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Promised Paper: Ticket Office Sexism (in detail)

September 11, 2009 – 9:24 AM

By Laura Pappano

Last spring, an op-ed published in the Christian Science Monitor — “The Price Gap Between Men and Women’s Basketball Tickets is Madness” — drew a slew of responses and comments, including some that were awfully hostile about the prospect of women’s play being 1) worthwhile watching and 2)  just as compelling competition as male play, and 3) certainly not worth disrespecting by enforcing a tradition of simply charging less because players are female.

The point here is not to rehash the old debate, but to deliver on the promise of a full study. A part of the Wellesley Centers for Women Working Paper Series, I have collaborated with methodolgist Allison J. Tracy, PhD, to produce a paper, “Ticket Office Sexism: The Gender Gap in Pricing for NCAA Division I Basketball.” We reviewed the ticket prices for men’s and women’s DI basketball for last season and considered the entry fees charged by 292 institutions at various seating levels, including season ticket packages and single game tickets.

An excerpt from the abstract:

Our results showed significant gender gaps at every pricing and seating level with colleges charging a premium for male play. This gap persisted even among teams identified by the NCAA as top-ranked women’s teams with large fan followings. Analysis of attendance figures further showed that the gender differential in price across schools is not accounted for by differences in attendance. Because athletics, and particularly college basketball, have an increasingly prominent cultural profile, the practice of effectively de-valuing women on the court has implications off the court as well. The results support the broader contention that women athletes – as women in traditionally male arenas – continue to face institutional discrimination that is camouflaged as sensible economic practice.

A key point: While sale of college basketball tickets appears on the surface to be no different than the sale of a ticket to an NBA game or other professional sport, such an assumption ignores the fact that colleges do not operate as pure businesses but are non-profits receiving public benefits and, in some cases, even public institutions supported by taxpayer dollars.

As Gordon C. Winston, professor of economics at Williams College, has argued, “the standard economic intuition and analogies, built on an understanding of profit-making firms and the economic theory that supports it, are likely to be a poor guide to understanding higher education.” (Winston, Gordon C. “Subsidies, Hierarchy and Peers: The Awkward Economics of Higher Education.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol. 13, No. 1 (Winter 1999): 13-36).

The paper is available for a fee by clicking here.

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