This won’t be a super-long post, just something to think about:
The NCAA this week released its data on women’s basketball attendance figures, showing that a record 11,160,293 fans attended games this past season. This was thanks to increases at the Division II and Division III levels.
The Division I total was marginally less than the previous year – down a mere 29 – but still had the second-best total ever: 8,042,040. For the 10th season in a row, the Big 12 led all conferences, with total attendance of 1,973,069 for an average of 5,312.
And Tennessee once again led all schools, averaging 13,999 fans per game. I’m sure Pat Summitt will see to it that a couple more people bring friends next year and get that up to 14,000.
At any rate, the sport’s popularity and spectator appeal may not be growing by leaps and bounds, but it’s better than it’s ever been. And while it’s unlikely to spike a great deal, it’s also just as unlikely to decline measurably.
It has a consistent audience that continues to make modest gains. Bottom line is that there is more interest in women’s basketball now than there was five or 10 or certainly 15 years ago.
But … there are fewer writers covering it. The collapse of the newspaper industry has taken a toll on everything aspect of coverage, but women’s sports was a niche thing that’s been particularly hard-hit.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog, of course. But juxtaposed with the positive attendance news, it’s another sobering reminder that what’s happened in the industry doesn’t reflect a lack of interest on the part of fans/readers.
It reflects a failed business model, a still-struggling global economy and technology changes that have given potentially everyone a forum and removed a staggering amount of revenue from newspapers.
And those problems have revealed the plain fact that diversity of coverage in newspaper sports departments was a “nice” concept when it could be afforded. It never became a bedrock philosophy. The commitment to it was never as deep as we all hoped it was.
There’s no going back. To go forward, those of us who cover things like women’s sports have to re-think what we were taught and relied on in regard to career paths, hierarchy and even alliances. There’s a survival-of-the-fittest mentality that includes a type of self-promotion that feels alien to most of us.
But such is the evolution of the occupation.