Who Runs the (Sports) World? Girls!

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Andrew Vojt

February 6 marked the National Girls and Women in Sports Day, honoring women who overcame obstacles in their sport and at some point made a difference to their game. With further implementation of Title IX, female participation in high school and collegiate athletics has skyrocketed since the 1970s. Despite this increase, women’s professional sports have failed to generate the same revenue, participation and pay for their athletes as men’s sports. Some sports are closing the gap, but others are still far from achieving the same amount of

attention as their male counterparts. 

Tennis has been the anchor of women’s professional sports. For years, major tournaments have used women in advertisements just as much as men, and women receive around equal coverage for matches. The sport boasts some of the most marketable female athletes in the world, including Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Sharapova is the endorsement queen, acting as the face of Nikon and even releasing her own line of candy. Serena Williams, along with big sis Venus, has inspired more interest in American tennis. With new faces entering the picture, including American Sloane Stephens, competition is becoming fiercer by the tournament. Whether fans will watch is dependent on consistent marketing and coverage by the major sports networks. All four major tournaments are now awarding equal prize money for the respective tournament champions, prompting tennis players like Gilles Simon to air disparaging comments against the

women’s game after a 2012

Wimbledon match. 

“The male players spent twice as long on court at Roland Garros [where the French Open is played in May and earlier this month] as the women. Equality in salaries isn’t something that works in sport … Men’s tennis remains more attractive than women’s tennis at the moment,”

Simon said.

The harsh comments made by Simon brought a dissatisfied response from female

players such as Sloane Stephens, Marion Bartoli, and Sharapova. 

“I’m sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than

[Simon’s],” Sharapova said. 

Women’s tennis is dangerously close to becoming more prominent than the men’s game. With competition increasing, equal pay and a more attractive player pool (it’s more marketable), women’s sports should feed off their tennis popularity to gain prominence in the United States.

For many fans, gymnastics has been the top sport to watch at the Summer Olympics. Every four years, young teenage gymnasts are hounded by camera crews and analyzed to no end, and they become the faces of the Games in the process. 2012 was a golden year for women’s gymnastics, as the formidable crew of Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney took home the gold for the team event. The Olympics was especially kind to Douglas, who won the individual gold medal and became an American hero for quite some time. The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year certainly has more Olympics ahead of her. It won’t be a huge shock if the gold medals are a springboard for increased American support of the sport, even in off-Olympic years. 

Americans have a lazy relationship with the sport of soccer. If it is not World Cup season, the sport seems to be irrelevant. However, the United States Women’s National Team has been a dominant force in world tournaments and always generates a large audience and revenue, whereas the men’s national team is not as popular due to their inadequate showings in the past few World Cups. 

Compared to other professional soccer leagues around the world, the United States has struggled to gain relevancy with its Major League Soccer (MLS), averaging about 19,000 fans per game. Median salary was reported to be about $70,000. For the now defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS), the average salary was said to be about $30,000. The highest paid player, Brazilian superstar Marta Vieira da

Silva, made about 1 to 2 million

dollars a year. For four years, the WPS had trouble maintaining financial stability, and in May 2012 announced it would fold for the 2013 season. With a relatively unknown soccer league in the United States (under 5,000 average attendance per game), the ability for women’s soccer to develop is difficult. There are well-known superstars such as Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, but they are only known for what they have done on the world stage. However, if people maintain support for the National Team, women’s soccer might be able to remain more

popular than men’s soccer.

Unfortunately, the WNBA has not managed to become as popular as the NBA. On major sports networks, the WNBA only receives coverage during the final tournament. The league averages almost 8,000 fans per game for the regular season, and their players average salary is $72,000 a season. The most a WNBA player can make in a season is $105,000. According to ESPN, Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks will make $272,000 – per game. Talk about unequal pay. 

With media coverage, attendance and low pay in comparison to the NBA, this women’s professional league is probably not going to be succesful in the near future.

College basketball has marketable faces such as Baylor University’s Brittney Griner, but like other former collegiate superstars such as Candace Parker and Maya Moore, once she becomes a professional player, she might become irrelevant. The professional state of women’s basketball is rough; however, come Olympics time, fans will likely show their support for the women’s National Team. 

Professional women’s sports leagues in the States are struggling to match up against their male counterparts. Therefore, it would be most lucrative to invest the future of women’s sports in tennis or gymnastics. A feasible alternative to this is to increase the marketing for the world stage in events such as the Olympics or the World Cup. Passionate Americans will watch any sport when their country’s pride on the line. With increased participation in the high school and collegiate level, competition will get better. However, without external support and marketable names, it will be difficult for fans to set women’s sports on an equal level as men’s.