I’m not sure which was the US women’s soccer team’s bigger triumph this year: winning it all in the World Cup again, or news that they’ve recently overtaken the less-fortunate men’s side in total revenue. After another exciting run cap by the first parade down NYC’s Canyon of Heroes since the Giants won it all clear back in 2012, light bulbs began turning on over heads at the other women’s leagues.
Why just sit there and accept second-banana status behind the men?
Now, you can’t talk long about women’s sports long before some conservative chimes in with one of their patented Punchable Smirks: “But women just are worse at sports than men.”
And, you know what? It’s true! If you look at the raw numbers, men can run faster, hit harder, throw farther and jump higher. Serena Williams herself, arguably the most famous American tennis star of either gender, conceded the incredibly obvious point:
“The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder. It’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
So that’s that. Since men can easily beat a comparable women’s team, there’s no reason to watch women’s sports, except that reasoning falls apart when you also realize any college football team would get absolutely massacred by the worst team in the NFL. Even Clemson or ‘Bama would get rolled by the lowly Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills or Hue Jackson-era Cleveland Browns. Same thing with Duke or Kansas men’s basketball squaring off against the clown-show Knicks.
I guess nobody watches college sports then, right?
There is a major opportunity here, as the USWNT has proven decisively.
One of the perennial challenges of men’s sports has been attracting female viewers, especially those who aren’t just supporting their husband’s fandom. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, women’s sports has had the reverse problem. The WNBA can’t figure out how to put male eyes on screens or male asses in seats. But another problem: they don’t get enough female fans to make up the difference, perhaps because women aren’t interested in basketball to begin with. But there’s no reason for them to naturally care about soccer either, and the USWNT has taken care of the fan gap quite nicely by dominating the sport (as the US men regularly faceplant). They’ve built a fandom that will last, even after the Rapinoe squad fades into memory. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve got girls interested in the sport. Youth involvement in sports, besides generating more talent over time, also generates more viewership — if you played baseball as a kid, you’ll be more likely to watch MLB as an adult than the average chess club member. In my opinion, girls playing tennis remains the biggest reason for women’s tennis’ unique legacy in this country for being at least in the neighborhood of their male counterparts in terms of viewership.
Other women’s leagues — basketball, golf, hockey and, yes, Legends Football (whose players play hard despite the Hooter’s-approved outfits) can learn from the USWNT, get adult viewers, and more importantly, get girls into the sport, maybe from some combination of exciting dynasty teams (think UConn), better marketing, and the best players getting the Serena-level coverage they deserve. Tennis and now soccer prove there’s no reason for the women’s side to lag behind, any more there’s any reason for college football fandom to fall behind the pros.