The US Olympic women’s soccer team celebrates after scoring a winning goal against Canada on Monday.
From Gabby Douglas to Alex Morgan, women are being hailed as the stars of the 2012 Olympics, at least for American audiences. The Baltimore Sun notes that this year the US sent more women than men to the Games, for the first time ever, and that many of the breakout stars in London — Douglas, her teammate Aly Raisman, swimmer Missy Franklin — have been women. And the New York Times just devoted a largely adoring profile to the “imperfect” but much-beloved women’s soccer team. As much as viewers love to ogle (and mock) Ryan Lochte, many of the most-talked-about athletes of the Games have been female.
Maybe that’s partly because for many casual sports fans, watching female athletes is something of a novelty. While the faces of the men’s Olympic basketball team are familiar to most due to their NBA fame, the women’s basketball players are far less well-known — most play for the WNBA, but that league has struggled to get mainstream attention (though attendance was up last season). And while Olympic women’s soccer has, in the words of Sam Borden of the Times, “inspired incredible emotion from fans of all types,” no fan of any type could watch women’s pro soccer in the US this season, because the league folded (men’s soccer, by contrast, is doing well, but the US men’s team didn’t make the Olympics).
So the Olympic are one of the very few times (the US Open being another) when the achievements of female athletes are big news. And American fans eat it up, arguably paying more attention to the women than the men. Are audiences paying attention because they’re stoked to finally see some female athletes in headlines and on primetime TV? And if so, what does that mean for regular season sports?
Gabby Douglas on the balance beam during the all-around finals on August 2.
An audience for one women’s sporting event doesn’t guarantee an audience for others, as BuzzFeed’s Allison McCann learned when she moved from Stanford’s popular Division I soccer team to the flailing Women’s Pro Soccer league. And maybe American audiences only want a dose of women’s sports every couple of years. But the fact that they want it at all is intriguing — many have claimed that Americans just don’t want to watch women compete, and the Olympics give the lie to that. The question is whether the conditions of the Olympics can be replicated elsewhere.
Bleacher Report’s Dan Levy thinks “it’s just a matter of finding enough big events to fill the calendar,” advocating that cable networks experiment with weekly roundups of a variety of women’s sports. And Alan White at the New Statesman takes broadcasters and sportswriters (in the UK) to task for ignoring women, arguing that if they got more attention (and thereby sponsorships), world-class female athletes might not have to live in poverty. Ultimately, exposure may be the key. American culture is saturated with men’s sports — even non-fans can name top NFL and NBA players, and when players become household names, it’s easy for new fans to stumble upon them and get invested in their games. This could happen with women’s sports — even those who still claim women’s sports just aren’t good enough to be interesting acknowledge that name recognition is a big factor. And the Olympics are great at building name recognition — leagues, networks, and marketers just have to figure out how to sustain it.
Whether they do so depends on a lot of factors, not least avoiding the mismanagement that helped doom Women’s Pro Soccer. And big events like the Olympics and the Women’s World Cup always raise hopes for more regular-season coverage — hopes that haven’t yet come to fruition. But in a lot of ways the voices of female athletes (witness weightlifter Zoe Smith’s blog counterattack against those who criticized her body) and those of their fans (like, say, Gabby Douglas’s more than 500,000 Twitter followers) are louder than ever. Viewers are excited about women’s sports right now — if media outlets and sports officials don’t at least look for ways to keep that excitement going, they’ll be missing an opportunity.
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I’ve been saying this for at least 20 years. Seven foot basketball players with a ten foot rim. Come on. Football players hidden from view behind helmets and shoulder pads and neck braces. Come on. PGA golfers that drive par 4’s and drive and chip to par 5’s. Come on. If you want to see sports closer to the true spirit of competition, come on … look this way boys!
- Fréderic L. Olympics Show It's Time To Give W... and thinks it’s Hooray
I think the biggest issue with fanbases for women’s sports in America is what we have grown to appreciate in sports. Take basketball for example, people love to see 6’8 people dunk from the foul line and stuff like that - its a huge display of flash, muscle and otherworldly spectacle. In contrast, its a big deal just if a woman is able to dunk, and in general the woman’s game is far less scoring, teams average around 70 points per game, whereas the average NBA team scores around 100. Its unfortunate because there are some sports that women are absolutely excelling at. Ive been watching our soccer, swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, and track teams and they are incredible. Unfortunately, nobody watches those sports when its not the olympics, ever, regardless of gender. The only area in which these athletes falter in is the entertainability of their skill. Since women are just biologically less athletic than men in the traditional terms, these women execute the fundamentals of their sports to perfection. Sadly, tv audiences in general prefer the spectacle to flawless execution each time. Its why the NFL and NBA are the two biggest sports leagues in America, and practically nothing else competes. The NFL has 270 pound people who run 4.5 40 yard dashes who collide with each other at full speed. NBA players are literally larger than life, and can seemingly fly. Even though the fundamental flaws in the game of NBA players is obvious, it matters far less because their athletic abilities exceed our imaginations. Football is not the smartest sport, but it is an unholy violent orgy with 11 different people all working together. Sports are an escape, and when we escape, we gravitate towards the story with the superhuman abilities each time
- gracer Olympics Show It's Time To Give W...
Yet more USA-centric garbage. The outstanding female athelete of the games has been Katie Taylor and the biggest moment for female sports; her bout against Natasha Jonas (who, by the way, beat Queen Underwood, who was on Buzzfeed’s Olympians to watch list). This is the first time women have been allowed to boz and Boxers such as Taylor and Jonas have put on an exhibition of boxing, so much so that several pro’s and commentators have said they would easily beat men at the same weight. Standard no mention of anything the USA isn’y good at from Buzzfeed though.
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- shell52383 Olympics Show It's Time To Give W... and thinks it’s Win