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but I’d rather there be some facts to back it up (and maybe some action steps?).

Sally Jenkins — who has, in the past, sent over some kind words to the blog (and may now want to retract them) — offers up her piece Women’s basketball needs to work to earn an audience and it’s full of finger pointing, but little substance.

1) Why is Jenkins perpetuating the myth that women’s basketball was “elegant” and suddenly has become physical. Which Lady Vols games was she watching? As Coach Summitt says, “Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships.” Oh, now, I’m not saying the game can’t get overly physical (btw, not a uniquely female issue), BUT let’s not pretend there was a “golden age” of non-physical women’s basketball — unless you REALLY want to go back to the “golden age” of no dribbling.

2) It’s “scandalous” that scoring has dropped by 8pts and shooting percentages have dropped? What’s scandalous is there’s no attempt to identify the WHY of that. Maybe women just can’t shoot. Maybe it’s AAU’s fault. Or High School coaches’ fault. Or maybe women are now coached to play both sides of the ball….you know, it’s called DEFENSE? (BTW, if you do some research, you’ll see there are similar issues on the men’s side.)

3) Oooo, this is an oldie but goodie: It’s the OFFICIALS’ fault! What is new is that Jenkins is upset they DON’T call enough fouls. Instead of the usual old saw — blaming the referees for turning the game into a “whistle fest embarrassment” — she blames the officials for not calling physical play enough.  (Hmmm.. who MAKES the rules that the officials have to enforce? And who coaches AROUND the rules the officials have to enforce?) Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, huh, Patty, Dee and Maj? (And if anyone thinks every other league is totally satisfied with their officiating, they obviously haven’t been paying attention.)

I’ve written extensively about NCAA officiating (and even offered some action steps) — speaking with the officials, coordinators, coaches and such — for Women’s Basketball Magazine and the WBCA’s Coaching Women’s Basketball. I’ve had long, thoughtful conversations with the folks at the center of the issues and, if I may say so, produced long, thoughtful and informative pieces about the profession and its challenges. But I don’t really think “non-officals” care.

My overall takeaway? It’s easier to point fingers than actually DO something. There was a push a while back on the NCAA side — led on the women’s side by the since departed Mary Struckhoff. But it’s really up to the Conferences (meaning athletic directors and coaches). But, they like their fiefdoms and don’t want anyone telling them how they should or shouldn’t spend their money. So, what’s the path of least resistance for fans, coaches, players and writers? Blame the officials — ’cause they’re not allowed to talk back.

4) New math alert: apparently the women’s game has “healthy ratings and rights fees” and plays in “sold out arenas of close to 20,000” and the only reason it’s not raking in the moola like the men’s tournament is “mismanagement.” I know it’s too much to ask for some facts to back those statements up like, you know: what were the ratings v. the men’s, what are the fees, how much does it cost to run the tournament, fly and house and feed the teams and such….

But “sold out arenas”? What tournament is she watching? ’cause this is what Trey wrote post-2013 FF: “When Connecticut and Louisville met for the women’s crown Tuesday night in the New Orleans Arena, there were 17,500 fans, short of capacity.” So, let’s say a total of 35,000 fans. In comparison, the attendance at the 2013 men’s final in Georgia was 74,326. Which comes to a total of  148,652.

As for the overall tournament, it’s kind of a challenge to find any page listing the total attendance numbers (wonder why), but: here’s the women’s Round 1&2 attendance. And here’s the NCAA’s spin: “Attendance at the men’s basketball tournament reached nearly 430,000 fans and the women’s tournament has seen a significant increase over last year.”

Which means: The per session average of 4,850 fans was also a 20 percent increase from last year’s per session attendance average during the first- and second-rounds.” Last year, the total attendance was (I think, if I’m reading this right) 203,788. The average attendance, 4852. It would appear the the “golden years” of women’s basketball attendance were 1999-2004. I’m guessing there was SOMEthing about those years that made them good for women’s basketball, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Yes, that was the sarcasm plane flying by.)

So, when Sally throws around the term “mismanagement,” what I want to know is: Who’s mismanaging what? And why? What has caused attendance to drop, not build? Is it the economy? Is the fan base aging? Disenchanted? Is it because the media world is shrinking and that has snuffed out coverage? Is it athletic directors and the choices the have to/want to make?

The NCAA offered grants to schools and conferences to support their efforts to build their audiences. Some took them up on the offers — many did not. And I’m going to lay even money that most programs couldn’t be bothered to look at the “best practices” those grants produced. WHY they wouldn’t learn from others is for you to ponder.

The NCAA has altered it’s bidding process for hosting tournament games, and still schools/conferences don’t want to host — guess why.

So, if Val is laying out the following “next steps”  (according to Jenkins – h/t FOWHB Joan)…

  • Upgrading officiating
  • Bring business mind-set to ticket sales and television
  • Exploring (“dramatic”) rule changes to make the game more exciting and faster-paced (no mention of what those are)
  • Explore putting the men’s and women’s FF in the same city at different arenas

…let’s talk turkey, and not fling mud. Let’s please start with some facts. And a whole heap of will. And money. The research is out there — but who is going to make the changes happen?

And just ’cause I can, let me offer my  “BAD IDEA” feedback to “same city, different arenas” so it can be tabled and energy can be spent on things we CAN control:

A) It will reduce the number of writers covering the game, because media outlets will cut costs. I’m sure ESPN will say, “Mechelle, you have to cover the men’s tournament as well.” And you know what happens when women’s writers are forced to cover the men’s game….

B) It’s not the same fan base. I, as a women’s fan, have no desire to tromp the same streets as a bunk of over-imbibed Louisville or Kentucky fans who can’t have an intelligent discussion about the similarities and differences between Chiney and Kaleena’s games.

C) Let’s limit the numbers of host cities, much? How many have 20,000+ arenas? And, am I remembering correctly that CBS covers the men’s tournament? So, does that mean they’ll have to fight with ESPN for the good broadcasting spots, or will they share equipment (hah)?

It’s interesting to review my earlier (flashback, 2008) suggestions:

Finally, there’s simply a lot of basic, un-sexy, ground level work to be done to promote the women’s game and grow it to the next level of fandom. Some first steps?

  • Energetic Coaches who understand building an audience is part of their job
  • Better Quality Sports Information Directors who pro-actively cultivate media coverage and find creative ways to get the word out about their sport
  • Athletic Programs that take advantage of the NCAA Marketing materials that are available. The NCAA has done a lot of the work for you — but it does you no good if you don’t use it. (And kudos to the NCAA for their marketing grant program)
  • As Geno notes, ask/beg/make ESPN do a better job of promoting the game. Yah, yah, they’ve expanded their coverage to the full tourney. And yah, they had those great Monday match ups — but promos, highlights, news items and ESPN Classics broadcasts are weak. And I’m not even going to discuss the quality of some of the play-by-play and color commentary people….
  • How about a stronger cross-promotion with the WNBA? Moving the draft to the Final Four weekend was a huge success. What are other (NCAA legal) ways to connect the two worlds/fan bases?

The “Three to Watch” campaign is exactly what I meant about cross-promotion. And the draft was broadcast! The other stuff — what do you think? Have we made any progress? (Gottlieb anyone?)

Finally, a followup on the courage of Griner and Augustus and Tully: If you don’t think homophobia – internalized and external – hinders the growth of our game, you’re a fool. Simply put – haters and homophobes are gonna hate. They think everyone involved with women’s basketball is gay – coaches, players, fans – so what’s the big dealio?

Stand up and say, “So the F*CK what! I will not tolerate hate speech. I will not tolerate bigots. I will be an ally. I will speak up. I will speak out. I will challenge my fan base, my administration, my team, myself to build a more inclusive world.”

Heck, even if that doesn’t grow the women’s basketball game, it’ll make the world a better place.

And isn’t that what we want?

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BG, dat who!

Um, but don’t let the folks at the Sports Economist get a hand on the article. Consider their reaction to the Super Bowl: Revealing Economic Impact Numbers

According to Bloomberg/Businessweek, in preparation for the Super Bowl, Rick’s Cabaret International, a national chain of strip clubs, flew in more than 100 dancers to its Indianapolis club for a week of “nonstop party action”. According to Rick’s spokesperson Allan Priaulx, strippers from the company’s Miami, New York, Minneapolis and Texas venues converged on Indy to take advantage of the money-making potential of the Super Bowl crowds.

The presence of imported exotic dancers actually illustrates one of the primary economic factors that reduces the economic impact of mega-events on host cities. The money earned by these out-of-town performers during Super Bowl week would be counted by consultants attempting identify economic impact since any spending at Rick’s Cabaret by Super Bowl visitors would be figured into direct economic impact calculations. However, the money wouldn’t be earned by Indianapolis residents but instead would immediately head out of town in the pockets (well, maybe the g-strings) of the dancers when they head home. Furthermore, the earnings would not stick in the city to be spent and respent, lowering the multiplier and any potential indirect economic impact. Yet, it is the residents of Indianapolis who are on the hook for over $600 million in public funds that spent building Lucas Oil Stadium.

I asked TSE founder and Clemson professor Skip for his take on the article. His response:

My google news feed picks up several of these stories a day.  This story fits the type.  I really don’t understand why reporters keep producing them!  My take (and that of the other TSE folks):  the true net impact figure would be a fraction – somewhere between 1/10 and 1/2 of what is reported in the article.

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from the Courant’s John Altavilla: Women’s Final Four Tour: Stay In One Line, Please

There is a kindly street person who’s spot is directly in front of the Steak and Shake. This morning, when I first walked by, he was wearing a Tennessee hat. I went up to him, gave him a handshake and a dollar and said, “My friend, the University of Connecticut is playing in this Final Four and wearing that hat does not constitute a solid business plan.”

He said, ‘Well, I can turn the hat backwards and write “Go UConn” on my sign.’ I said that seemed like a good idea,

When I left the place after lunch, waddling by this point, he was wearing a blue ski hat and his sign said “Go UConn.” Say hello to him if you see him.

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