Sunday, April 24, 2011

Marketing Support: the Glass Ceiling in Sports

In the past ten years the endorsement of Title IX has increased the possibility of women athletics; since 2000, the number of women athletes has increased from 14,445 to 15,423. Despite these numbers, 53 public universities’ women’s basketball teams had a deficient of $109.7 million in the past year, while men profited $240 million. What is causing this large difference?

            As stated in a previous blog post, the media coverage between men and women’s college basketball is significantly unequal. While the NCAA men’s tournament signed a 14-year $10.8 billion contract with CBS Sports Inc. and Time Warner, the women’s basketball tournament shares a 11-year $163 million contract with 21 other championships on ESPN. However, the cause of these differences is merely a cause-and-effect relationship. Throughout the 2010 NCAA Basketball tournaments, the men’s championship game between Duke and Butler brought in $23.9 million, but the women’s game between Connecticut and Stanford profited a mere $3.5 million. Why would media outlets chose to cover women’s sports over men’s? The profit lose simply would be unwarranted. 

            In correlation to media coverage, marketer support derives from the amount of coverage an event, sport, or team acquires. Last year CBS reported that the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament grossed over $614 million in advertising sales revenue—making the tournament the only close competition to NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl for most dollars per advertisements. In comparison to the 2010 NCAA Men’s Tournament, the NFL grossed $793 million during the postseason, and the NBA $417 million in ad sales.
To back up the lack of advertising in women’s sports, a Harris Poll, which surveyed adults on their favorite basketball team (both men and women), found that of the respondents only 7% watched women’s basketball, while 23% viewed men’s and 34% followed college football. According to Pamela Creedon, author of Mediasport, “whatever the truth, the relationship between marketplace considerations and mass media content is particularly obvious in sport […] the power of the sports page to attract readers and advertisers cannot be denied.”
            Perhaps in attempt to ease the inequality of coverage between men and women’s NCAA Basketball, NCAA only allows sponsors to contribute to the sport in general. Despite the investments from General Motors, Coca Cola, AT&T, Domino’s and Capital One, NCAA Women’s basketball teams remain struggling to keep their head above water.

            But, what is there to do?

            Recently, the NCAA has begun programs in effort to boost team fans, thus increasing coverage and advertising sales. For the past few years, NCAA challenged women’s basketball teams across the nation to “Pack the House.” In this intercollegiate competition, schools are awarded prizes for a sell-out game during the basketball season (October 2, 2010 to March 6, 2011). This year 33 teams were awarded $500 as donation to a non-profit of their choice, and of the 33 teams one team’s marketing program received additional incentives. This program is an attempt to gain fan’s attention to come out to the games.
            In addition, as a grass-root level, the NCAA has established a three-year program of grants for women basketball teams. According to the Grant Program application, the objective of the program is to:
             provide NCAA support for Division I institutions and conferences in the
development and implementation of targeted marketing plans to increase
attendance in Division I women’s college basketball programs.

Currently, the program is offering grants from $15,000 to $100,000; however, the program is in the final year. As a successful story, the Columbia women’s basketball program received grants two of the past three years. From these contributions, the program implemented numerous of marketing strategies, advertising plans, and grade-school programs. As a result, Columbia watched women’s basketball attendance rise from 5,731 in 2007 to 7,992 in 2010.
            Lastly, sports fans have been pushing the NCAA to fight for a television contract strictly for women’s basketball. Bernadette McGlade, an Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner and a former coach and player, fully supports this idea no matter how small a contract as a starting point to help women’s basketball popularity grow within media coverage. As he states, Kentucky has forced their women’s team as a priority, thus increasing their attendance by 5,000 in 8 years and increasing ticket prices from $20 to $45.
            Whatever is to come in the future for women’s basketball will be a struggle. If women’s suffrage occurred in 1920, Title IX passed in 1972, and the first championship basketball tournament in 1982, when will women’s basketball truly be an equal to men’s? As stated in Sports Marketing:

             surefire plans for creating a bigger fan base in women’s sports linger on the shelf
because the limited funds go into promoting the traditional “revenue” sports (usually men’s sports) that have historically helped to fund everyone else. Even though shifting money to a promotion of women’s sports might result in a greater revenue yield, the risks seem too great.

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