It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was reporting on the men’s basketball game against Penn in December. As I took my spot on the press bench, I couldn’t help but feel slightly in awe.
I was in the Liacouras Center with a full student section waving their cherry and white lights and cheering loudly throughout the game.
The experience felt different, but it shouldn’t have. I cover the women’s basketball team as well, and I had already been to several of their games, watching from the courtside press seating.
So what was the difference between the two events? The atmosphere. A large audience. A big, booming arena with a giant jumbotron hanging from center court.
In society, as well as at Temple, we need to pay more attention to women’s sports and give them the respect and support they deserve. This starts with attending and watching more women’s sporting events.
“I feel like we deserve more of a crowd,” said Feyonda Fitzgerald, a senior guard on the women’s basketball team. “People are bandwagoners. You can see that we’re doing good, you might as well jump on the bandwagon and come support us.”
Even when the women have a better record than the men’s team, they still have smaller attendance. In a recent women’s home game, they drew a crowd of 1,117 people in a conference weekend match against Memphis. Meanwhile, the men’s recent matchup against the Tigers drew 4,950 people on a weeknight.
To put the teams’ success this season in perspective, the women were going for their 11th straight win while the men were playing for their second win in eight games. And yet, more than 3,000 people would rather go to the men’s game than the women’s.
“I don’t know what it will take to get people to come out to the games,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean we’re winning, so I don’t know what it will take. Hopefully we keep winning and hopefully it attracts more and more people.”
Obviously, this discrepancy in support isn’t limited to basketball. Paige Gross, a midfielder on the field hockey team, has also noticed attendance is smaller for women’s sports. Even when fellow athletes support each other, she said, it tends to be one-sided.
“We’re all kind of interconnected and we’re all friends,” Gross said. “But you do get a sense that the women’s sports support the women’s sports and the men’s teams will go to the men’s sports.”
The lack of attendance at women’s games also plays into discrimination from sports media.
“There’s sort of an interesting question in the sociology of sports around the idea, ‘Are women’s sports less popular because people don’t go to them and they don’t get airtime on ESPN, or do they not get airtime and people don’t go to them because they’re less popular?’” said Andrew Young, a sixth-year Ph.D. student and sociology instructor.
This chicken-or-the-egg dichotomy poses an issue because it becomes difficult to determine the most effective way to increase popularity in women’s sports.
But regardless of the route we take, progress needs to be made quickly. According to a study updated in 2015 by professors from the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, men’s sports receive more than 90 percent of coverage in the news and sports highlight shows.
“That’s one potential reason that people don’t go to games, because they don’t know about them,” Young said. “They’re not seen as important. The cool games are seen as the men’s basketball games and that’s where all the TV cameras are. You could be on TV if you go, and if you go to the women’s game, then you’re just going to sit there with like three other people.”
Meanwhile, sports news outlets like ESPN don’t take the initiative to educate viewers about women’s teams, and they don’t encourage them to watch women’s games since the channels won’t show them. This makes it harder for viewers to develop an attachment to a team or admire a specific athlete.
People aren’t even being exposed to women’s sports in order to pay them the respect they deserve. Some say they prefer men’s games because they’re “faster-paced” or “more exciting,” but women also put on thrilling games filled with incredible acts of athleticism.
It’s just that people aren’t watching.
“I think we need respect in that we do put in as much work, as much effort, if not more sometimes, to be where we are and we have sacrificed to get to where we are,” Gross said. “I think that’s something we don’t get as much credit for as the guys do.”
Both men and women put in the hours at the gym, follow strict diets, manage busy schedules and, most importantly, they both warrant equal levels of support, facilities, funding and respect.
Despite lower ratings and attendance, Gross remains hopeful about the future of women’s sports.
I do, too. I hope that women will be heralded with the same awe that sports fans reserve for their favorite male athletes. And the next time I walk into the Liacouras Center and see a full arena, I hope I’ll have to stop and remember whether I am covering a women’s or men’s game.
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.