Review of Literature
There is a definite correlation between the economics of professional womens sports and their ultimate success. As most success in sport leagues, teams and associations are measured by longevity, win/loss records, and most importantly, revenue, the footprint of female competition at the professional level has not been paramount at any point in our history. Professional womens athletics is characterized by an economic model and a level of acceptance amongst the masses that differs immensely from their male counterparts.
In this review of literature I plan to examine the major issues contributing to the struggle womens professional team sports experience, in comparison with individual sports. To better understand the disconnect between female buying power and the support by females of womens professional sport, I will use industry facts and expert opinions to look closely at the economic pitfalls of professional womens sports and how that contributes to their ultimate demise.
Participation and Buying Power
In the post-Title IX era, female participation in sport has skyrocketed. In 1970, one in every twenty-seven girls played high school varsity sports; compared to one in three today (6). Overall, women currently outnumber men as active sports/fitness participants (1). Since 1991, women have also out-purchased men in athletic shoes and apparel, they participate in most purchasing decisions for men and families, as well as their own, and buy disproportionate to their participation in sport. In short, women control 81% of total sports apparel dollars (6). Hence, the argument that women are not interested in sport and that they do not purchase apparel, remains untrue (3).
Womens professional team sports have had a difficult time establishing themselves as a staple in a booming industry. Some argue that the masculine image of team sports has inhibited women from participating professionally in the United States (4). The best examples of womens sport at the professional level would be basketball and soccer. Both of these sports are widespread in the United States, both sports enjoy immense participation, yet they struggle economically.
Women have been playing competitive basketball since 1892. In 1976, womens basketball became and Olympic sport and has experienced much success at the collegiate and amateur levels since. The first professional league was launched in 1978 and folded 3 years later. Two other leagues were created in 1996Xthe American Basketball League (ABL) and the WNBA. The ABL ceased operation in 1999, while the WNBA continues to thrive. Financial woes were the cause of each teams demise and experts argue that the WNBAs survival is due to its NBA affiliation (2). Its an interesting phenomenon that basketball, an American sport, has seen several European leagues and organizations survive throughout the years (4).
Being the most recent failure in womens professional sports, the Womens United Soccer Association (WUSA), folded in 2003, just 5 days before the Womens World Cup began. John Hendricks, Chairman of the WUSA Board of Governors, said that, a shortfall in sponsorship revenue and insufficient revenue from other core areas of the business proved to be the hurdles which the WUSA could not overcome in time for planning the 2004 season (5).
Individual sports in professional womens athletics, such as golf, bowling, billiards, and tennis, have a much longer, more widely accepted, more easily followed history than that of team sports (4). The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) was established in 1950 and has since become an international organization. In 2003 Serena Williams signed a contract with Nike that could make her the richest woman in sport (BBC Sport, Dec. 11 2003.)
Sponsorship and Broadcasting Weaknesses
Dr. Donna Lopiano, editorial writer for the Womens Sports Foundation Business Newsletter, has coined seven primary sports sponsorship weaknesses in the development of the womens sports marketplace and the active female consumer. Five out of these seven components apply strictly to the marketing of professional womens sports leagues. 1) Investing in start-up womens professional leagues. Successful pro sports leagues can no longer be created by wealthy individuals alone. Rather, such leagues demand partnerships consisting of print and electronic media partners, corporate sponsors and individual investors (3). Womens and mens sports are different products and should be served by different corporate investment entities. 2) Lack of affirmative female consumer-friendly educator sales force outreach efforts. Male and