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The Business of Sports

April 11, 2011

Duh nuh nuh, duh nuh nuh.   Even typed out many people probably recognize this tune as the opening tune to Sportscenter, ESPN’s most popular sports show.  Sportscenter is great.  For those of us who don’t have time to watch every sporting event that occurs around the world in a given day (which is most of us), Sportscenter takes all the highlights, statistics and top plays from those games and presents them to us in short clips.  People like Sportcenter because it gives us all of the sports news that we want in a reasonable time period.  Sportscenter is basically a “sports filter.”

In the Professor’s chapter on “Being a woman and other disabilities”, he opens with a picture of a women’s basketball game from the year 1910.  Although Professor LaVaque-Manty touched on a number of issues in this chapter, one i would like to focus on has to do with “the business of sports” and more generally viewership of less popular sports.  Historically less popular sports are often, as the Professor pointed out, sports played by women or those with physical disabilities.  Participants in these sports and events are in my view obviously very skilled and talented athletically, much like their male counterparts, however it is no secret they do not receive even close to the level of attention that male athletes do.

I think Sportscenter is an interesting point of reference from which to examine the inequality that exists among various types of athletic competitions today.  I’m fairly certain if you asked any person on the street if they valued women’s basketball or a paraolympic event such as skiing, they would say yes.  However, if that same person sees value in these sports, why don’t we see them show up on the ESPN top 10 plays of the week?  This is what Professor LaVaque-Manty is referring to when he calls attention to Rousseau’s l’opinion publique.  Although we each have our own feelings regarding sports, as a public we demand to see only select ones, generally those dominated by fully mobile male athletes.

I think the Professor does a good job in staying somewhat neutral in the discussion of whether or not this phenomenon is good or bad, however i’m going to take a personal stand and say that i think that the mass marketization of sports could have negative consequences on equalizing sports.  To take the hypothetical street poll i suggested earlier one step further, if i asked a random person if they valued NBA basketball more than WNBA women’s basketball, chances are they would say yes.  That is why ESPN top 10 highlights during the winter usually feature about 5 top plays from the NBA and maybe 1 from a WNBA game.

In my opinion business decisions made about what to show on ESPN are the most telling examples of how society feels about certain sports.  We value certain athletic games and traits over others.  Additionally, i think the business element that has been introduced to sports will continue to insure that these values will not change.  Businesses will always strive to flood markets with goods that the consumers want, and this increased potential for profit from certain sports will only beget increased investment in those same sports.  Much of athletics these days has more to do with business than it does pure athletic ability, and i think that this trend will only discourage efforts to “equalize” sports as more people look to profit from them.

Sorry for the Ohio State Highlights:

  1. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    April 11, 2011 9:56 PM

    This was a very interesting post, and I agree with your main points. I love SportsCenter, and the business aspect of sports is very interesting. I just did a similar comment on a similar post on the blog, saying how media coverage is related to men’s and women’s sports, and I feel that this ties in nicely with your post. ESPN and SportsCenter probably think that people don’t want to watch women’s sports, because they are supposedly less competitive/physical than men’s sports, and it is better for the company in terms of revenue to televise a men’s game, such as the NBA, MLB, or NFL, than it is to televise a WNBA game or women’s college basketball. During March Madness for women’s basketball, my friends and I tuned in to parts of a few of the games, and while they were interesting, as one friend remarked, “This women’s game is not cutting it.” I would agree that sometimes it is hard to get into watching a women’s game compared to the men’s game, even though they are great players and athletes. However, I think that if more games were televised and drafts were more widely followed, women’s sports would become more popular, and it would be a benefit for SportsCenter to show highlights or ESPN to show a WNBA game, instead of an NBA game.

  2. rgrossca permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:51 PM

    Personally, I disagree with one of your largest points. You say, “I’m fairly certain if you asked any person on the street if they valued women’s basketball or a paraolympic event such as skiing, they would say yes.” Sportscenter does not show womens basketball or paraolympic events because they know people do not want to see it, hence people do not value them. In addition, another reason why women’s basketball is not shown is because the majority of Sportscenter viewers are men. But, then again, this is why softball, women’s soccer, and women’s golf are not shown. On the contrary, women’s tennis is shown due to two reasons: 1) the sex appeal of the players or 2) the hype surrounding other players. The Williams sisters had so much hype surrounding them due to them being the best tennis players ever, also due to them being African-American, and twins. The fact that they are stronger than most men helped, as well. Maria Sharipova made tennis more popular for the other reason; her ungodly sex appeal. Due to Nike sponsorships for the Williams and other ad campaigns involving Sharipova, Women’s Tennis has become very popular over the past decade. This 100% supports your idea that sports is all business now, just like anything else in our society.

  3. Micah Friedman permalink
    April 12, 2011 1:05 AM

    Your basic argument about sports is 100% correct. Sports are all about money and sports shown on television follow the money trail, which makes complete sense. However, people watch men’s sports not because they are men, but because of what history has placed value on in the competitive atmosphere. Take basketball, for instance. Viewers watch men’s basketball more than women’s because we have deemed that a good basketball player is tall, strong, and fast. The men that play in the NBA are taller, stronger, and faster than almost any woman that plays in the WNBA. Sports viewers are not watching male sports because males play them, they watch men’s sports because as sport grew, people determined that men better possessed the qualities that make sports entertaining. So, in terms of actually equalizing, you are right. The pay gap between men’s and women’s sports will continue to grow as newer social media allows professional men’s leagues to market their product even more to the already predominantly male audiences.

  4. lapinsk12 permalink
    April 12, 2011 12:03 PM

    I believe the lack of women’s top plays is simply due to the fact that women sports aren’t as explosive and fast paced as men’s sports. Women’s top plays are pretty bland compared to a LeBron James drive to the basket and give his signature wind back and slam the ball through the basket dunks, you will most likely never see that play from a women’s game and during the course of a NBA game schedule on any given night, you might have four to five of the play I just described. I know it’d not fair but it is a business and only the most amazing, explosive and athletic plays will be shown to get viewership. It’s the same reason why the Tigers, Pirates, or Athletics are never shown or given extended face time during Sportscenter, they just don’t sell as well as the Yankees and Red Sox of the sporting world. Sports is a business and people want to make money.

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