Reporting Jason DeRusha
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In a town hungry for a winning sports team, we have one. The Minnesota Lynx have clinched the top record in their WNBA division, and are one game away from clinching the best record in the league, and home court advantage in the playoffs.
Yet, the media and community excitement level doesn’t seem to be there. Why do women’s sports and the Lynx have such a tough time competing?
“We’re trying to do our best to be a fan base like the Twins and the Vikings,” said longtime Lynx star Seimone Augustus. “Winning has definitely helped us.”
Still, at the Minnesota Lynx shoot-around and media availability Thursday, there were two print reporters and one TV reporter: me.
“People are busy, It’s the economy, there’s a lot of sports. All we can focus on is having fun and playing hard,” said Minnesota-native and former Gopher phenom Lindsay Whalen.
Despite some peaks of fan interest with women’s sports, like during the World Cup or the Olympics, in general, women’s sports have a tough time gaining traction, according to Nicole La Voi, Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
“Even when the men are losing they’ll get front page above the fold, while female athletes are relegated to the hinterlands of the sports section or not covered at all,” said La Voi. “WCCO excluded, who’s done a fairly good job of covering the Lynx? There’s essentially been a local media blackout of covering the Lynx.”
“Is it sexism?” asked WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Augustus.
She said she’s heard the attitude from men that “girls can’t play,” adding, “as long as we prove the men wrong, we’ll be alright.”
“Strength, power, speed, aggression are characteristics we uphold in athletics — and most closely align with men’s professional sports,” said La Voi.
It’s not like the Lynx aren’t getting some traction from fans. Announced attendance is up for the sixth consecutive season, according to the team. The average is close to 8,400 people, which is fifth in the league, up from 7,622 last year.
A bigger deal for the team, the number of actual people in the building is up over 60 percent from last season, according to the Lynx.
“Our walk-up sales (day of game) are up over 250 percent from last year,” said public relations manager Aaron Seehusen. “We’ve already sold more new season tickets for next year than we did for all of this year. We actually just had a guy yesterday buy 54 new season tickets for next year.”
But compared to most major men’s sports, 8,400 fans doesn’t seem like a groundswell of support.
“If you look at fan attendance in NBA in years 12 or 13, it was much lower than 7,000 or 8,000 fans,” said La Voi.
Indeed, the Los Angeles Lakers of 1961 drew an average of 5,045 fans. The New York Knicks drew an average of 8,035. Both of those cities are much larger than Minneapolis.
For Augustus and Whalen, the key is getting a skeptical group of sports fans to actually experience the product.
“It’s like how you gonna get ‘em here? What’s gonna entice them to get here. We talk about the spandex like overseas, like the Australians wear, whatever it’s gonna take,” said Augustus.