Why Women's Sports Get So Little Attention

Sep 30, 2015
Originally published on October 26, 2015 3:42 pm

You may not know that the WNBA finals begin this weekend. It's probably fair to say that if it were the NBA you would know.

More people pay attention to men's sports than women's sports, and one reason for that is inertia. Women are pretty new to big-time sports — and perhaps the media haven't caught up with them.

Also, there aren't that many women's team sports. Lots of people tune in to watch Serena Williams play tennis, and this summer, swimmer Katie Ledecky got a lot of attention — but they play individual sports.

Hear Frank Deford's take on other reasons why women's sports don't have the same kind of following as men's.

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The Women's NBA finals are coming up this weekend. That's news to you? You hadn't heard about them? It's probably fair to say that if it were the NBA - the men's basketball finals - you would know. So why the difference between the attention paid to men's sports and women's sports? We're going to pursue that question with our commentator, Frank Deford. Hi, Frank.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Hi. How are you, Steve?

INSKEEP: I'm doing fine. Thanks very much. Why would there be such a difference, come to think of it?

DEFORD: I think there are a lot of reasons for it, but one of them is simply inertia. We've covered things one way for so long. Women are pretty new to big-time sports, and perhaps the media hasn't caught up with them.

INSKEEP: And we're not just talking about media attitudes but media infrastructure. There is so much set up to cover the NFL all throughout the culture, and there's no equivalent on the women's side.

DEFORD: You're absolutely right. Particularly this time of year, football just demands so much coverage - not just the pros, but college and even high school in the smaller newspapers. It's difficult for anybody to get coverage. In the case of the Women's NBA, they play it in the summer. The championship is now. It's not basketball season. If I were the commissioner of the WNBA, the first thing I would do would be to go to Las Vegas and try to get them to establish a betting line. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: It is already possible to bet on WNBA games.]

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DEFORD: I'm serious. I mean, particularly now that you have fantasy sports, where people are betting all the time.

INSKEEP: Oh, now, I love hearing you say this because we were reporting just the other day on fantasy sports and how you can wager money online on these fantasy teams. And one of the reasons that the leagues themselves have become involved in investing in this is that they believe this makes their fans more committed.

DEFORD: There you are. Another problem is there aren't that many women's team sports. You look at the Women's World Cup in soccer, it got a tremendous amount of coverage. Good grief, I mean, it really led to coverage for a week or so. But once it was over, there was no carryover. There was no women's soccer league to go on and to pick up that attention. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In fact, there is a National Women's Soccer League with teams in nine cities. Whether the attention paid to the World Cup will give the league a boost is not yet known.] Most of the women athletes that you know are in individual sports. For example, Serena Williams has not exactly gone uncovered.

INSKEEP: But our general trend here seems to be undisputable. Of course, there's the Ryder Cup in golf. I pay attention to that when the men's golfers are playing the United States against Europe. Somebody mentioned on the way into this interview that the women's version of that happened the other day. I totally missed it.

DEFORD: Women do better when they compete with the men - and tennis is the sport that's used that to its best advantage - when men and women compete side-by-side, not against each other but, you know, the women's championship goes along with the men's championships. And the same thing happens in the Olympics. The worst thing that ever happened to women's sports was when they changed the figure skating scoring and made it too complicated for anybody to understand...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DEFORD: Because figure skating was the one sport that women watched more than men. And, you know, people aren't going to like me for saying this, but I don't think that women have supported women's sports enough. I think that's the real thing. If you have women going out to see women's games, then that will drive the attention.

INSKEEP: OK, so I'm thinking about your prescriptions here, Frank Deford - simpler scoring systems for figure skating.

DEFORD: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Women should try to attend more sporting events.

DEFORD: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: And Las Vegas betting lines - there should be some money on this, some vigorish.

DEFORD: That would be three steps in the right direction. And the fourth one would be for women to play more team sports as opposed to individual sports so that they get leagues, just like the men have in large numbers.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

DEFORD: Thank you, Steve. Good talking to you.

INSKEEP: Comments from Frank Deford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.