By Bailey Knecht, sports editor
Last Northeastern University hockey season, the men’s team attracted a crowd of nearly 5,000 fans at a home game against Boston University (BU). Yet, when the women’s team faced BU at Matthews Arena, barely 200 spectators came to watch. In fact, attendance at the women’s games never topped 500 that season, even in an intense playoff series against Hockey East opponent University of New Hampshire.
The storyline is identical for other sports. In general, interest in women’s sports is drastically lower than in men’s, something I find to be unfortunate considering Northeastern is lucky enough to have some extremely talented female athletes — we have an Olympic hockey player in Kendall Coyne and a women’s soccer team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. The overall level of success is similar for both teams. The same number of women’s teams won conference championships as men’s teams last season but, for some reason, the majority of fans seem to have little regard for female sports.
It’s not just at the collegiate level. With the exception of tennis, and to an extent, soccer, women’s professional sports are vastly underappreciated. WNBA games averaged just over 7,300 fans per game in 2015, its lowest attendance ever. For comparison, NBA attendance reached upwards of 18,000 per game last season. There is a disparity in television viewership as well – the 2015 NBA Finals attracted nearly 20 million viewers, while the 2015 WNBA Finals only approached 600,000.
Some people believe that women’s sports would become more popular if there were more media coverage and publicity. However, in order for there to be more media coverage, spectators need to show a genuine interest in those sports. So, does coverage or interest need to increase for women’s sports to become more popular? It’s a vicious cycle that will continue unless we see a joint effort from broadcast networks and fans.
People who aren’t fans of women’s sports argue that men are naturally more talented and athletic. Bleacher Report has gone so far as to compare WNBA talent to that of a “competitive high school [men’s] game.”
It may be true that men and women are not always on the same field in terms of physical ability, but instead of dismissing female athletes, spectators should appreciate that men’s and women’s sports are two unique phenomena. Just because women play differently doesn’t mean they aren’t great at what they do. Sure, female players aren’t throwing down high-flying alley oops or body checking opponents into the boards like their male counterparts, but sports fans can still get their fix with women’s sports. Just recently, in the 2015 WNBA Finals, Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx buried a clutch 3-point buzzer beater to earn the win over the Indiana Fever. And anyone who claims they don’t enjoy women’s hockey clearly hasn’t seen any of Kendall Coyne’s SportsCenter Top 10 plays. The same themes of triumph, heartbreak, upsets, comebacks and last-second plays are apparent in both men’s and women’s sports.
It’s unrealistic to think that women’s sports will ever reach the popularity of men’s, either at the college or professional level, but people who call themselves sports fans while only caring about the male-dominated side aren’t true sports fans. Those claiming female sports to be inferior are simply not looking at them with the right perspective. The best way to change the lopsided culture is to change the way we think and embrace the fact that men and women have different styles of play. Most importantly, stop making female athletes into a punchline and appreciate them and the great feats they achieve.
– Bailey Knecht, a journalism major at Northeastern, can be reached at Sports@HuntNewsNU.com.