Women’s sports still struggling

Marketplace Staff May 18, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: This weekend, the Women’s National Basketball Association begins its 10th season. How financially healthy IS the WNBA? David Carter is the Executive Director of the USC Sports Business Institute. I asked him how the league is faring, economically

DAVID CARTER: Well I think it’s a mixed bag at this point. There have been a few hiccups along the way. You have to take a look at attendance which has been falling pretty steadily the last few years from a high of about 11,000 a few years back, and TV ratings remain rather anemic, less than a single rating point whether they’re on cable or broadcast television. So they’re having a few problems there. But on the other hand, they have moved some franchises around, they’ve expanded, they’ve gotten rid of a couple of teams over the last several years. They now seem to have the right teams in the right markets, so they have stability in terms of where the franchises are located. And so I think that’s going a long way to help them. And they also have some stability with regard to sponsors. They’ve lost Proctor & Gamble lately, but they still have a really, really solid stable of corporate partners at this point.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: We’ve seen the professional women’s soccer association come and go and the WNBA is having its problems. Why do you think professional women’s sports seems to struggle.

DAVID CARTER: Well I believe it’s partially about how they are positioned and promoted. You have to really ask yourself whether these are athletic competitions or if they’re a philanthropic cause that’s sort of wrapped in a sports package. You go back to gender equity and Title IX legislation and we’ve been able I think to very effectively legislate the supply of women’s athletics but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that has resulted in guaranteeing demand for women’s sports at the professional level . You can supply it but that doesn’t mean people want to spend money on it.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Is there a point that women’s leagues need to get beyond before they become accepted, a certain number of years before they can get the necessary fan base to support it?

DAVID CARTER: Well I think it’s important to be clear, they are not only on the scene and doing well across the board in a lot of different areas. So I think the focus really needs to be on how can they make more headway and I think we’ve seen this with the WNBA. The first thing you have to do is become financially viable. The WNBA is close to that, maybe a season or two away from being out of the red and maybe even turning a profit, so that’ll be a very encouraging sign. But you have to mix that with the kind of athletic competition people are willing to pay for. You know, again the key is great competition, financial viability and then maybe the marketplace will really support you.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Let me make a comparison to women’s individual sports like the LPGA or the Women’s Tennis Association. That seems to be different, why is that?

DAVID CARTER: First of all those are much more global sports, you have athletes from all over the world playing. They’re gaining notoriety at a much earlier age with respect to tennis for instance. You see Michelle Wie, still a teenager, getting a tremendous amount of notoriety and has done so for years. So they have a little bit more lead time. They’re also plying an individual sport so they’re able to be featured more prominently than athletes on a team. So I think there are a variety of areas there that make a big difference between individual and team sports.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: David Carter is Executive Director of the USC Sport Business Institute. And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us and have a great day.

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