Juniors Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams rank first and second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring. They have sparked the 16th-ranked Hurricanes to a 20-2 record and 21 consecutive home victories.
But as the women’s basketball team continues to shine on the court, it’s been a struggle to get fans in the seats at the BankUnited Center.
Though it shares the same practice facility and plays in the same arena, the disparity between attendance at women’s and men’s basketball games couldn’t be more apparent. On average, around 500-800 fans purchase tickets to a women’s basketball game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they show up.
More than 6,000 showed up Wednesday night when the unranked men’s team faced North Carolina in front a nationally televised audience.
The issue hasn’t gone unnoticed by the university community.
During a couple of games last season, Category 5, the spirit programming board, raffled off 40-inch TVs to students at women’s games. For Sunday afternoon’s game against Georgia Tech, Cat 5 was offering free pizza and a drink to the first 50 students.
“I think with the TV, it’s the overall concept of sort of ‘bribing’ students to come to the games,” Cat 5 Chair Brandon Mitchell said. “Really we shouldn’t have to do that.”
Many, like Warren Whisenant, associate chair at the department of kinesiology and sport sciences in sport administration, believe that media coverage plays an important role in a team’s attendance.
He and a colleague, Paul M. Pederson of Bowling Green State University, conducted a study in 2001 that compared the amount of newspaper coverage within the sports pages for female versus male high school athletics.
The study found that small-circulation papers (up to 30,000) devoted 40 percent of their interscholastic athletics coverage to female participants, while the number dipped to 32 percent with large-circulation papers (over 125,000).
Though this study details high school athletics, it could very well apply to collegiate sports.
“I just don’t think they get the appropriate media coverage. I think that has so much to do with it,” Whisenant said. “You don’t see Joe Rose, you don’t hear talk radio, you don’t hear anybody talking about women’s sports necessarily. If you don’t talk about it, people have different expectations for it.”
According to the study, one of the reasons for larger-circulation papers neglecting female sports is because of their coverage of bigger events and sports.
This season, UM men’s basketball games have been televised 13 times, while the women have played four times on TV. WVUM provides coverage of every women’s home game and every away ACC game.
Over the past four years, The Miami Hurricane has run a women’s sport on the cover once: when the women’s basketball team reached the NIT final against California last year.
And the photo was that of a celebration, something that Whisenant noted as a common occurrence in coverage of women’s sports.
“If you look at the photographs of women at the high school level, they are more passive shots- glamour shots, shots where the coach is talking to the girls as opposed to the guys who are dunking,” he said.
All About Winning
Some don’t find women’s basketball as exciting because players rarely dunk. The game also tends to have a slower pace.
“I have heard that they are a great team and whatnot, but I have never really been interested in women’s basketball,” junior Diego Donna said. “It never struck me as that intriguing.”
Mitchell also believes that unlike certain UM sports, such as football and baseball that get covered no matter how well the teams perform, women’s basketball must win in order to garner attention from the university and outside communities.
He believes with a ranking, women’s basketball can slowly gain more supporters.
“They don’t have to just be winning, but people need to know that they’re winning, which is sort of the difficult part,” Mitchell said.
Judging by the crowd for Sunday’s game, word has spread. The announced attendance was 1,227.
“I thought the crowd was absolutely huge for us. I want to thank everyone who came out,” head coach Katie Meier said. “It was a big part of our energy level.”
Sophomore guard Stefanie Yderstrom agreed.
“It makes it a lot of fun to play,” she said.
The issue with attendance at women’s sporting events isn’t exclusive to Hurricanes basketball. When the WNBA’s Miami Sol played at AmericanAirlines Arena, it also struggled to bring in respectable numbers.
One of the biggest problems with attendance, in Miami particularly, is that unlike many other schools in small towns, athletics in this area are always competing with what Patrick McGrew, general manager of the BankUnited Center, calls the “South Beach Effect.”
“You look at Florida State, what is there to do in Leon County?” McGrew said. “You’ve got a student body that’s three times the size. You don’t have alternative entertainment that you are competing with. Take a look at what UConn is right now; you’ve got 3 feet of snow.”
Yet it’s not just a local issue.
Last week, Indiana University’s student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student, wrote a similar piece on the attendance difference between men’s and women’s basketball.
While women’s basketball attendance is an issue at UM, schools such as the University of Connecticut, whose team won 90 straight games, achieve higher attendance at women’s games.
The Huskies play in two different arenas: the off-campus XL Center, which has a maximum capacity of 16,294, and the on-campus Harry A. Gampel Pavilion that seats 10,167. Over their past five games, three were played at Gampel and two at XL.
“If you look at the big teams in women’s basketball, the big teams find a way to get very, very decent attendance,” Mitchell said. “As the team gets better I think you’ll see it get more respect from the students and the outside community.”
Unlike Tennessee or UConn, women’s programs that have established a core base of fans due to years of consistent winning, Miami is gaining relevance for the first time since the early 1990s, and has to once again establish that fan base.
Each week Category 5 stops by the athletics office to pick up posters for the games, whether it’s men’s basketball or swimming and diving. These posters are placed in all five residential colleges as well as various busy spots on campus.
The programming board also creates Facebook events for upcoming Hurricanes games. The group keeps track of games when it uses Facebook and ones when it doesn’t and has noticed a dramatic difference in attendance.
Aside from social networking, Category 5 implemented Hurricane Force during the fall to encourage students to attend sporting events. After a certain number of points are accumulated, students receive free T-shirts and other prizes. Women’s basketball games account for four points whereas men’s basketball earns an attendee just two.
In the end, it comes down to a multi-faceted problem with no clear solution.
“I think women’s basketball is getting to the point where they’re getting really good and sooner or later someone’s going to pick up on that and a lot of people are going to start going to games regardless of what we’re going to do,” Mitchell said.
Christina De Nicola may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ernesto Suarez may be contacted at email@example.com.