As this article is being written, the Australian Open is underway in Melbourne, and it strikes me that there is no sport so equal across gender lines as tennis. This is not to say there hasn’t been a struggle to get there. Women did not always have equal prize money in tennis, and as we saw even at the 2018 U.S. Open during the women’s final, women can sometimes be treated differently by officials as well. However, thanks to pioneering efforts by the likes of Billie Jean King, modern feminist icons like Serena Williams, and even some of the professional men on tour who have advocated for equality, such as Andy Murray, tennis - for the most part - looks and feels equal.
Attend a major tennis tournament and you’re likely to see just as much of a crowd for a match featuring female stars as their male counterparts; turn on the TV during a tournament like the Australian Open and it’s a coin flip as to whether they’ll be showing men’s or women’s matches. Save for mixed doubles matches (which don’t get much publicity), the professional men and women don’t actually play against each other. For all intents and purposes though, they’re competing in the same event.
This got me thinking: why don’t other major sporting events work this way? Aside from tennis, the Olympics, and I suppose UFC, it’s hard to find examples of men and women competing in the same sport and being showcased at the same time, or in a similar way. Yet when this happens it goes a long way, not just in generating viewership and revenue for the women, but in helping viewers who are so often blindly partial to men’s sports realize that the entertainment value of the competition and the respectability of the athletes is typically equal across lines.
These are merely one writer’s ideas and suggestions, but it seems that these events could go further to promote women’s sports the way tennis manages to do.
1 - The NBA Playoffs
If you’re a basketball fan who pays attention to social media, you may have noticed that the WNBA is actually getting a lot more respect of late. The league is packed with extremely talented stars, and to their credit some of the biggest voices in NBA media (such as Shea Serrano) have gone out of their way to show and tell their followers that the WNBA can be every bit as exciting. However, the wage gap remains real and the attendance gap is massive, which means there’s still a long way. It would seem that the two leagues could help to bridge the gap by involving the start of the WNBA season (typically in May) with the NBA playoffs (which begin in April). Rather than simply advertising games, as happens now, the leagues should consider airing early WNBA showcases, or even an early season tournament, in between days on the NBA playoff schedule, or during off hours. With so many eyes on the NBA during the playoffs, it seems an ideal time to directly involve the women’s game as well.
2 - The Masters
Women’s golf is taken quite seriously in golf circles, and the LPGA Tour does have a following. With that said though, the tour has nothing even approaching the prestige of The Masters, which is quite possibly the most famous golf event on the planet. Now, a golf tournament means a fairly packed schedule, so despite the fact that the tournament has the smallest number of starters of any major (at 90 to 100 players), it’s probably not feasible to make it a two-tournament event, like a tennis major. However, having an LPGA event at Augusta National in the days right before or right after The Masters could go a very long way toward boosting attention for the women’s tour, and establishing a sort of signature event.
3 - The World Cup
While it presents a logistical challenge of substantial proportions for the host nation, the World Cup should simply be a men’s and women’s event. The Women’s World Cup is a fairly strong draw in and of itself, but putting it at the same venue, and over the same dates as the men’s tournament would enhance both events. It would turn the Cup into a true Olympics-level event surrounding just the beloved sport of soccer, and it would naturally bring some extra eyes to the always compelling women’s game. Given that most of the World Cup schedule tends to involve just two or three matches per day (four earlier on), this seems reasonable doable.
4 - The Boat Race
The Boat Race is a British sporting competition that is in fact already doing a wonderful job of putting men and women on equal footing. Held each year on the River Thames between two prestigious universities (Cambridge and Oxford), it’s a series of rowing races that, a long time ago, was only for young men. However, when Cambridge won the women’s race last spring, it was noted that it was the 73rd women’s race, meaning this has been a dual-gender event for the better part of a century. The suggestion here is simply that this event - which is big in London and around England to some degree - should get more international press.
WRITTEN BYBrand Voices