Can WNBA Draw Male Fans in Wake of NBA Lockout?
The WNBA may have a tremendous opportunity this summer and next: Can it seize the attention of male basketball fans who may be a bit basketball starved in the wake of the ongoing NBA lockout?
The irony is inescapable. The WNBA owes its existence and its ongoing viability to the support it receives from the NBA. Several of its teams play in NBA arenas with uniforms and nicknames that reflect the local NBA team.
At the 2011 North American Society for Sports Management Conference, the NBA’s sponsorship of the WNBA was lauded as part of the NBA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. The annual subsidy provided the WNBA by the NBA is estimated to be $12 million.
The WNBA is the longest-running, most successful women’s professional sports league. Other women’s pro leagues in basketball, softball and soccer have folded or are on life support. Clearly, the NBA support has made the difference between survival and the scrap heap.
But what does that survival mean to male basketball fans? Is the WNBA a league for families to bring their young daughters to empower womanhood and show the girls that anything is possible? Or, is it a league that is ready to step up and at least challenge Major League Soccer or maybe even the National Hockey League for attention from the typical American male sports fan if the NBA shuts down for awhile?
One long-time basketball fan, Steve Kurzet, 53, of Southern Pines, N.C. says it’s more than a question of quality basketball that separates the WNBA from the NBA and other men’s sports leagues in the eyes of male basketball fans.
“Today’s NBA fans flock to the arenas to see the spectacular…not merely to watch a basketball game,” Kurzet said. “So long as this culture continues, the WNBA will be hard pressed to capture any meaningful numbers from the men’s game and until they can duplicate the excitement and athleticism found in the men’s game it will probably be more rough sledding.
“None of this is to suggest that the women play an inferior game of hoops…far from it,” he continued. “Yet, the fact remains that they can not perform the physical feats and gravity defying aerobatics that men can…and let’s face it, after nearly nine months of NBA basketball, the average fan needs and wants a break from the game.”
Another big male sports fan who also happened to play college basketball, Mitch Shatzen, 54, of Irvine, Calif., admires the WNBA caliber of play but wonders about its general appeal. “It is beautiful to watch. I’m simply not a fan of a particular team or player. There are only so many hours in the day and my time for watching women’s team sports is limited to the Olympics.”
The big downfall of women’s sports in the eyes of male fans, it seems, is that the women just cannot do as much as men on the field or on the court. There is no fiercer competitor than University of Tennessee head women’s basketball coach Pat Summit, but it probably did not help a few years ago when Sports Illustrated did a story about the former boy’s high school players she recruits as practice competition for her top-five varsity team.
Summit advertises on campus to create this practice squad, and according to the article the un-recruited former schoolboy players are able to effectively compete with her elite women’s team.
Mark Charles, 16, a junior baseball player at Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif. may have summed it up best for male sports fans when it comes to the appeal of taking the time to watch a WNBA game. “They can’t run as fast, and they can’t jump as high, so what’s the point of watching them?”