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Share your view on Female Athletes and Marketing on SBS' message board at: Women's Bodybuilding and Sports Marketing

Female Athletes, Sports Marketing, Sex, and Beauty -- by Zennie Abraham

I'll bet you were spurred to read this SBS column because of the great photos of of Female Bodybuilders Amanda Dunbar on the front page and Jody May above , huh?

Gotcha! Now..

Click here to play the Oakland Baseball Simworld. Can you run the business of the Oakland baseball organization?

That's part of the trick, and the point of this exercise: as women athletes and women performing in sports become more and more common, it is as natural as drinking water to expect to see images of athletic strong women to help "move product."

I mean, we've got to sell tickets and simulations, so what's wrong with that?

Well, in some quarters everything is wrong with that.

ABC News recently offered a good article on this very subject. Let's look at what some people had to say to ABC News about women "showing their bodies" while playing sports, or off the field for that matter:

"There's no evidence that it has ever helped a sport to expose women or to sexualize women," says Mariah Nurton, an author who as Mariah Burton Nelson played basketball professionally and for Stanford University.

"It has been tried many times going back to at least Jan Stevenson and Laura Bow in the '70s," she adds. "It didn't help women's golf. In fact, it can become kind of a laughingstock. It, it focuses people's attention on the sexual aspect and clouds the athletic aspect and clouds the athletic aspect.

"Women have always been degraded by being disrobed and that option I think will always be open to women," Nurton says. "And women will be offered a lot of money to take their clothes off. But what happens when they do is they lose respect. It's a mistake for female athletes to go ahead and agree to do that and it can be damaging to all of women's sports when female athletes are seen as sex objects rather than as athletes."

Christine Brennan, a sports columnist for USA Today and a consultant for ABCNEWS, says women's sports need to progress in their marketing approach.

"We seem to be still pandering to the frat house when many viewers of women's sports are 12-year-old girls with their 40-year-old dads," she says.

On top of those views, the Women's Sports Foundation, without question the leading promoter of women's sports in America, came out in force against women using sex or offering any image that could be considered sexual to "sell" their sport.

I'll take this view, to get the debate ball rolling but I do believe it: it's impossible for women to play a sport without a "sexual perspective" being a part of the activity. Someone, male or female, will look at the woman athlete sexually, and therefore pay attention to what they do, and the sport they "do it" in, for that reason.

Even if they don't admit it.

Thus, attempting to stem the presentation of the image of the "sexy woman athlete" is to try to wreck the poster-purchasing desires of not only every man, but also teenage boy, or lesbian woman for that matter.

Opponents of this view claim that there is a "double standard" where men don't have to show their bodies to be considered good at a sport. But that's not a logical argument for several reasons: male athletes like Mark Spitz in his day are commonly featured in "skin" calendars posted on the walls of many a 17-year-old girl.

The poster costs money to buy, and no one ever said that Spitz didn't deserve his gold medals.

The only real double standard at play is one that says "men can; women can't." Let's explore the different variations of this theme:

1) Men can make a lot of money; women can't
2) Men can run corporations; women can't
3) Men can look strong and muscular; women can't
4) Men can be considered sexy and good at sports; women can't

Let's focus on the last point, number four. Of all of the double standards that's the one that -- if permitted to persist -- can wreck the growth of female athletics. How? Well, if a woman is afraid to work out "too much" because they will be considered "less sexy" even if it helps them play a sport better, they will not reach their potential in athletics. Thus, we're robbed of seeing the next Jenny Thompson or Brandy Chastain.

"Hey, wait a minute! Why do I know those names?" You ask?

Because Jenny Thompson, winner of seven -- not one but seven -- Olympic gold medals was criticized for posting in Sports Illustrated with only her fists on her chest and American flag shorts, creating a photo that is arresting to some, shocking to others, and simply "unflagging" to SI:

Jenny Thompson
Olympic Athlete and Future Doctor Jenny Thompson

No one took away her gold, Sports Illustrated sold a lot of copies of that issue, and Ms. Thompson's value on the athletic spokesperson circuit increased, and allowed her to afford med school at Columbia. But that's didn't stop the cries against her action, in fact I can hear them now.

Screams of protest that were also directed at Ms. Chastain for the very spontaneous act of taking off her soccer jersey in celebration of the US Women's World Cup victory. She wasn't naked; the Nike logo on her sports bra was in full view.
Ms. Chastain's action in part led to the launch of the WUSA. It wasn't just her act however, but the idea and image of beautiful, strong, attractive women coming together to win an athletic event when a significant part of the World was watching. Her move, scream, and "strip" encapsulated the energy associated with the event. Where the WUSA failed was in developing a way to bottle and sell that experience. Yes, sex is part of it.

WUSA Star Brandy Chastain

But my argument is that by suggesting that women should not show strong bodies, try to be as strong as men, or be as exposed in the media as men is to effectively blunt the growth of female athletics. In the end, women are relegated to the same "common" roles that some have worked to overcome.

The real problems of bias against women is not in "expression of sexual bodies in the media," but does come in deeper examples on television, as expressed in a paper called "Gender Stereotyping in Televised Media Sport Coverage"

Nathalie Koivula, the author, finds that: "The general results of the present study add to earlier findings that media continues to reinforce the categorization of sports according to traditional views on gender-appropriateness, which in turn affect an individual's attitudes regarding both her or his own, as well as others, sports participation. The general finding from this study and related research is that the news media consistently contributes to the reproduction of traditional expectations of men and women and to the construction of a social stratification that enhances and naturalizes gender differences."

Ms. Koivula observes that such subtle habits as calling women athletes by their first name (Anna) where male athlete are called by their last name (Jordan), "causing the marginalization of women athletes, especially in sports regarded as masculine, and failing to give significant coverage to women's sports on news telecasts are the underpinnings of the true bias against women's sports."

Focusing on hiding women's bodies: asking Brandy to "cover up" next time, or preventing Anna from making videos is not going to save women's sports. Indeed, in the rampant world wide chase for the eyeballs of the consumer, acts like those may not only save women's sports, but cause it to explode.

There is already substantial evidence of this. According to the NCAA:

"The proportion of females competing in Division I intercollegiate athletics increased to 40 percent in 1997-98, up from 37 percent in 1996 and 31 percent in 1992. The average number of female participants per university increased from 130 in 1996 to 158 in 1998."

Some may point to Title IX legislation, but (not to diminish the importance of that legislation) logically having women's sports programs in place does not guarantee that women will participate in those programs.

The reason for this increase is simply women athletes have been seen more and more on television from 1982 to 1998 (due to the advent of cable television, which brought ESPN, Fox Sports, and the Regional Sports Network concept) and the women who have gotten this exposure have done so primarily via college sports. Indeed, there are still so few professional sports opportunities for women that college programs, particularly for basketball, have effectively took the place of pro sports programs in TV exposure.

One exception that must be noted here surrounds the success of alpine skier Picabo Street. Called "the greatest downhill skier in the World" by some, Street has combined a competitive killer instinct, great looks, and supreme marketing. Still Street's heroics would not have been noticed by as many people were it not for the advance of sports on television.

Picabo Street

Still, Street excels because she's good. Very good. Indeed, while she's been able to capitalize on her looks, she hasn't went to extreme measures to do so. But there's no doubting, or hiding, her appearance. It does sell. She has a wholesome look and "girl next door" sex appeal that sponsors from Sprint to Budweiser pay for.

I think what's lost here in the total discussion (and powerful emotions sometimes expressed) is that athletes in general command endorsement dollars. There are two ways to gain more earnings: being good or being sexy. If one can combine both and draw the public's attention, they win a special place in American pop culture and the fiscal returns to show for it.

In my view, there's nothing that can be done to change this dynamic in our society. It will always be a part of the fabric of the business of sports in America and around the World, and will only intensify as communications technology improves.

The question is how do we create an approach that makes more money for women athletes? We can't go with what I call "The business of cultural denial." It's costing women's sports, and creating a limit to its growth within the sports industry.

If it continues, we will see the death of what has been a "Golden Age" of women's sports. Already, we've lost the WUSA, the WNBA is being restructured, and major Women's Bodybuilding events have been cancelled and the IFBB (a sanctioning body that should be challenged by a women-only organization) recently imposed a rule limiting how much muscle a woman can gain. No one is seriously -- seriously -- working to form a new women's league in any sport. Without action, we will see a contraction of professional sports opportunities for women within the next five years.

Women who look strong, play sports, and show their muscularity must be considered the norm if women's sports are to grow beyond current levels. Otherwise, the glass ceiling may already have been reached. Advertisers, event planners, corporations, and agents can all gain in this practice.

Female athletes, like Professional Triathlete Rachel Sears who my firm, Sports Business Simulations, Inc. sponsors, win a huge number of events, but who's going to know if they don't get exposure?

Pro Triathlete Rachel Sears

This holds new avenues for sports marketers, provided they can successfully produce an argument to corporations that women athletes are bankable. To do this, more -- not less -- male mainstream eyeballs must be captured. To offer proof of this point, the magazine Sports Illustrated for Women was recently cancelled. The reason given by some sources is that its content was targeted at a female audience, rather than both male and female groups of casual "sports consumers."

The problem is that women's sports and women's sports content can't count on an exclusively female audience to consistently pay the bills. An approach that appeals to both men and women is the key.

For those who object to this approach, I ask this question: why can't we find ways to funnel the extra money gained from this new level of exposure I call for into fiscal support for women's sports at the high school and college level? Heck, why not pros too? There may be so much money gained, one could resurrect the WUSA.

OK. I've had my say. It's your turn. Click here EMail your comment to SBS and share your view with our audiience!

Zennie Abraham
Chairman and CEO
Sports Business Simulations

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Zennie, I think we can all agree that sex sells. I also think we can argue until the cows come home about whether that is a good thing or not for society. But that isn't the point. Women's sports are interesting in and of themselves, in the sense that they are reasonable competitions subject to certain entry constraints. I would argue that, those constraints (no men, eg.) not withstanding, that is not what is keeping womens sports from being marketed as successfully as mens in general. In many cases, it is a matter of timing. Mens sports have had a long time to get a historical foothold, and whatever we see today is the result of passing of a lot of failures before. That womens sports equivalent are not as successful is no surprise in this context - most of the mens organizatins in a sport were failures too. Next, I think it is a fallacy that womens leagues (or mens) can intantly be created and achieve Major League (or the equicalent) status in the public's eye just because they are there. Take basketball for example - I think the men's CBA is no better off then any womens league past or present, economically speaking. Finally, it is not fair to lump all womens or all mens sports together with broad sweeping statements. More to the point is the business model regarding the governace and promotion of the individual sport and/or leagues. some work better then others, and then only for some sports in some places. Lacrosse is a good example. It is now growing rapidly, possibly as rapidly as soccer in the US (although stil smaller). Given hockey's missteps (avoided at least by the NBA today), and the lack of soccer to gain a foothold, it is fair to ask - could the interest of kids today in playing, and watching the college game, be translated into a true major league in the future? It has been tried before and failed, and is arguably in the process of failing again. But is the right structure in place? Maybe the promotion/relgation of soccer (described in Zimbalist's "National Pastime") is a more organic way to set it up. Or maybe a hybrid. would work. My point is, that marketing on sex is a (pardon the pun) cosmetic approach when the entire economic structure of the sport is not right. And that is not to say that just because there is a sport, there is a way to make a industry out of it. The US and other National markets are so huge, the investments in time and money and development so great and results so uncertain, our economies so complex and specialized, it just may not work at all no matter what. Due to advanced and speedy communication methodsand short attention span, it is hard to develop regional sports and grow them. Sucess has to be measured on a national scale. This is what makes lacrosse such an interesting case - we are witnessing the beginnings of potentially supernova growth of the last remaining regional sport onto a national stage after more then 100 years of organinc, gentlemanly growth (with international seeds already in place too). What emerging business models in the 21st century will be created to bridge the individual and team achievements through multiple layers of spectatorship and media in order to drive an economic engine? It is not clear, and it is not clear that any that do emerge will be able to compete with the strongholds already in place. But it is going to be fun trying! /Barry (at) productmanagementdepartment.com

June 23, 2005 by Barry Caplan

Re: Miss Patrick Can I just say once again I am so very disappointed to see yet another woman unable to be fully successful at what she does until she exploits and exposes herself putting women as usual first and foremost sex objects -- why? Why can't they just be great athletes, actresses, whatever -- sex seems to always be part of the deal. What would become of a great upcoming male athlete that said "Yeah! I'm making it to the big leagues -- time to pose for PLAYGIRL!--yeahâ right. It’s a vicious cycle that you’d think society would eventually evolve through. Yeah, yeah, talent and beauty-- that's old news. We all know there's really no longer a typical stereotype for anything -- do these women think they have to prove something, maybe have so little self esteem that somehow getting this kind of attention on this grand scale is a positive thing, or is it still the business keeping us down and saying, this is how you make it? You’ll never be anything with out sex appeal -- so very old. This is no different than sleeping with the boss to get a raise. Helloooo! Show yourself a little respectâ and the world at large. Do they really think this has no effect on the rest of the women in the worldâ and the future generations. HOW REFRESHING IT WOULD BE TO SEE A BEAUTIFUL TALENTED FEMALE BE A SUCCESS AND HEAR ABOUT HOW SHE REFUSED TO BE SEXUALLY EXPLOITED BY THE MEDIA. And in response to whether or not this has a positive impact on women athletes -- what if it DIDâ Its not right. What's the old saying "cut of your nose to spite your face?!? SEX/SEXUALLITY SHOULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYONES SUCCUSS IN THIS LIFE -- UNLESS YOUR IN THE PORN INDUSTRYâ OBVIOUSLY. An unrealistic dream I know -- but I'm holdin' on to it, and will do all I can to support it. Thanks for listening. NaG

June 10, 2005 by grifzieg@hotmail.com

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May 24, 2005 by qnfgt4

I am a collegiate athlete and a woman. The media has opened a door that has lead to the advancement of female athletics. Female athletes, in the past have been seen as manly, hairy, lesbian, and non-feminine which is definately not the case. Lets face it, in our society sex sells. If enabling a female athlete to be seen in a sexual light puts some asses in the seats then more power to it. We are tired of being egnored and if wearing a more form-fitted uniform or some make-up brings some fans to the games with the slight possiblility that they will actualy watch the game may shine the light on women and thier athletic capabilities

March 14, 2005 by female athlete

well i personally have my own idea of how much tone i like, and regardless of if it's a little or a lot i don't see why women can't be strong and beautiful... why there can't be different views of beauty ... so i say more power to you and other female athletes!

January 26, 2005 by Soul

Who the hell is Zennie?

One of the most talented and beautufil female athletes is Nikki Gugliotta, whoh was a cross-country runner at NC State, a 1994 World Duathlon Champion, and a professional cyclist. She was married to Tom Gugliotta, PF for the Utah Jazz. She's been in Sports Illustrated a few times. Anybody know her?

July 16, 2004 by Anonymous

OK, so here's the info on the "Body Image" project I'm doing (it's actually more than 2 paragraphs). Feel free to email me back with feedback too. BODY IMAGE What traditional media has portrayed as the ideal female form is changing. The fit and muscular female physique is coming of age, and although it may not ever become the standard, more and more women are training with weights and daring to define their own self-images. Women are empowered to reshape their own bodies and in the process, redefine what it means to be a woman. In the past there was a certain connotation of what 'femininity' meant. As Webster???s defines it now, it is ???the quality or nature of the female sex.??? Accordingly, every woman is feminine by default. However, the word often includes visions of soft skin and bodies, among other things. In today???s society, women are choosing to define femininity on their own terms, pushing its boundaries and expanding people???s perceptions. On the forefront of the physical culture of femininity are those who have sculpted their bodies outside of the ???soft??? feminine form, and here we will examine what drives them, and how they are defining their own Body Image. Questions to answer include: - Why someone decides to build their physiques, especially in context of how it may be seen as ???un-feminine,' etc. - Do you feel more sexy and 'womanly' as a result of your training? - Are there other things that drive you to do it? Answers will be depicted through an exhibition showcasing photography that pushes perspectives from direct portraiture to physique landscapes. Non-traditional ways of displaying femininity as well as notes and background information will also be provided. If successful, the contents could be bound into a print piece or book. Raising awareness and posing questions challenging the body ideal will be the goals of this project.

January 22, 2004 by gene x

This is a great thread that I just happened to stumble along doing research on a photo project I am working on tentatively called "Body Image" that examines the evolving female physique portrayed in the media and especially the muscular female form and how it challenges it. I've been struggling with different angles to work the project and you all have some great points in this discussion. I realize money drives most business decisions in the end, so as a creative person I will do my part to push the norms. But the subject of sexuality seems to always be there, and my point of view is to show the perspective from the athletes themselves. Anyhow, if any of you all are interested, I can send the two paragraphs I have on the project so far for input/critique... I can also post it here. gene

January 21, 2004 by genex

An eloquent take, Drew. I understand your desire to "take a step back" but what I'm pointing out is: 1) Women's sports -- except tennis -- aren't making money. 2) The sports that are suffering do not use the tried and true approach of "product differentiation" to separate what they do from men's sports. This is true for basketball. 3) Incorporating this differentiation will lead to a more recognizable women's game. 4) Part of this is to focus on the attractive perspective of the athletes. That's not done now. Again, I place this point made to people who are having a hard problem in business: "If you like what you're getting, keep doing what you're doing." I think we all agree on the scoring list. THANKS!!!!!

January 17, 2004 by Zennie

I don't disagree with what you are saying, in the sense that, yes, these sorts of advertising campaigns are taking place and will continue to do so. So, it's not an issue of denial when you hear me voicing against a concentrated sexualization of any athlete, including women, or their athletic audiences. And I'm far from trying to jump on a moral high-horse here. But, don't we have to ask ourselves what, in blindly riding sex, in this case as it pertains to sports marketing, particularly women's, what the over-arching manifestations of such a methodology might be? Sex will never be far from our minds, advertisers know this, and, apart from a few monks out there, most of us acknowledge this at some level; but do we not have a responsibility as upright-walking, cognitive beings to ascribe to some kind of foresight-based thinking? To me, it seems that the overt sexualizing of sports melds two forms of entertainment, the stripclub and sports field, that perhaps ought not be blended, at least, under the pretext of sport. I'm not pitching pinko politics here, or shooting for a manifesto on the future of humanity, but should we possibly consider how such advertising schemes might prove so divisive and carnal, that eventually they rear their bare asses in a viewing public that can't wipe the drool from their chins? However fat our pocketbooks get, the beauty of sport, and, in all actuality, the many facets into which our recreational lives are broken down, from art, to sports, to pornography, to model choo-choo trains, is that it takes us away, whether as viewer or participant, to a singular place of familiarity, a place the said facets historically have not--and, perhaps, should not--breached. I ask this: are there any responsibilities the media need adhere to, if not altogether formulate for their product, which transacts more with most of us than we interact with one another? I simply don't see many of these suggestions as "good" for us, or the ever-blurring infrastructures with which we organize our lives, our own templets, which, I believe, are so essential to leading an existence that can replenish itself by delving into whichever recreational facet one needs and to depart the other. I can barely imagine the collective, nightmarish anxieties we'll share in a fully homogenized world fed to us by our current, unchecked or unreflective media culture. So, I guess as we continue to discuss these often innovative and likely marketable ideas and strategies, I'm just asking that we take breathers from looking straight ahead and maybe peak around the edges of where our respective ideas might take us--apart, for just a second, the monetary. Now, rather than roll your eyes at the bleeding liberal few consider me--including the voting registry--ponder the widely agreed upon notion that the best strategies are the most well thought out. However unemployable/applicable these views may be, I don't believe it's injurious for them to be recognized and I do believe there's room for the pragmatic tycoon to take most things into account while remaining on the road, in all its forms, to success.

January 17, 2004 by Drew

I had lunch today with a gentleman who's job it is to market radio and TV personalities (are you reading this Rachel Sears?) and works mostly with women who were athletes. We got together to talk about this very problem of marketing women's sports, as well as how we can work together. He's worked (and works) with such organizations as Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and others, like KNBR 68 here in the SF Bay Area. He totally agrees with my take on the problem of marketing women's sports, as well as the basic problem of a "fear" of selling looks and performance. It's nice and great to talk about how men should look at women's sports just for the sport alone. But the reality is that doesn't happen. It seems its the age old problem of "nature vs. nuture" where we seem to try to take basic natural instinct out of the equation. The simple fact is that men are attracted to women. You can't just extract that fact from the marketing problem. Yet, people try. Often with hilarious results. It's really funny to me how some try to claim that women's sports should be marketed without sex, as if that's the norm in society. My goodness, anything could be further from the truth. American business has used sex to sell products for decades, or perhaps a century. Actually people have used sex to sell products for our entire existence. But my focus is in this era featuring this amazing boom in communications technology. I remember Jordache Jeans, and their commercials featuring a woman's "tush" tightly covered by their snug pants. Or what about the advertising of thong fashion? It's attractive to women who want to draw the attention of men. And today, that form of dress is the norm, thanks to this sex-oriented product sales and design approach. What about the mainstreaming of "soft sexy" magazines like Maxim and Esquire? Oh, and they have their competitors. Even women's fitness magazines like Oxygen are formed to attract the attention of men; it seems safe to assume that men want to see a hard, cut female body. So, the magazine sells. What about the numerous product sales messages that have sexual undertones, and yet are presented to us every day of our life in America? Come on, people. It's really confusing -- I could use a harsher word, but that's out of bounds for this blog -- to say 'We want people to see women's sports, but leave the sex out of it, yet sell other products by using sex to get our attention, and that activity generally involves women in a photograph or some racy commercial. This society must stop kidding itself. We have a growing number of "porn studies" programs on college classes, sex-ed, and more "R" rated movies than existed when I was 14 years old. We've even got mainstream movies with women doing things that are very normal in the course of life from a sex standpoint, but not something you'd ever thought one would see in a theater that doesn't show "X"-rated movies. Flicks like "Secretary" and "In The Cut" are simply graphic. And don't look now, but there are more movies being released that are just as hot. So, I think the people who attempt to make this great and noble arguement that women's sports must be "sold" without a sexual angle must take a step back and exact a hard and honest look at their society. Don't start an ad agency and run it such that you want to do this, because while your employees will agree with your desireable attempt to "de-sex" women's athletics, when the ad campaign fails and the firm is fired from the account, they're not going to hold you in high regard anymore as they cash their unemployment checks. Sex sells, and increasingly it's being sold to a younger group of people according to ABC Newws. (See:http://abcnews.go.com/sections/business/DailyNews/Ramos_adultproducts_020612.html What about men's sports? Well, don't forget that there are women who want to see men in action, and will pay to do so. About 40 percent of NBA attendance is female. When the Minnesota Timberwolf's Wally Zcerbiack (I misspelled his last name) stared in a poster that showed his bare chest, the document flew off the stadium shop shelfs, and made him a target for every opponent he would have to guard. But, the poster gained him as much press and attention as New Orleans Saints Wide Receiver Joe Horn's cell phone trick. Look, sex sells. It's not only a part of our business approach, it's place in it is only going to become more prevalent with the growth of Wifi communications. Remember the commercial showing what you can do with a cell phone that transmits pictures? The one where they showed a guy using the phone to catch another dude cheating on his girlfriend? The one where she tosses his clothes out of the window, as he's making out with the other girl in the hallway? Remember that? See? I knew you would.

January 16, 2004 by Zennie

Keith, To respond to your earlier comment, in which you described yourself as a sports addict who only follows women's sports if they are somehow integrated into men's - I am interested in what you might someday suggest to your own daughter if she were to seek your advise for how to get people interested in her athletic abilities. Would it still be "Shake what your mama gave you?". Just because something might "work" to advance a cause, doesn't mean it is the proper choice. And, in the case of Female Athletes, Economics, and Beauty, I don't believe women can bank on their looks alone to gain true fans and loyal audiences- which, male or female, are what pay the bills and create incentive for media promotion. I do believe that there is money to be made by female athletes who expose themselves more to/in the media. However, this seems very short-sighted as far as truly advancing women's sports in a meaningful and sustainable way. I'm not against a female athlete selling her sexuality if she elects to. However, while this may improve the economic situation for the individual woman, what is it really doing to create advances in women's sports? I think very little. Zennie suggests that advertising the sexuality of female athletes will draw the attention of male viewers. Even if this works on a large scale, it still simply results in men turning (briefly) to women's sports to satify "other" desires, not those of the sports watching kind. I just don't see how this helps women's sport grow as a whole or as a business. To me, indications of meaningful advancements in women's sports would be: - All male groups electing to attend/watch a women's game or athletic event - The ability of the general sports fan population, male AND female, to be able to name the starting five or major players in professional female leagues and college teams for the Big 3 money-makers in male sports(football, baseball, basketball). To achieve these, women's sports have to be marketed more extensively, and at a level that is more than skin-deep. Yes, sex sells. A male viewer may stop clicking at his remote when he sees a Brandi Chastain type running along a soccer field. But if a sexy woman is all he is after, and he hasn't developed a direct attraction to the women's game itself, I suspect there are other channels that may better serve the above forementioned desires. Besides, for all the men that CLAIM to be sports addicts and that men play better than women: Some of the very best, most exciting and amazing female athletes are simply not good looking. Sexual marketing leaves them out. And if you really are a sports fan, don't you want to at least pay a bit of attention to the cream of the crop in the women's game? Perhaps they have caught up more than you think, but apparently unless they are good looking, you wouldn't have noticed.

January 15, 2004 by Erin Vranas, SBS Personality

Unfortunately Keith, television does dictate how we think, and in reflection it's a mirror on social norms and patterns. Focus groups are used to test pilot shows. Advertisers want to know who's watching what...and why? The typical sports marketing professional understands one fact: the need to draw attention. That's why such shows as "American Gladiator" were so popular for a time. They were the first programs to openly show athletic women playing "action games" -- what some would call a sport, but that's left to question. Remember, we're talking about a simple problem: women's sports don't draw enough eyeballs to command sponsorship and television rights fee dollars. The basic solution to the problem clashes with our Puritan ethic in American Society. The more complicated approach 'just plays with the ethic' instead of attacking it head on. In other words, it's not that men "play the game better" because that definition is left to question. In todays world, eyeballs rule. People are simply used to watching men play, and want to see "something different" as a friend said, when watching women.

January 15, 2004 by Zennie

Better is not a matter of form, but of results. Eric Dickerson still holds the single season record for most yards rushing, yet was often criticized for his upright running. Coaches complained that Dickersons upright style was a sign of laziness, yet Dickerson's record has stood for nearly 20 years. The very style of running that Dickerson had, was seen again when Michael Johnson won two golds and set new world records in the 200 and 400. Both runners, from different sports, used odd and bizarre styles of running to set records. An upright stance with their head back created an almost cartoonish look in comparison to their respective contemporaries. So what's more important, style or effectiveness. Neither Johnson, nor Dickerson won over crowds with their style, but rather, their numbers. Same effect when discussing Men's and Women's basketball. Women do play a purer game, relying on screens, cuts and set plays. Men dunk, block shots and score 100 points a night. Further, men move faster. It is not television that is deciding what we are watching, but effectiveness.

January 14, 2004 by Keith D.

Hey Drew, Freud was not far from my mind on this one. I think it could be said that the entire subject of how we react to women athletes and women's sports is Freudian. What's interesting is how we as a society dance around the issue, rather than deal with it head on. As proof? Look at the proposal for the resurrection of the WUSA. More on that soon.

January 12, 2004 by zennie

This is getting soooo freudian. But hey, I claim dibs on Long Beach's women's pro tackle football league coverage next year.

January 12, 2004 by Drew

I agree with Keith's comments, to a point. I'm not even sure that people would flock to see women's basketball more than men's basketball if they just played better than the men. The reason for this, first, is in the definition of what "better" is. What does that mean? Some contend that women already play a better style of basketball, one that's more 'purist.' I think the real problem is simply what we're used to seeing on TV. We are conditioned by what is shown to us to except the men's game. That is, if the women's game were shown to us more often, we would expect to see it. But to have that happen calls for a major change in our cultural and business expectations. And that's at the center of it. Sports is the one industry directly impacted by, and having an effect on, our culture. Few other industries can make that claim. A new airplane is rolled out, but it does not impact how we travel. A new league is established, and it has influnce over what we watch, and what athletes we're aware of. And that's just for starters.

January 10, 2004 by zennie

Women's sports cannot sell if the only selling point is athleticism. People want to see the best or the sexiest and no matter how many moral arguments are made that this is wrong, and it probably is, sex sells and the best sells. I am a sports addict. I watch, read, play and live sports on a daily basis. And I don't watch or read about women's sports, unless the woman is in a man's field. Such as next weekend when Michelle Wie tees it up with the men at the Sony Open. And on a personal note, I will root for Michelle for she holds the key to Women's membership at Augusta, and not Hootie or Martha Burk. The point is that I want to see the best in the world and men currently hold that position. Take the number one player gender wise of any sport and ask, who would you rather watch? Say Allen Iverson or Chimiqua Holdsclaw. Place them in a bikini and you may find a different answer. But a bikini, unlike athleticism, turns on gender. I choose who to watch due to their ability and it happens to be men who have the ability. I will continue to watch if women post up Yao or cross over Lebron, but it will be the NBA that I am watching and not the WNBA. Joe Horn. Joe Horn scored four touchdowns a few weeks ago and pulled a cell phone out from under the goalpost pad and called his children and then his mother to celebrate. While I have ridiculed his actions on my blog on www.sportsbusinesssims.com, Horn did this for noteriety. Horn was featured on ESPN, and countless other sports media sites, for over a week. Other receivers around the NFL were asked how to one up Horn. Eric Moulds of the Buffulo Bills even stated the Horn stole his idea. Regardless, Horn created noteriety for himself and the NFL. Outside the rules, yes. Stupid, yes. Self Serving, without a doubt. News Worthy, obviously. The point is that Joe Horn used a Cell phone and not his four touchdown catches to get on sports shows around the country. So when asked if women should sell sex to gain noteriety, hell yes. As the song goes, "shake what your mama gave you." Athletes careers are shorter than non-athletes. You have a window of maybe 10 years to make what most people will make in 40 years. To that note, an athlete should do what they can, including posing in Playboy, to capitalize upon their athletic acheivements. To come full circle in my rambling reasons of not watching women's sports due to inferiority, I offer my own inferiority in a personal, yet all too well known, story. I have played basketball since I was a little kid. I played high school, won an intermural championship in college and have been playing in a very competitive league over the past three years. The league featured past and current division one players and pros who have played in Europe and in the NBDL. There is dunking, behind the back passing and three point shooters. My team has been unable to get any sort of fan base. My team does have a base from which to draw including our wives, fiances, girlfriends and bestfriends. For instance, my fiance has seen one game in three years. And she loves basketball. She even watches the Golden State Warriors on a weekly basis and they stink. She loves me. She doesn't love anyone on the Warriors (seems to miss Antawn Jamison a lot though). Yet she doesn't watch me play... Why? Cause, we are not the best available. If you want that, you watch the NBA!

January 9, 2004 by Keith D.

Hey Erin, Thanks for the commentary and question. What I meant by "the business of cultural denial" is an apparent attempt by some advocates of women's sports to ignore the fact that male fans are as important to the fiscal survival of women's sports, as "moms and daughters attending events" as some have said. I think those advocates of this position maintain it because deep down they know that to some degree the "sexual" aspect of women's sports must be presented to draw the common male consumer of sports product. In other words, by ignoring the male consumer, there is a denial of a basic cultural dynamic that drives our society and gender relations -- the fact that men are physically attracted to women. It is the desire of some to pay no attention to this, or to criticize it, that is at the center of the overall problem with the promotion of women's sports today. It's an undeniable truth that a better level of play in sports attracts more viewers. But if one reads blogs on the subject of women in sports from a common, randomly selected, male point of view, the posts are unfortunate, and in some cases angrily attack the look and appearance of women athletes. Then there are the comments of sports radio personalities, like Jim Rome. He routinely denounces the WNBA, and seemed almost overjoyed that the WUSA ceased to exist. It would be great to hear one advocate of women's sports. The only voice I've heard is that of ex-NBA player Rick Barry. But even he seems to buy into the "denial" problem, attacking any male caller on his show who dares to say anything other than "women should be looked at for how they play the game, and nothing else -- like physical apperance." It's a nice desire, but impossible to achieve. Meanwhile women's sports go wanting for dollars, and some university presidents openly complain that they're being forced to have women's sports programs by the NCAA. That's terrible; college executives should want to have these programs, and think of creative ways to support them. The real battle is for the eyes and mind of the male sports consumer. Like it or not, that's the key to the success of women's sports. Duke's upset of Number One-ranked U-Conn is a great example of the need to draw male viewers, and the formula they offer: good basketball played by smart, attractive women at the top of their collegiate game, monetarily backed and agressively promoted by their universities, and featured on television. The crowd estimate for that game was over 16,600 people -- a sellout. Most of audience was male.

January 5, 2004 by Zennie

Great article Zennie! You covered a lot of ground. One statement I would like more clarification on is 'the business of cultural denial'. If you could expand on it, that would be helpful. I believe Mariah Nurton is incorrect when she states, "there's no evidence that it has ever helped a sport to expose women or to sexualize them." I agree with you that, "by suggesting that women should not show strong bodies, try to be as strong as men, or be exposed in the media like men is to effectively blunt the growth of female athletes." And that, "Women who look strong, play sports, and show their muscularity must be considered the norm if women's sports are to grow beyond current levels." And for this to happen, Women in sports must have equal media coverage and representation as Men in sports. And though you might believe society's stereotypes and belief systems will not change, I think they can. It takes time, and work, and more images like Thompson's and Chastain's to push and challenge the situation. I think one great way to help change the situation would be to continue to publish photographs along with articles here at Sports Business Simulations. Thanks for the article Zennie :)

January 5, 2004 by Erin Alders

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