In a continuation of our Title IX series and to kick-off our March Madness series, we present you with an op-ed piece from sports attorney, Amber Jorgensen, about how the current business model of college athletic departments is harmful to women’s sports. Enjoy, share, comment.
NO OFFENSE, IT’S JUST BUSINESS: HOW THE CURRENT BUSINESS MODEL DEBILITATES WOMEN’S COLLEGIATE ATHLETICS*
As men’s collegiate football and basketball revenues continue to astronomically rise into the billions, revenues generated from women’s athletics have largely remained stagnant. Eric Deggens discusses the trend in his recent column regarding a study that confirmed that while participation in women’s sports has increased with Title IX, media coverage itself is stagnant, if not decreasing (see “Why the Apathy of Women’s Sports Coverage?” posted June 8, 2010). In her response to Deggens’ article, Marie Hardin posted in her Woman Talk Sports blog that in so many words, the results are no big surprise. I concur with Hardin and to Deggens’ point, think that it’s even less of a surprise that the study has largely been greeted with apathy. Although Hardin agrees with Deggens that the media is complicit, she disagrees as to the extent. In her opinion, “lack of women’s sports coverage is a cultural problem – not one that can be blamed solely on media organizations." Id. I.e., "the values ([of] masculinity) that we’ve placed on spectator sports as a culture.” Id.
I agree that both are factors. I admit, when I ran a Google search on "NCAA women’s basketball tournament and TV ratings,“ the entire first page showed links to articles about men’s basketball ratings, even offering a link to the NIT (*gasp*). Finally, the last link on the page…"TV Ratings Up Big for Women’s NCAA Final” appeared on Rivals.com. So what the "article" was 6 lines long and included no ratings numbers whatsoever? Score one for Hardin and one for Deggens.
(Hardin’s and Deggens’ theories may be more applicable in the context of professional sports, although the WNBA is essentially owned, operated and funded by the NBA, so the theory outlined below might still be relevant in that case.)
The cultural problem may better explain the reason for apathy towards the study, rather than the underlying issue itself. After all, Google isn’t gender biased, is it? So I would like to add my dime addressing a another theory…the “no offense, it’s just business” theory. This theory looks beyond the pretext “it’s what the audience wants” – a circular argument since often times, watching women’s collegiate sports is not an option, especially in comparison to men’s coverage. (Side note: women’s NCAA basketball tournament ratings have steadily increased over the past decade. It’s my educated guess that the NCAA women’s basketball tournament is #1 in viewership or close to it among collegiate women’s sporting events with respect to media time/coverage.)
The “No offense it’s just business” theory considers the business and financial structure of college athletic departments. As it stands, men’s football and basketball programs are the primary donors to the department, funding amongst other things, salaries and athletic scholarships across all sports (not to mention funding contributed to the NCAA). As Michael Granof, professor at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business explains in his article, “Accounting Holds Sports Accountable,” athletic departments are self-sufficient entities mostly independent of the universities financially. It’s the reason schools claim they are “losing money” in college athletics. They are losing money, just not in men’s football and basketball. If they were, then like any other business, they’d hold a fire sale.
Consequently, instead of diversifying revenue streams, schools pump all of their money, time, attention and marketing into these two programs. For one, it’s a “sure” bet – the model for success is in place, and secondly, let’s face it; it’s much easier to receive than to give. Let’s also be clear, when we’re talking about the coverage of women’s sports, we’re usually speaking as against men’s football and basketball. It’s not like men’s water polo gets significantly more attention than women’s field hockey or men’s track & field more than women’s. If, however, there were limits on where/how schools could spend revenues generated by men’s football and basketball programs (say for instance, investing in education), universities and conferences would be forced to seek alternative revenue sources for women’s programs, such as more comprehensive media/broadcast deals (or how about any deal?) in addition to finding ways to increase interest in and attendance at their sporting events. By association, it would also mean increased marketing and fundraising efforts for women’s athletic programs. Thus, restructuring the flow of revenues would force universities to invest in finding ways to increase interest in and attendance of women’s sporting events, which in turn would produce greater media coverage and more lucrative broadcast deals.
As it stands, there is no incentive. In essence, it’s cheaper to keep her dependent on men’s football and basketball than to divorce her and have to write a bigger check than you would otherwise allow her to spend, even if it means her eventual independence. Therefore, until the underlying business structure is revisited, the disparity will remain.
Amber Jorgensen, Esq. is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and co-founder and General Counsel of C6 Sports. She also maintains a law practice in Los Angeles, California, focusing primarily on entertainment, sports and media law.
*Ms. Jorgensen has previously shared this piece with Women Talk Sports.