In 2006, the New York Times reported that the NBA wanted more women to follow basketball. The league went so far as to advertise in a variety of women’s magazines during the NBA Finals.
Fast forward to 2019 and things have certainly changed with professional sports franchises and female fans. While female athletes are fighting for equality on the playing field and court, it seems female fans have found a place in stadiums and arenas around the United States and Canada. Or have they?
Powered by Female Fans
The Canadian Association of the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) has called on “Canadian sport leaders to make 2019 a banner year for gender equity, especially in sport leadership”. According to CAAWS, the national level of sport is making steady progress towards equality in Canada.
The steady improvement has been helped by initiatives such as Maple Leafs & Entertainment’s Powered by Female Fans program. The initiative is a part of MLSE’s three professional sports franchises’ (Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Football Club, and Toronto Raptors) plans to get women more involved in their respective games. MLSE launched the Powered by Female Fans contest in February giving sports enthusiasts the chance to win tickets to Maple Leafs or Raptors game.
International Women’s Day wasn’t just about celebrating female fans. It was also about discussing the issues that female athletes face. The CBC held the Women in Sports: Educate, Celebrate, Inspire panel. It discussed a variety of problems girls and young women in the sports world incur. The panel brought together women with athletes, coaches, and sports executives.
Inequality in sport still prevails
International Women’s Day may have celebrated female fans and athletes, yet there were still some who see a wide gap in inequality between men’s and women’s sports. In the U.S., the women’s national soccer team continues to fight for equal pay with the men’s team. The revenue between the men’s and women’s game is at the heart of the difference, according to insiders. However, the gap between the sides’ trophy cabinets shows the women’s team deserves far more than what they receive.
Even U.S. head coach Jill Ellis is paid less than the country’s men’s under-20 coach Tab Ramos. In fact, Ellis is just the 10th highest paid coach in the U.S. soccer set-up with nine men ahead of her.
It isn’t just the U.S. women’s soccer team struggling for equality. The WNBA, which has been around for over 20 years, is still struggling to carve out a niche audience. Women are more likely to be fans of the NBA’s product than the WNBA’s brand of basketball. Much of this is due to the NBA’s marketing. WNBA players are also paid far less than their male counterparts.
History and long-term fans
The Maple Leafs’ Powered by Female Fans video on Facebook gave a snapshot of just why it is difficult to get female fans to back the WNBA. History and family ties have led many female fans to support one team. That team just happens to be a male sports team.
Fathers and mothers pass down allegiance to long-standing sports teams like the Maple Leafs. It is difficult to come from a city like Toronto with the history of the hockey club and not support the team.
MLSE’s Powered by Female Fans initiative again shows the importance of bringing women to games. But it also shows the gulf in equality for female athletes and their male counterparts. While professional sports franchises are looking out for women and making their gameday experience great, the same cannot be said for female athletes.