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October 3, 2003

by Bill Hogan



The reason women's sports leagues don't succeed on the professional level can be summed up in the title of a 1960 film starring George Hamilton, Jim Hutton, Dolores Hart and Connie Francis. The single greatest spring break movie of all time – "Where the Boys Are."

It is no wonder that the Women's National Basketball Association is struggling. It is even less surprising that the Women's United Soccer Association folded right before the start of the Women's World Cup.


Women sports fans are no different than their male counterparts. Given the opportunity, they will always choose to watch the far superior Los Angeles Lakers rather than the (WNBA) Los Angeles Sparks. And it will stay that way until somebody – anybody – on the Sparks is capable of dunking over Shaq.

As far as the WUSA is concerned, no soccer league – male or female – can compete with the 'Big 4' professional sports leagues that dominate the networks, the sports pages and the internet sports sites. (And that doesn't include the extremely popular, male dominated NASCAR circuit.)

It is extremely short-sighted (some may even call it sexist) for the organizers of the WNBA and WUSA to build extravagant professional leagues around the idea that women will want to watch because it is women that are playing.

Women sports fans are far too knowledgeable and far too savvy to fall for such a transparent marketing ploy. They watch Sportscenter. They read Sports Illustrated. They know good sports when they see it. They grew up rooting for the Cubs and the Raiders and the Celtics.

They compete in the office football pool and the online fantasy leagues. They're at the bar for the Monday Night Football dollar beer and chicken wing specials. They yell at the television set and, like I wrote last June, "they know when the offense is offside and a pass interference call when they see one."

It has long been noted that male sportsfans are obsessively fanatical about the teams they root for. In the spirit of gender equality, female sportsfans have attained a similar rabid affection for their teams.

Why should they settle for – no offense ladies – the inferior competition of the WNBA or sit through a two hour soccer game just because the participants have breasts and know what it's like to experience child birth?

As long as football and baseball remain America's favorite sports pastimes; as long as men continue to play football and baseball better than women; women are infinitely more likely to watch the World Series over the World Cup and any Sunday football game over the WNBA Championship.

A better target market for the likes of the WUSA would be the small group of men willing to endure a women's soccer game just on the off chance that Brandi Chastain may take her shirt off after scoring a goal.

Again in the spirit of gender equality, many female sportsfans would much rather watch finely-tuned male athletes than see Chastain celebrating in her sports bra. Evidence of this came during Wednesday night's Oakland-Boston division series game when my wife declared: "boy that (A's pitcher) Tim Hudson is one good looking guy."

Women's professional sports leagues face an uphill battle trying to find a loyal audience. Men won't watch once the sex appeal loses its – well – appeal. Women who watch sports won't be easily swayed just because Mia Hamm uses the same feminine hygiene product.

And, unlike male sportsfans who can sit through 48 straight hours of ESPN programming, female sportsfans are, as a group, more interesting and well rounded. They have hobbies. The go shopping – and enjoy it. They have scrapbooking parties. They read books. Real books, not Mike Ditka's biography and the 2003 Sports Almanac.

And sometimes when they want to be left alone and have a good cry, they'll watch a tear-jerking Lifetime original movie, not the Red Sox bullpen blow another late-inning lead. For the female fan, there's simply too much to do before the Buccaneers kick off to squeeze in a basketball game featuring one player that can actually touch the rim.

Oh, there's another reason why female sportfans will never jump on any women's league bandwagon. And it has nothing to do with the players' physical ability – or lack there of, any lifelong team allegiance or Tim Hudson's firm buns. It's simply because female sportsfans don't have control of the television remote. Not in my house.


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