think it’s embarrassing,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma told the AP.

Besides scheduling, the other factor that seems to impact viewership of women’s games is less controllable: a team’s ability to win. Last year, for example, UConn’s men’s and women’s teams were both undefeated, and the women’s championship game saw a 33 percent increase in viewership from 2013, and the highest increase in a decade, according to Nielsen’s 2014 Year in Sports Media report.

Winning may not be everything in sports, but it can certainly attract viewers—if the game is scheduled at the right time and given enough media attention.