Sports Columnist Rachel Blount uses an ongoing study on sexuality and sales in women athletics for a jumping off point for a discussion of the rather overlooked way Imus rated both basketball programs. First and foremost, you gotta give Blount credit for trying to write about something more interesting than Sid's guarantees that The Ownership Knows What They Are Doing, or Reusses & Souhan's alternating Effusive Praise & Angry Griping column production company. Good luck, writing thoughtful pieces in the Sports section of the Star Trib, Rachel!
The study is interesting for how much gut reaction fit in with their findings. As Blount describes,
[Researchers] Kane and Maxwell undertook the study, funded in part by the Women's Sports Foundation, to determine whether evidence supported the long-held "sex sells" theory. Thus far, they have studied men and women in the 18-34 age range.
They showed the groups photos of sportswomen covering the spectrum from highly athletic to highly sexualized. Their initial findings showed that none of those images motivated men to attend games or buy tickets. Kane and Maxwell's research suggests that selling out women to sexist stereotypes does nothing to advance the cause of women's sports, nor does it serve their bottom line.
Again, I hardly find this shocking. The women's sporting events I've attended in my life were based pretty much solely on how good I knew those teams to be. (Macalester Women's Soccer--a freaking Dynasty, people). At the time, it didn't hurt that I found some of those women attractive, but it wasn't any sort of motivating factor to attend games. I hate to think how many men and women still think of Brandi Chastain as "that chick who took off her shirt at the World Cup."
On the other hand, I've enjoyed playing Table Tennis, and I've commented in the past that one of the top women Table Tennis players in the entire world is rather saucy. I'm not going to pay money to watch her play, though. I don't watch male professional Table Tennis either, and there really isn't anything either the Professional Men or Women of Table Tennis can do to get me to watch or buy tickets for their sport.
These studies are needed of course to provide some legitimacy to what people are assuming to be true (or to put it another way, what everyone knows except for brain-dead marketing people). Call it the Pro vs. Joe effect. Ordinary Joes don't mind being reminded that the male athletes that they watch on TV are better athletes than they, the home-viewer are (often, they convince themselves that they aren't; the so-called Deluded Joe). They feel no desire to be shown that there are women who are better athletes than they are. So, displays of female athleticism perturb them, and leads to various name-calling along the central theme of female athletes being too 'manly' or something (stupid, I know, but there it is). Blount makes the same argument using Imus' way of describing not just Rutgers players the way he did, but describing Tennessee players the way he did. (Read her column already).
Small case study, but the men on Pros vs Joes always look more humiliated when they lose to a professional woman athlete than they do when they lose to a male 50 year old retiree. They don't seem to understand that they haven't lost in Beach Volleyball to a "girl"--they got their asses handed to them by Misty May, one of the most dominant volleyball players of either gender in the country. (stupid, I know, but there it is)
Meanwhile, you can try to sex up the advertising for the WNBA, and recruit the most attractive players in the league to dress up like they are attending a sleepover and about to have a tickle-fight that might lead to some kissing, but even the most advertising-susceptible man out there knows that isn't what he's going to see when he goes to the game.
So while Minnesota is presenting studies on the intersection point of sex, sports and marketing, what is Wisconsin working on?
Free Beer, God Bless 'Em. The Wisconsin State Legislature is basically saying, "Hey, we give away free samples of everything at the grocery store--why not beer?" As the article points out, the sponsor of the bill is from Chippewa Falls, which may not mean much to some of you jokers living on the coasts. But in the upper midwest, it is home to one of the Happiest Places on Earth.
update: odd coincidence, but via Deadspin I see that Dave's Football Blog is talking about contact field sports that women play--(all of them)
Part of the issue is that women's athletics, like everything else, are marketed toward men. And it isn't just about tickets, folks.
Associating a light beer or Gatorade with a female athlete is worth far more money than ticket sales for any single event. Even table tennis, I suspect. Ooh, wicked spin, that one...
Spending so much in advertising, companies want to hedge their bets. If watching a female athlete boot a soccer ball in slow motion, sweat rippling off her corded muscles, Reeboks popping in the stadium lights isn't enough to sell sneakers, making sure she's sweeter than sugar-butter is a conservative strategy.
And that determines who becomes a star. Sports is a functional meritocracy. Stardom is not.
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