SBD/February 11, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Women's Pro Sports Leagues Still Struggle To Gain Foothold Despite Olympic Notoriety

Two women's pro soccer leagues came and went prior to the NWSL
Although Olympic champions such as Jennie Finch, Mia Hamm and Lisa Leslie are "household names," women's professional leagues in the U.S. "have failed to gain a foothold in a crowded sports landscape," according to Baxter & Rohlin of the L.A. TIMES. National Pro Fastpitch is softball's "third attempt at establishing a women's professional league in the U.S.," and pro softball in the U.S. has "yet to be profitable" in nine seasons. The NWSL "follows two attempts that ended in debt and political bickering among the owners." Last month's "collapse of the L.A. Sparks" showed that "even the WNBA is on less-than-solid ground." National Pro Fastpitch Commissioner Cheri Kempf said, "We all jumped up and down and celebrated the anniversary of Title IX. But we're not there. Women's professional sports, particularly team sports, are nonexistent in this country. And it seems to be something that nobody's recognizing or really fighting for." Baxter & Rohlin write with the "notable exception of the WNBA," women's sports "remain largely invisible" on TV. ESPN "averaged 900,000 viewers" for each of its Women's College World Series games last season, but National Pro Fastpitch "has never had a broadcast deal." ESPN2's WNBA audience grew 28% in '13, but average viewership was "only 231,000 a game -- much lower than poker, which drew an audience of 1.234 million, and bowling, which averaged 671,000 viewers last year." Although women's pro leagues have "struggled in the U.S., they have survived, even thrived, in other countries." Pro softball player Linda Lappin said, "The difference is that the corporate sponsors here are looking for financial kickback. They're looking to invest their money in a commercial (relationship) and to make money off their product. In Japan there's some of that, but really they have these sports teams to boost employee morale" (L.A. TIMES, 2/11).
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