NB: I may have previously mentioned that I’m not “into sports”, by which I mean I have not followed football or baseball or basketball teams. It’s only just recently that I’ve figured out when those seasons start and end, and that I have learned the rules of football (thanks to a SuperBowl party and the fact that my region’s team was in the SuperBowl this year. As the kids say, “Go Hawks!”) This post will therefore be unusual that it deals with sports. It will not be unusual in that it deals with gender perception and economics.
This past Wednesday some 700 thousand plus people descended on downtown Seattle to celebrate the Seahawk’s winning of the SuperBowl. Busses were jammed all morning, many folks did not go to work, kids skipped school; this was all for the privilege of standing along 4th Avenue, in the cold, hours on end, for a parade that ironically started late because those in the parade couldn’t get to their starting point because of all the people.
The parade seems to have made many people happy; my Facebook was replete with happy family photos of smiling, green-and-blue-dressed people, plus blurry photos of those in the parade. Everyone seems to have had a good time.
Nestled in that timeline, though, was a comment (actually two, from two different people), that the Seattle Storm (our local female basketball team) won National Championships twice, and no parade was had for them. (It should also be noted that the Seahawks paid for their own parade. )
In reviewing those comments the implication is, I think, that because it was a women’s team that won previously they were not “good enough” (not my words, just what I’m inferring from the context of the statement) because they were female. It doesn’t help that articles like this announced that the last time Seattle had earned a national title was when the Sonics won in 1979 (considerably before the Seattle Storm’s victories of 2004 and 2010 ). Forbes went so far as to acknowledge them and indicate they weren’t “counting” them. And yes, when the Sonics won in 1979 a parade was had.
There are two culprits here: sexism and economics.
Let’s take the simpler one: economics, specifically the concept of Supply And Demand. More specifically, there are demand differences between Women’s Basketball and Men’s Football. (It would have been nicer to have a Men’s Basketball team to weed out the gender variable, or a Women’s Football team, but alas we lost the former and the latter doesn’t really appear to exist except for the Lingere Bowl).
The Seattle Storm plays in Key Arena which holds slightly over 17,400 seats; they play 34 games per season. 16 of those games are played “home”. Ticket prices range from $16 to $155 with a mode of $28. Let’s further say that 20% of anyone at an “Away” game is there for the Storm, and 80% of anyone at a “Home” game is. However, the Storm doesn’t actually sell all of the seats in Key Arena (they block off a portion, and they don’t often sell all the seats that are unblocked). 9,600 seats are actually available to sell and at times The Storm sells about 50% of those. Let’s assume similar seating volumes at away games, and or the purpose of this hack math, let’s say half of the time they’re at half, and the other half of the time they’re sold out, for a blended average of 75% capacity. So a back-of the-envelope dollar value for interest in The Seattle Storm would be about (9600*.75*.8*28*16)+(9600*.75*.2*28*18)= 2580480+725760=$3,306,240. (This obviously doesn’t include sponsorships, swag sales, etc.)
The Seattle Seahawks play in Century Link Field (the Clink) which holds about 68,000 seats and the Seahawks had sold out every one by July. The average ticket price was $220, they had 17 games in their regular season, and had 62,000 season ticket holders. Let’s just stick with the season ticket holders, as that is cash up front. (17*62000*220)=$231,880,000. (This also doesn’t include sponsorships, swag sales, etc.)
In short, there is a purchase-behavior disparity of 7000%.
That disparity is driven by not only volume (the Clink seating is 7x the amount in Key Arena used by The Storm), but also by price (average ticket price for the Seahawks is larger than the HIGHEST ticket price for The Storm). Even if The Storm were to sell 100% of the available seats in Key Arena, they’d fall very short of economic comparability to the Seahawks in terms of fan fiscal investment.
But this isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know: the demand for entertainment via male football is much greater than the demand for female basketball. The Sonics left in 2008 and their ticket demand is 44,000 season ticket holders, meaning that even if they sold at the same price as The Storm they would still outsell on overall ticket volumes. And so we can infer that demand for entertainment via male basketball is greater than the demand for female basketball.
And so we segue into sexism: essentially that people are making economic demand decisions based on gender preference in sports. As a society we tend to like our sports hyper-competitive, confrontational, metricized and self-aggrandizing. Nowhere is this more evident than how we idolize the players, how we purchase team jerseys and say “us” vs “them” when talking about upcoming games. “We won”, “they lost” is how games are summed up; followed by an earnest delve into strategic review of plays, the metrics and statistics behind those plays, and player strength.
These are not things we encourage in our girls. Much has been made of now-pink Legos and Goldie Blox, of Sheryl Sandberg Leaning In and the overall interest in getting More Girls into STEM. We enroll our daughters in soccer just as readily as Girl Scouts, we tell them they can be anything when they grow up. A girl who is hyper-competitive though is deemed less attractive, a girl who is confrontational is deemed a bitch. (Let’s not even touch self-aggrandizing). Women’s basketball is not televised nearly as much, or touted as often, as men’s.
We make these choices, and display our preferences, by our societal expenditure. The Seattle Storm will have a parade when the larger group decides that the athletic achievements of women is as representative and worthy as that of men, and that will have to come from increased ticket sales, which will in turn have to come from increased demand.