You may not have noticed this ESPN story, but I find that I’m oddly drawn to it.
Sue Bird, perhaps the new Michael Jordan of women’s basketball gets it. The WNBA has an image problem especially among men 18-35. While men are drawn like moths to a flame when it comes to lesbians in the movies and on TV, the same obsessive curiosity has never applied to sports. The WNBA has had an image problem among young males for as long as it has been in existence. Rightly or wrongly, the league is viewed as full of lesbians. That may not be a problem if young men thought of it as home to porn style lipstick lesbians, but the prevailing image among men of the league is that of the butch wanna be a guy style lesbianism.
Sue Bird has been publicly spanked at the alter of political correctness by the brains behind the WNBA. It seems Sue, in an effort to appeal to the male 18-35 demo, made a friendly wager with a Seattle radio talk show host.
Seattle Storm standout Sue Bird on Monday canceled a wager made earlier this season with a sports radio talk show host, who had proposed to spank her on his program if she lost the bet. Bird, 22, apologized to fans, saying in a team statement that she made the bet “as a good-natured way to draw the radio talent and listeners to Storm games.” After realizing the bet had offended some people, Bird decided to call it off.
The wager hinged on whether Bird’s assist-to-turnover ratio would turn out higher than 2-1 at the end of the season. As the bet stood, Bird would have had to cry, “Harder, Daddy, harder” during the spanking if she lost. If Bird won the bet, program host Mitch Levy would have had to buy season tickets to Storm games next year.The WNBA needs an image makeover among men. Male viewership and attendance is miserable, and they could stand to learn a few lessons from women’s tennis and women’s golf.
Tennis – Sex sells in tennis, you need look no farther than Anna Kournikova for proof. While there have always been rumors of lesbianism, the WTA has hardly shied away from marketing the sex appeal of its players. Precisely for this reason 18 -35 year old men watch women’s tennis as frequently as they watch men’s tennis. Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were retired and nearly retired (respectively) when they came out as lesbians.
Golf – Remember Jan Stephenson? She was the original pinup girl golfer. Golf has had its share of lesbian rumors, and even has an event (The Dinah Shore Classic) that is an unofficial lesbian gathering weekend. The LPGA recognized that the lesbian influence need to be balanced out with an image projection targeted at straight males as well. There is no overtly sexual campaign, but individual golfers are never chastised for showcasing their sex appeal. The LPGA has struck a balance in marketing to two different audiences. In fact they don’t really market to the lesbian community at all, word of mouth seems to suffice.
Neither of these two sports is worse off for recognizing that men are interested in sports and sex. Both golf and tennis have strong followings in the gay and straight community. Both sports prove that their appeal is not mutually exclusive. The WNBA could learn a thing or two here.