If you’ve been following sports on a national level even a little bit, you’re aware NBA basketball has wrapped for the year having enjoyed a historic season. However, what you might not have known is that the WNBA is celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2016, a historic moment in its own right. This knowledge gap is probably due to the unfortunate difference in popularity between men’s and women’s professional basketball. Attended and reported-on a fractional amount compared to the men’s game, women’s basketball toils in the shadow of the NBA behemoth.
Interestingly, with the college basketball attendance statistics for the past season having recently been released by the NCAA, there is hope that this same disparity doesn’t have to exist at the collegiate level as well. Looking at the attendance breakdowns, there are examples of successful women’s teams outdrawing their male counterparts and pulling strong numbers despite the mediocre attendance averages of the school’s men’s team.
The top five women’s basketball attendance averages were South Carolina (14,364), Tennessee (10,412), Iowa State (9,833), Louisville (9,503) & UConn (8,920). As observed by D1Ticker.com, only Louisville had both their men’s and women’s teams in the top five. Expanding on this, the second smallest disparity following Louisville in national attendance between a top women’s team and its male counterpart was Iowa State (3rd/16th). This would suggest there is little-to-no correlation between average attendance for the women’s team and average attendance for the men’s.
|Women’s Natl. Attendance Rank||School||Women’s Avg. Attendance per Game||Men’s Natl. Attendance Rank|
Instead, a strong culture of winning within the women’s program itself seems to be a major determinant of attendance. Of the top five most attended women’s basketball programs, three ended the season ranked in the top eight in the AP poll, and Tennessee received top 25 votes but also has a storied history with eight national championships. Iowa State, which fell out of the AP top 25 this past season, hasn’t ranked outside the top 5 in average attendance since 2006 and can claim a legitimate legacy in its own right.
All this to say, in the midst of the NBA Finals overshadowing the WNBA’s platinum anniversary and men’s March Madness growing in popularity every year, women’s college basketball teams should take heart that their popularity is solely in their own control. If a strong culture of winning and attendance are created, the fans will come. This is easier said than done, but certainly beats being reliant on a different team for excitement around a sport.