Friday, June 20, 2014

Women’s professional sports get short shrift

Women’s professional sports often aren’t taken seriously.
While men’s pro sports like football, baseball and basketball have huge followings, women’s pro sports tend to struggle.
The most prominent women’s pro sports are tennis and golf. These are both sports that women in the general public play for exercise and leisure. That helps explain their appeal.
Others, like basketball, are a punch line.
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has struggled financially since its founding in 1997. It’s also been a target of comedians, such as satirical news website The Onion.
Minnesota Lynx World’s Richest WNBA Team With Value Of $4,” one Onion headline blared last year.
WNBA Champions Visit White House Fence,” another Onion article said.
To get male fans, women’s pro sports need more than great athletes. Men aren’t prone to watch sports created simply to provide a female version of a popular men’s sport. Title 9 might work to ensure funding for women’s high school and collegiate sports. But the free market decides what’s popular with the paying public.
The Summer Olympics have provided a boost to two women’s team sports by raising the profile of the athletes involved: soccer and softball. But professional leagues for both have had a rough time.
The National Women’s Soccer League is the top level pro women’s soccer league in the U.S. It began play in spring 2013 with eight teams, four of which used to be in the defunct Women’s Professional Soccer. The WPS ended in 2011 after three seasons. Before the WPS, there was the Women’s United Soccer Association. WUSA lasted three seasons, ending in 2003.
Now in its second season, the NWSL has nine teams nationwide.
The same story with women’s pro softball.
National Pro Fastpitch, formerly the Women’s Pro Softball League, is the only professional women’s softball league in the U.S. The WPSL was founded in 1997 and folded in 2001. The NPF revived the league in 2004 and currently features four teams.
Then there’s women’s tackle football. Not the sexed up Lingerie Football League, but serious smash-nose football.
The Women’s Professional Football League ran for nine seasons, from 1999 through 2007, but collapsed. There are now three 11-on-11 U.S. football leagues for women: the Women’s Football Alliance, the Independent Women’s Football League and the Women’s Spring Football League.
Here in the greater Washington, D.C., area we have the WFA team the D.C. Divas.
Judging from photos online, with all their padding and helmets on, I can’t tell if they’re men or women playing the game.

Photo: Divas linebacker Trigger McNair picks off a Columbus Comets pass and laterals to Eleni Kotsis, who dashes 43 yards for a touchdown in the Divas’ 40-12 playoff victory in June 2013. (Credit: D.C. Divas.) 

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