The LFL…that stands for The Lingerie Football League

22 05 2009

lfl_logoThe LFL…short for The Lingerie Football League…should really be short for “LaFf out Loud”. Please take a look at The LFL website if you haven’t yet. LFLMany of you who read this blog probably already know what my response to this might be. But first you should see some recent practice pictures featured on SportsIllustrated.com. Honestly I don’t even know where to start the critical commentary…the team names, the uniforms, the photo gallery, the concept…..(sigh).

If this league survives and thrives, then I guess we all have more data to help us answer the burning question “Does sex sell women’s sport?” What do YOU think about The LFL?





Selling Sex Does NOT Attract Men to Women’s Sport

14 05 2009

I just saw a short video as a result of a Twitter from the WNBA. The power of social media at work for one “opt-in” follower! The video is by Mr. Alex Chambers, a self-proclaimed avid WNBA fan who also Twitters, and blogs. Yes, I said “Mr”!

I’m posting this because Mr. Chambers is a prime example of my previous point that sex does not sell women’s sport, it sells sex (not sport) to young men….and alienates and/or offends female sport fans. If women’s professional sport leagues want attract the coveted demographic–young male sport fans–they have to do a better job of selling athletic competence.

Notice in Mr. Chambers’ video, not once does he mention how attractive, sexy, feminine, or motherly the players are. He loves BASKETBALL and he loves the WNBA. 0908jack-black-wnba200I agree with him there are more male fans out there like him….and more that would likely become women’s sport fans if it was marketed differently or deemed “cool” and acceptable by males in general (like if Jack Black pictured here were at a Sparks game…I’m not sure if he is or isn’t at a WNBA game). Keep up the good work Alex Chambers…I can’t wait to hear more about your “journey” this summer. On similar note, the WNBA is about to fully release their new marketing campaign “Expect Great”. The title sounds promising!





The “success” of Twitter in promoting women’s sports: ‘Show me the money!’

5 05 2009

tweet-birdThere seems to be much discussion over Twitter and how it might be “the answer” to successfully marketing and promoting women’s sports. Jayda Evans (Seattle Times columnist & Twitter-er) wrote about it, the Women’s Professional Soccer League is using it, and Megan Hueter, Co-founder of Women Talk Sports, has two recent blogs about the importance of social media for women’s sport (A recent blog is about Twitter and an earlier blog was about Facebook). I responded to Megan’s blog, and she responded back (scroll down on her blog about Facebook to see our exchange). I enjoyed this dialogue and have been thinking about this issue ever since.

I get that social media is a platform to market women’s sports in a saturated market, and it is accessible, current, relevant, provides athlete-generated content etc…I got it. I love social media, really I do, so this is not a critique of social media or those that love it, promote it, and live for it. I have a Blog (obviously), a Facebook page, am connected to colleagues through LinkedIn, and recently conquered my Twitter fascination. However, even with my love for social media I’m reluctant to make claims about the effectiveness of it in promoting female athletes and women’s sports. It is the researcher in me—I’m critical and skeptical until I see the proof (i.e., empirical data).

I have seen ZERO research that demonstrates if, and how, social media tangibly and effectively promotes and markets women’s sports. I queried one of our very smart graduate students who is immersed in this research, and she didn’t know of any either. We will stand corrected if it exists. Just because everyone is all atwitter about Twitter doesn’t mean it “works” or will “save” women’s sports.
twitter-image1Here is what we generally DO know about Twitter and sport:
1. Twitter exists and is rapidly growing in popularity
2. Some people, but not many (~5% of the population), are currently using Twitter
3. Some professional athletes are included in that 5%
4. Many professional sport leagues have a Twitter presence

Here is the $1,000,000 question: Has Twitter lead to an increase in—attendance, ticket sales, merchandise sales, sponsorships, media coverage in mainstream sport media, number of teams in women’s professional leagues, or any measurable interest in or consumption of women’s sports? Right now, Twitter is a good listening tool and provides a way to listen to brand champions of women’s sport (i.e., the core, loyal consumer). But other than that, show me the data. It might be doing some good, but has anyone thought about the flip side?…. that social media might not be good for female athletes or women’s sports? So how might Twitter and other social media (including those not invented yet) be “bad” you ask? Well here are a few things to ponder.

It is a well known fact that female athletes receive only 6-8% of coverage in traditional sport media. This statistic has remained consistent over the last 20 years, despite increases in girls and women participation in sport. When female athletes are covered in traditional sport media, they are often portrayed in ways that marginalize or minimize athletic competence and highlight sexy, hetero, feminine aspects of the female body or identity.

A perfect example of this is the March 23, 2009 ESPN magazine cover of pregnant WNBA Rookie of the Year Candace Parker in which the opening sentence discusses that Parker “…is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup…” If you want a thorough, and I think well done, sociological critique of this article read this blog which appears in Contexts. I did a little mini investigation after I saw the Parker cover and found: In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.espn-mag-women-covers-5-yrs

While social media is changing the role of sport journalists, sport media scholar Marie Hardin argues this is both good an bad. I add it is good if it changes coverage patterns of female athletes, but I would add it is bad if it becomes expected that female athletes have to be partially or largely responsible for promoting themselves as well-rounded “girls next door” through social media as a way to “save” their leagues or bolster their own “brand”. Why isn’t it just enough for Candace Parker to play basketball to the best of her abilities? The NBA doesn’t ask Kobe Bryant to be more than a great basketball player do they?

Could it be possible that social media, including Twitter, is just another means to replicate the ways in which traditional sport media marginalizes and sexualizes female athletes? Twitter’s existence does nothing to challenge the status quo or existing structural inequalities between men’s and women’s sports…especially since it is an “opt in” platform.

Another point to ponder: How are female athletes and professional leagues presenting themselves on Twitter? Stay tuned for results on cutting edge research two of our graduate students are just completing on this very question—this is cool stuff! In the meantime, I’ll give you one example that occurred on the 2009 WNBA draft day which caught my eye and highlights my previous point. I saved three (of many) Tweets written by draftees, the WNBA, and other attendees who were collectively discussing “how we look and what to wear” rather than “how we play” on Draft Day 2009. 2wnbadraft-day

What everyone should do who cares about this issue and the cause of women’s sport, is think less about hyping social media and more about how social media can be used to create real social change and lead to sustainability (meaning…show me not only the data, but the $$$$) of women’s professional sport leagues…and more importantly, how can we prove and measure “success”?





The invisibility of female professional sports

18 04 2009

This might seem insignificant to some, but it is another example of how female professional sports are erased. Last night I was at the Sugarland concert at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Near the end of the concert Sugarland played a cover of the Bon Jovi song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” that Jennifer Nettles and Bon Jovi recorded together.

During this song on the giant screen behind the band they showed logos of all the local professional sport teams in Minnesota….except one. Any guesses which one was left out? If you guessed the WNBA franchise Minnesota Lynx—you would be correct. The Twins, Vikings, Wild, and Timberwolves were included and when each logo appeared, fans in the audience cheered loudly for their favorite team. What made this omission even more ironic was the fact the Sugarland concert was held in the Target Center where the Lynx (and Timberwolves) play!

lynx
I’m sure Sugarland and their producers didn’t intentionally leave out the Lynx, but it is an example of how womens’ sports get erased—telling the public what is valued and important, and what is not.





Marketing Sports: “Wine & Pampering” v. “Beer & Back Waxing”

16 04 2009

So after posting my last blog “Are Women Sport Fans?” I had a couple conversations with colleagues about female sport fans and how we “market” sport to women which spurred some additional thoughts. As I mentioned previously, females comprise 53% of WNBA and one-third or more of all MLB, NBA, and NHL fans.

Have you ever wondered about the typical ways women are “enticed” to attend professional men’s sports(i.e., “wine & pamper yourself events” that also teach women the rules of the game? This assumes that women don’t attend sports purely because they love the game, know the rules, follow the stats, or are passionate about their favorite team and player(s). Women ARE sport fans…but we so seldom see them in the sport media it is assumed they don’t exist. It also assumes that women don’t know the rules of the game and therefore don’t attend for that reason. If women just KNEW the rules it would increase their likelihood of attending! Women have to be lured to attend sports through things society tells them that women like…manicures, being pampered, wine tasting, and hanging out with the girls.

So let’s apply similar logic to attracting male fans (the coveted sport demographic) to women’s professional leagues, for example the WPS or WNBA. Are parallel events like “beer & back waxing” days offered for men? Or days that teach men the rules of the game? No? If not, then it must be assumed that all men are already sport fans and KNOW the rules the game. But this hasn’t translated into increasing numbers of male fans….yet. What do you think is the most effective way to increase the number of male sport fans at womens’ sports?

Key point: one-third or more of sport fans are comprised of females….men’s and women’s sports NEED female fans to survive! What if that one-third of the female fan base stopped attending men’s sports? To ensure the survival of women’s pro leagues that many of us are passionate about, is not the sole responsibility of female fans. Men’s pro sports rely on both male and female sport fans for sustainability, the same applies for women’s pro sports.

I still believe we haven’t gotten it right….yet. What does effective sport marketing to females look like? What does effective marketing of women’s sport look like? To get us started in answering these questions I think back to the May 26, 2006 and an October 9, 2006 Sport Business Journal articles written by a former colleague.





Are Women Sport Fans?

15 04 2009

Today I was giving a talk at a local Rotary Club, which I enjoyed very much. It’s fun to talk about my work and (try to) translate it into interesting information for those outside academia. The questions I get are varied and always thought provoking.

The talk pertained to how to develop physically active girls and mentioned the importance of increasing the number of female coaches in youth sport—which is less than ~20%. One attendee asked me if we are to increase the number of female coaches aren’t we assuming that women WANT to coach and like sports enough TO coach? (this is the stuff of another blog…stay tuned). He wondered if I knew of any data about the percentage of females who “support” and attend sport events. I didn’t know off the top of my head, so I looked it up (See Table).are-women-sport-fans1

The answer to his question is “Yes!” women do consume, attend and support sports. Not in equal numbers as do men, but in higher numbers than I think is normally assumed. Notably, females attend the WNBA most frequently and one-third of fans at NFL and NBA games are women. Given recent attention to women’s basketball and the viability and sustainability of the WNBA, those in charge of marketing the WNBA should pay attention to the fact that half of their fan base are women. (I’m sure they are well aware of this fact and then some) But the $1,000,000 question is—How do you market to female sport consumers effectively? I don’t think we’ve got this formula quite right… yet. But I think one reason links back to the question posed to me this morning. I think far too often it is assumed that females aren’t as interested in sports as are men. I also think it is assumed the strategies used to market to sport-loving men, will work with sport-loving women. I hope for the sake of the new WPS and the WNBA that someone who knows a lot more about sport marketing can help us get it right.