Normally, I would spend time today reviewing my notes from the 32 basketball tournament games I watched between Friday and Sunday. However, I think I will save a condensed version of that review for later this week because there is something else I want to deal with today. It is something that is not really an advertisement for Buick that has been inserted into advertising slots in the weekend games.
Here is the deal. The screen goes black; there is what sounds like a radio or TV play-by -play of an exciting sports event; the screen tells you that you did not see it because “more than 40% of the athletes are women but they only get 10% of the TV exposure.” And Buick is committed to righting that wrong. I have no interest in trying to justify or challenge those numbers; I do challenge the very strong implication made by the folks at Buick that the reason I did not see those events is because they happened in women’s sports.
There are three variants on that thing that I will call an “ad” from here on out:
- Missy Franklin setting an NCAA record in swimming in 2015.
- Elizabeth Giguere scoring a sudden-death goal to win a game that is not identified in the “ad”.
- Arike Ogunbowale hitting a buzzer beater to win the women’s NCAA basketball championship in 2018.
Let me start with the Missy Franklin example. The reason I did not see that on TV – and you probably did not either – has nothing whatsoever to do with men’s sports versus women’s sports. It has to do with the simple fact that swimming is not a hugely popular TV sports property. I did not see Missy Franklin in the women’s NCAA finals in 2015 AND I did not see anyone in the men’s finals in 2015 because they were not on in prime time because – wait for it – very few Americans care about swimming in non-Olympic years. Moreover, even in Olympic years, the surge in US interest in swimming rises to the level that ESPN would need about a dozen different networks to have swimming as a signature event.
- Memo to Buick: This is a perfect example of equality between men’s and women’s sports in America. Most folks do not care about either sport in pretty much equal measures.
Next is the sudden-death goal by Elizabeth Giguere. I confess that I had never heard of Ms. Giguere until last weekend and when I did hear/see the Buick “ad” the first thing that caught my attention was that I did not know of a college sport where a sudden-death goal would decide a championship. However, Google quickly taught me that Ms. Giguere is an ice hockey player from Canada who indeed scored an overtime game-winning goal in women’s ice hockey to send her team to the women’s Frozen Four in 2018. To be sure, the US interest in ice hockey is greater than the US interest in swimming as a TV sports property; however, that “greater interest” focuses on the NHL and not college hockey. Every day, the Washington Post has a listing of every sporting event that will be on TV networks available in the DC area for that day. Granted, I cannot recall the last time I saw an entry for “Women’s college ice hockey”; however, I also cannot recall the last time I saw a listing for “Men’s college ice hockey” either.
- Memo to Buick: Here is another example of TV networks ignoring minor collegiate sporting events equally between the men’s version of the sport and the women’s version.
The last example is Arike Ogunbowale hitting a buzzer-beater against Mississippi State to win the NCAA women’s basketball championship for Notre Dame in 2018. I actually did see that event but did not remember Ms. Ogunbowale’s name as the heroine of the moment. Women’s basketball is on TV, and it is often featured on ESPN or ESPN2 in reasonable time slots. It would not surprise me at all to learn that a regular season women’s game involving one of the traditional powerhouse women’s programs could draw a larger audience than a men’s game in the same time slot involving two minor men’s teams that are only being televised on a network as a time-slot filler. However, that is not particularly relevant here because the “ad” refers to the winning shot in the women’s final tournament game not just any random game. So, here is a simple test:
- The women’s basketball tournament is being telecast in full on the ESPN family of networks this year. In the men’s games on CBS and TBS, there is one “live read promotion” per half for the women’s tournament in every men[s game and there is a banner ad on the courtside table in full camera view promoting the women’s tournament games on ESPN. A quick check of the women’s tournament games revealed no similar cross promotional endeavors. ESPN is not some fly-by-night sports network.
- Now, how do you think the audience numbers for the two tournaments will compare? I do not know the exact answer but the only question in my mind is how much larger will the men’s audience be as compared to the women’s audience.
- In fact, when you watch SportsCenter on ESPN – the network carrying the women’s tournament games – they will report more heavily on the men’s tournament because more people care about the men’s tournament than the women’s tournament. ESPN knows that and wants to feature reports on events where there is greater audience interest.
Television executives seek to put things on the air that will draw viewers; there is an audience for professional wrestling such that three different cable networks put on wrestling programs every week. I do not watch them, but enough people do that TV networks and advertisers pay to be allowed to put them on the air. If a program attracts eyeballs, it gets exposure; if/when “the numbers” tell the execs and the advertisers that audiences are looking elsewhere, that program goes dark. It is a cold-blooded business that only intersects “gender-issues” to the point of fan interest that produces viewer interest.
What Buick is doing here is virtue-signaling, and virtue-signaling is not attractive. Hey, look at us because we are going to do something special for women’s sports and allege that we are doing it to right a wrong. What I think what they are doing is calling attention to themselves by pointing out something that happens in the natural course of the business of sports and making it sound as if they are going to change all that. Good luck with that endeavor; get back to me when you think you have “leveled the playing field.”
Finally, I referred to Missy Franklin and women’s swimming above. Here we are in 2022 and it is not an Olympic year so general interest in swimming in the US – and women’s swimming specifically – is at low tide so to speak. What is the sports focus on women’s swimming this year? It has nothing to do with world records or NCAA records or team championships. THE STORY for 2022 is the inclusion of a transgender woman into the women’s competition. That fact drew attention to Ivy League swimming in 2022 to a greater extent that I can remember in my 70-plus years as a sports fan – – and remember, I attended an Ivy League school for four of those 70-plus years. Even with the focus on that controversy – and not the sport itself – I wonder how many serious sports fans in the US know that Lia Thomas won an NCAA Championship in this year’s swimming finals. In case you did not know that fact, perhaps it is because you did not also know that you could have watched it live on one of the ESPN family of networks. Or maybe you knew that and did not see it because your sports interests lie elsewhere…?
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………