Advertisements appear in nearly every aspect of our lives. They are relevant everywhere in our daily life, – from listening to the radio on your way to work, to advertisements on billboards – adverts influence our lives more than we may think. Sports, especially, depend heavily on advertising to increase ticket and merchandise sales and, therefore, increase profit. What’s confusing though, is that men’s sports are advertised a magnitude more than women’s are. This is due to the brand that men’s sports have created. Branding is about establishing an image of how an organization would like to be seen and thought of by others. Companies want clients to think of them in a positive light so that customers buy their products (Schäferhoff). As a sports business, branding relies on fans, sponsors, club members and the business’ personalities and performances. The problem with women’s sports is a lack of branding and the how people choose to not watch women’s sports due to the fact that there is no brand supporting it. Whether this is caused by sexist or ignorant reasons, I do not know – and frankly, do not care – but focusing solely on developing the brand of men’s professional sports will be a disadvantage to all parties. On the contrary, channelling time and money into recreating the brand supporting women’s sports will have a significant impact on the growth of the female athletic industry as a whole. The rebranding of women’s athletics will not only develop and advance gender equality within athletics, but will open the opportunity to reach more female youth worldwide, and, more generally, bring increased earnings to the women’s sports industry.
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Discrimination against women has been evident in athletics for a very long time. Although the rest of the world is advancing beyond their previously prejudiced ways, the WNBA is still treating their hard working players as if times haven’t changed. Now, I understand that the WNBA is a business – a business to make a profit – and that a player’s salary depends on the profits, but for the amount of skill and effort required to be a basketball player, women are being underpaid as much as $800,000 USD (Hill). Nneka Ogwumike is one of the highest paid players in the WNBA and was paid a mere $95,000 during the 2016-17 season (Hill). Both the NBA and WNBA designate equal percentages of profit to paying its players’ salaries. The reason why WNBA players are paid less is due to the fact that the WNBA makes about $27 million annually whereas the NBA racks in upwards of $7.4 Billion (Calkins). Why is the difference in revenue so drastic? Well, if we look at ticket sales during the 2017-18 season, a single NBA game was attended by an average of 17,380 people whereas WNBA games had an average viewer count of 7,318 people per game in 2015 (Lombardo). How are we, as fans, able to demand higher pay for female athletes when the organizations responsible for paying them are losing money every season? In the 2015-16 season, half of the WNBA’s 12 teams lost money and had negative revenue (Sandomir). “People are still trying to figure out, if the WNBA is always losing money and if the WNBA is in the red, why do we keep it around?” questioned 2017’s WNBA No.1 draft pick, Kelsey Plum. The solution here is rebranding. Having a current and popular brand image enables consumer education and can impact consumer behaviour. If marketing activities enable an association to create a positive brand image, the association will, as a consequence, be able to affect and change the consumers’ buying habits (PlatForMax). An example of effective branding could be seen when customers were still buying iPhones and Apple’s bumpy battery cases in 2016, after the launch of Moto Z and their seamless integration of “Mods”, a slim and sleek battery that snapped on seamlessly and elegantly on the back of the device. The iPhone is what consumers bought simply because Apple created a current and popular brand image. The same applies to men’s versus women’s sports. People watch men’s sports simply because of their brand-created popularity. By rebranding and renewing the idea that women’s sports are not ‘boring,’ there will inevitably be a positive impact regarding the pay equity and recognition of women’s athletics which will impact the growth of the women’s sports industry.
Being a young female athlete and having an aspiration for a future in athletics, I’ve been taught the importance of having goals and an exemplary figure to look up to. I always say that projecting a future image of yourself and then aiming to become this image is one of the most effective ways to improve yourself. Young girls worldwide look up to their idols to prove to themselves that their own dream is achievable. Giving female youth their right to choose and follow their own idol is crucial to ensure the ongoing inspiration within them. Rebranding and increasing the popularity of women’s sports will boost worldwide acknowledgement and media coverage and further the involvement of young females in athletics. In 2017, there was daily NBA game coverage and the finals were broadcasted to over 200 countries worldwide (Bielik). To compare, ESPN2 was the only channel (besides NBA TV) that broadcasted WNBA games and they only showed 10 games over the entire season. This is because of the fact that so few people choose to watch women’s sports. This is due to a lack of branding and further, a lack of interest. There are so many efforts being made by organizations such as JumpStart and Junior NBA that strive to increase the number of children participating in sports, particularly girls. In developing countries, how can we expect girls to participate and stay in sports if there are too many odds against them and not enough encouragement? Let’s look at the Women’s World Cup in 2015. It was the first only Women’s Sports Tournament to be broadcasted in over 35 countries worldwide (FIFA.com). As millions of fans gathered to watch the Women’s World Cup, several non-governmental organizations began putting together soccer games in the East Indian province of Jharkhand. One girl named Kusum Kumari persuaded her parents to let her join the non-profit group that had organized the game and eventually began practicing on a near-daily basis. Now 15, she says her years of playing soccer have helped boost her confidence and changed the way she and her teammates are perceived in their village. “I’d like for all people to play sports,” she said in a recent interview over Skype. “It’s a way to make them healthy and to think independently from what society thinks” (Kumari). Organizations that use sports to promote social and economic development say girls who get involved tend to be healthier, do better in school and have a better status in their families (Mackrael). By rebranding women’s athletics – not just basketball – worldwide, we are now giving those girls the opportunity to find and look up to an idol like I did, giving them a newfound form of inspiration. Rebranding creates more idols, which allows for a larger fanbase and inevitably leads to growth in women’s professional athletics.
If we look back at the history of the NBA, we find that the organization wasn’t always so successful. In 1983, the NBA was a struggling corporation. The finals that year were delayed and the association claimed that it was in such financial distress that there was a necessary cap on player salaries (Berri). That year, Herbert Simon purchased the Indiana Pacers for $11.6 million in today’s dollars. 35 years later, Herbert Simon’s Pacers are worth $1.175 billion (Gibson). How did this happen? How did a team’s worth grow so quickly in such a short amount of time? The NBA and its substantial financial donations are to blame. The NBA has since received more than $3 billion in taxpayer subsidies (Berri). Besides these massive handouts, the NBA also invested a lot of its own money into the quality of the league and made a considerable effort to market its product. Simply said, the NBA didn’t view every dollar spent as a loss, but rather as an investment to help the league grow. The WNBA on the other hand, is unlikely to get as many donations. Politicians are not bidding to fund new arenas just for WNBA teams. Still, despite lacking the monetary advantages of the NBA, the WNBA can strive for greater things above and beyond turning a small profit each year. Imagine if the WNBA revolutionized itself to be the premier women’s professional basketball league around the world.By monopolizing this market and creating a brand for women’s basketball, all participating parties would have the opportunity to get paid more and make women’s basketball – and further, women’s athletics – an entertaining, profiting industry. For the WNBA’s entire history, the league has been marketed and advertised as a “companion” to the NBA. The teams were set up in NBA cities, played in NBA venues, and generally wore uniforms derived from their NBA counterparts (Galligan). And as NBA fans can attest, the league pushed the idea of the WNBA heavily, through promotions like television commercials to the integration of WNBA players in NBA All-Star weekend events (Zegers). And frankly, that’s the problem. The league convinced all of its fans that the WNBA was a replica of the NBA – just the fact that women were on the court instead of men. Everyone was misled though. A women’s game will never have 360 degree dunks or out of this world blocks. What the league failed to realize was that women’s basketball and men’s basketball were – from a technical standpoint – two different sports. The consensus was that the WNBA just didn’t meet the standards of strictly NBA fans. Unfortunately, this marketing problem began compounding exponentially and resulted in many NBA fans viewing the WNBA league as solely a poorly marketed punch line. This is where marketers went wrong. The WNBA cannot solve its problem solely through advertising. If there is zero interest in the product, no matter how hard they promote and advertise, nothing will happen except for creating a population of annoyed fans. By moving away from being the NBA’s “little sister” through rebranding into a self-sustaining independent organization, there will be an immense increase in profit within the industry because the WNBA will no longer have to compete against the standards of the NBA. This absence of competition from the NBA will give the WNBA a clean slate to start with. Marketers and management teams can now rebrand the organization to find its own clientele which will increase profit and promote the growth of women’s athletics worldwide.
I am proud to say that I play basketball at a high level and I take pride in the efforts I put into the sport. To put in the same amount of effort as any other player and go unnoticed and undermined by a large portion of sports fans is quite honestly insulting. The problems affecting the WNBA and women’s athletics are not associated with the players and their skill level, but the method in which marketers display women’s sports to the public. There will always be some sort of comparison between women’s and men’s sports and that is due to anatomy; that can’t be changed. What we can change though, is the public’s view and opinion on the subject matter. To remove this comparison of men to women and promote equity, inspire female youth worldwide, and increase profits of the female sport’s industry, we must make massive changes to the way women’s athletics are governed and marketed. Disregarding the intermediary steps required to make female sports a profiting self-sustaining industry, it all must begin with creating a brand that reaches out and captivates a willing audience.
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