As the John Brown University Lady Eagles basketball players tie their shoe laces, wipe sweat off their brows, practice shooting three-pointers and continue building team chemistry and charisma during the final few weeks of their pre-season practices, they know they will be missing one thing when their season begins. They will not lack hard work, dedication and passion for the game they play–they will lack spectators.
“In general, men’s sports will always have more fans and more people attending their games just because men’s sports are faster paced, and I guess more exciting,” Karina Chandra, senior guard for the Lady Eagles basketball team, said. “It’s just how it is, and definitely here, the men’s team always gets more support than we do.”
JBU does not collect data or have attendance records for men’s and women’s sports. However, national statistics show that, in general, the average number of people who attended men’s college sporting events far outweighs the attendance of women’s college sporting events. For example, in NCAA Division I basketball, the net attendance for men’s games in the 2017-2018 season was 24,525,640, according to the NCAA. The women’s NCAA Division I basketball net attendance for 2017-2018 was 7,989,732.
The Kentucky men’s basketball team garnered the most support of any D-I team overall and averaged 21,874 in attendance per game, according to the NCAA. The D-I women’s team that had the highest number of attendance was South Carolina, averaging 13,239 fans per game, according to the NCAA.
In D-I soccer, the attendance gap was not as large for men and women’s sports in 2017. The University of Connecticut received highest attendance for D-I soccer, averaging 3,502 fans per game. In D-I women’s soccer, Brigham Young University garnered the most support out of all women’s teams, averaging 3,006 fans per game, according to the NCAA.
Men’s sports are more widely covered by the media than women’s. Only four percent of sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, and only 12 percent of sports news is presented by females, according to the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The discrepancies in sporting events carries over to professional athletics, as well, especially in terms of equal pay. The average NBA player makes $5 million per year, whereas the average WNBA player makes $72,000 per year, according to CNN. NBA players get paid 50 percent of the franchise’s revenue, opposed to WNBA players receiving only 25 percent of their franchise’s revenue, according to ESPN. Of course, many factors affect average pay, such as the shrinkage of the overseas market, revenue sharing and the fact that the NBA is a much larger and older franchise than the WNBA.
JBU’s Athletic Director Robyn Daugherty said she does not think there is an attendance gap in sports at JBU, “I think this year our women’s teams are pulling more than our men in soccer, volleyball is pulling tremendous crowds. I don’t think you can say that across the board. I think it has a lot to do with who’s winning, who’s not. Who maybe has friends and is engaged across campus a little more. We have 60 percent women and 40 percent men here on campus. That could be some of it, I think there’s a lot of different things that play into that.”
Collin Smith, JBU graduate student and men’s soccer team center midfielder, said “I would say there is probably a disparity generally. There’s probably more that show up for the guys teams. When I am playing, I don’t notice too much.”
Chandra, on the other hand, said “I think it’s kind of unfair because I wish more people would support the women’s teams just as much as they did the men’s it’s also just reality. If you ask anyone in our team would you rather go watch a men’s game or a women’s game, it would probably be a men’s game because it’s more exciting. But, it’s not the best. It would be nice to regularly have more people at every game.”
Annika Pollard, senior defender for the Lady Eagles soccer team, said the men’s and women’s soccer teams at JBU are a rare, coveted entity, receiving equal fan support. “I look up in the stands during our games, and I am in the stands during the men’s games, and I feel like it’s pretty even, which I feel like is practically unheard of. But, I feel like that’s not the case for all sports on campus.”
Chandra said people would rather watch, “A men’s game because it’s more exciting … they can dunk, that type of thing … I don’t think it’s based on effort, it’s definitely just their physical abilities because they are male.” Chandra continued and said she doesn’t feel like this is an adequate reason for fans to support them men over the women because, “I think, in terms of work ethic and how much work we put in, I don’t think they put in more work than we do. I think we give just as much effort, if not more. I think, in terms of how hard we try, in comparison to other women’s teams, we are pretty good.”
Smith said he doesn’t think athleticism is a key factor in people’s choice of game attendance. “In my experience, there are girls who are just as skilled an athletic. I don’t think guys are better. I don’t think you can throw that out as a broad reason for [low attendance.] In the culture, it’s been men’s sports of a long time. Maybe they could go a little bit harder in not being scared to challenge, but our women’s team soccer wise are top ten in the country. If you want to see a good soccer game, I would go to the women’s game over the men’s game.”
Pollard said later start times for the men in all sports might also factor into attendance, “I’d say the only thing the men’s team gets that we don’t is the later game times, but someone has to have it. They get the prime game time, but there isn’t any sort of bitterness in that regard.”
Daugherty said that, in the Sooner Athletic Conference—which is what JBU is a part of—the conference, “Does not allow men and women to flip games yet. We’re going to see if we can get that resolved.”
Smith said, “From my experience as an athlete, people that show up often, there are a select few that really love the sport. Some may prefer men’s to women’s because of the competitive edge or whatever is there, but a lot of it is just the relationships. I feel like people come to games because they know people. Even then, there’s still a disparity.”
Daugherty said, “Gone are the days when I can expect a student to come to the start of a women’s game and stay until the end of a men’s game in either sport. There’s too much going on. If I could maybe get students to see the value in coming at the beginning of a women’s game, even if they can’t stay the whole game, then maybe coming back for the second half of the men’s to show that support to kind of agree that that’s an issue but we’re not going to use it as an excuse so they feel supported.”
In terms of her hopes for this season, Chandra said, “In terms of showing school pride, I think that if they know the women’s basketball team… we do really appreciate it when people make the effort to come support us. It does make a difference, it helps us feel more fired up about the games. We’re representing JBU. To have the students we are representing as a university coming to support us, it means a lot.”
Smith said, “To wear the badge of school and get to represent JBU on the soccer field and the way I play is really cool, and I know that sports culture can bring all kinds of people together, and it’s an awesome social event. It’s hard to create and you can’t manufacture it apart from a lot of people wanting to buy in.”
Pollard said students are “doing a great job. They’re coming and cheering loud, and they scream for us, then sit on the sideline for the men’s game and are doing the same thing. I would encourage people to keep it up. We’ve had a lot of momentum from the campus, and people are more involved on the men’s and women’s sides. Stay invested. I know the season is long, but keep coming to games.”