While it is starting to see some growth in recent years, the WNBA is still struggling to carve a niche, even after 16 years of doing business. One of the problems has been the inability of media to embrace women's sports. A recent article in Fortune Magazine outlines this problem and some of the other issues surrounding the marketing of female athletes.
Due to Title IX, the federal legislation that banned discrimination in sports at educational institutions, women's participation in sports has increased by tenfold over the past 40 years. However, despite this rise in the number of women partaking in sports at the high school and collegiate level, women's professional leagues have not seen the same amount of gains in mainstream acceptance.
The WNBA is hoping to change that by eschewing the old notion that women are marketable as sex symbols. The article cites a study which claims that people were more inclined to go to games when female athletes were depicted as actively engaged in their sport, as opposed to when they were portrayed as a sexy bombshell. In fact, the study even found that images of sexualized women elicited negative comments from study participants of both genders, while pictures of female athletes engaged in sport did not produce the same reaction.
The hope is that this new marketing approach will resonate with a new, more targeted fan base, as opposed to broad segments of the population (i.e. males 18-34). Once the WNBA has developed a following from these fans, then it can look more to expanding its audience, which hopefully will bring along more mainstream acceptance and more opportunities for athletic women.
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