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The b-ball debates: quality, market & don’t raise prices!

April 5, 2009 – 3:49 PM

By Laura Pappano
THE QUALITY ISSUE: The Clippers could beat UNC, so..?

A reader writes: “…there is also a big gap between the quality of play for men’s and women’s college b-ball…and thus the price disparity.”

Absolutely, men’s college basketball is a fast-paced exciting game and male players on average may be bigger and faster and jump higher than female players. And yeah, the McDonald All-Stars would beat top women’s teams. But then, the L.A. Clippers (18-58) would beat any of the top men’s college teams by 50 points.

The matter here is not about bigger, faster, stronger, but about competition because that’s what we pay to watch. People leave blowouts at halftime. We watch college ball – men’s or women’s – because – well – it’s college ball. It doesn’t matter that it’s unlikely that a single player on Villanova will end up in the NBA; they were fun to watch because they brought a good competitive game to their opponents (at least while the run lasted). And the women do that, too.

THE TAXPAYER ISSUE: Let’s play fair with public benefits

Before we start creating derivatives based on the worthiness of various college men’s premium seating plans, let’s get hold of a key fact: College basketball exactly ISN’T a free market system. March Madness bracket betting (plus those massive salaries for men’s coaches) camouflage the fact that college sports are part of educational institutions that receive public funds and tax benefits as non-profits.

I’m not sure many female taxpayers – if they thought about it – would be so excited about using their earnings to feed differential treatment of women based on the historic fact that men’s teams have been more heavily supported, promoted, and publicized. The presumption that fans don’t want to watch women’s basketball is based on…what? That they are scheduled, priced, and promoted as lite fare?

THE TICKET PRICE ISSUE: Not a call to scalp the fans…!

Just because I point out that, controlling for attendance (some folks may have missed that part), most colleges charge twice as much to see men’s basketball as women’s basketball is not a mandate to double the price of women’s tickets. Rather, it’s a call to look at what we’re saying when we accept such a huge pricing disparity (hint: it’s about more than tickets).

Interestingly enough, several D1 colleges have an appealing alternative: They charge the same to attend men’s and women’s games. (Check out Louisiana Tech, Campbell University, Central Connecticut State University, Grambling State, University of Hartford, just to name a few…) Maybe if tickets to college basketball more reflected their role within a university setting – rather than as mini-pro enterprises – more fans could appreciate (and attend) both games.

  1. 6 Responses to “The b-ball debates: quality, market & don’t raise prices!”

  2. For a long time, as a Seattle resident, I watched the Seattle Storm try to gain a foothold here in a town where the professional men’s team was awful (and eventually left) and where the local collegiate scene was dominated by the University of Washington men’s teams, once Lorenzo Romar became coach. The women’s teams (collegiate and professional) just could not compete, in the market. Empty seats say one thing–the game will dictate the attendance. There may be exceptions, such as Connecticut, but those remain just that–exceptions. I went to a women’s Regional game a couple of years ago. It was not, sad to say, a good example of what basketball could or should be at the collegiate level. And, comparing the Clippers to a top collegiate team is really off the mark. The Storm (Seattle’s women’s team) would be the U Conn women’s team 100 times out of 100, but what would that prove? I guess the point is that I will pay top price to see the best and pay less to see lesser quality. Do we pay the same price for minor league baseball as we do to get a seat at the Major League games? No, we don’t. Nor should we. Do we pay the same to see minor league hockey as we do for the NHL? No, we don’t. Nor should we. What’s the difference? The fact that some of the universities are public? Why does that matter? I will not pay major league prices for minor league products.

    By Henry Ware on Apr 6, 2009

  3. I believe in equality for women in collegiate sports and I think that title 9 addresses that issue with all of the scholarships awarded to female athletes. I think, however, with regard to fans who wants to see a game (other than players’ family and friends), the ticket price needs to match the demand. If you want to research supply and demand for game tickets, look at one of the resale sites (eg. stubhub) to see what the open market is willing to pay. For the same price I would willingly pay for a mens final 4 ticket, you’d have to use a gun to get the same money money out of me for the women’s game. Then, it would have to be played within 20 miles of my home for me to actually go.

    By jeff H on Apr 6, 2009

  4. Geez Laura, can we get past all the posturing, the Title IX crap, the esoteric arguments based on fairness dictated by the anointed elite who delude themselves into believing they posses the unique ability to understand and discern the “real” issues? You would have us believe this is about competition, and at one level you are correct, but not in the context you articulate. It is about competition (or in the case of professional sports, entertainment) that people are willing to pay to watch. Most people who pay to attend sports events of any type want to watch the best that sport has to offer for the price they are willing to pay. That axiom explains the outrageous sums NCAA tournament tickets fetch. It also explains those who to pay to watch something else; like women’s basketball, or minor league whatever. They pay less, they get less.

    You ask; “The presumption that fans don’t want to watch women’s basketball is based on…what? That they are scheduled, priced, and promoted as lite fare?” NOoooooo Laura, the presumption that fans don’t want to watch women’s basketball is based on the reality that people aren’t lining up with any amount of money in large enough quantities to sell out college arenas and thereby create a shortage of tickets to meet demand. This is market economics pure and simple! Perhaps that’s the real problem; it’s too simple for the pseudo intellectual crowd to understand. People pay for what they want, and refuse to pay for what they don’t want, regardless of price. Whether that makes it right or wrong is not, nor will it ever be the issue. Get over it! If the world were fair, great teachers would earn NBA like salaries and pro wrestlers would have to pay huge sums to participate in their chosen field. You need to get a clue and worry about something that truly matters in the first place. Hint: it has nothing to do with sports or entertainment, nor the money people spend on either.

    But as long as you are fixated on sports, I have to ask, do you really want competitive and economic democracy in sports? If the answer is in the affirmative, then follow golf. The game doesn’t care who you are, what sex you are, what race you are, what age you are, what college you attended, how physically fit you are, or how good you look. It’s real simple; you get the ball in the hole in fewer strokes than anyone else you win. If Michelle Wie’s game ever rises to the level of challenging Tiger Woods, I will pay big BIG bucks to watch them in match play. So will a huge percentage of the sports watching world. I don’t believe it will ever happen, but if it does, I will pay. Hopefully that warm glow you are feeling right now is not from a slow burn of self righteous indignation but rather from a light bulb that just lit over your pointed little head.

    By Mitchel Cline on Apr 6, 2009

  5. I understand your point of view, but there is a basic fundamental principal of economics that you are overlooking and that is what this is really about, not differences in play styles. Perception is the key not actuality.

    There is no such thing as being undervalued. People often use this to describe how underappreciated for their job they are, and its just as false there. If you accept a position with a certain payrate, that is exactly how much your time is worth, no more, no less. If you believed you were being undervalued you would never take the position. Once you do, you have set your own value. This is also the heart of compromise, fine tuning from both sides to come upon an agreed value. Taking a job just because you had no other option available at the time also doesn’t play a part. Options increase your value, you take the highest offered price for you. If you have none, the price you accept is your value.

    Now, lets connect this with the current price differential that exists. The ticket prices are what the ticket prices are, because people are willing to pay for it. If you increase the cost of both mens’ and womens’ tickets dramatically, attendance will drop because people people will not accept the value any longer. Now, that is not to say that the women’s teams couldn’t increase prices and not lose attendance. But, on average, sports fans, for a multitude of reasons, believe there is more entertainment value in mens’ sports than in womens’.

    I believe a great many colleges could raise the ticket price for womens’ basketball, but forcing them to equate the price with mens’ basketball will only cause the womens’ team to suffer because, as of now, the value of the entertainment to many people is not equal.

    By Silent on Apr 6, 2009

  6. I do agree with you on the taxes and pay scale for coaches, I think they are paid higher than the value of the position they hold and taxpayers would agree I think if they realized they are paying the coaches and they have no say in how much pay a coach should recieve. If it’s public and that high a price tag, it should be voted on. But then again, colleges are probably the biggest rip-off in this country.

    By Silent on Apr 6, 2009

  7. What a lot of self-righteous comments you have attracted, Laura. I wonder why people are protesting so much. Afraid to lose male privilege? You’ve obviously hit a nerve. You go girl. Keep it coming.

    By Ted on Apr 8, 2009

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