Men’s collegiate basketball has been a dominant force in the United States for over 75 years, bringing the nation together every March for one of the biggest sporting spectacles of the year. And while the women’s game has continually improved and gained ground over the years, the gap in viewership and attendance, particularly in the regular season, is still sizable.
Even at the University of Maryland, home to the fourth most winningest women’s program in the country in the last eight years, there is still a visible disparity.
The Terps women’s team had an average regular season attendance of 7,379 this season, their highest average since the 2009 season. Yet the men’s team, who won about 18 percent less of their games than the women, garnered an average attendance of 14,046, nearly double the women’s average.
This gap in attendance may seem large, but it is actually the smallest gap in the last 10 years. Last season, the women’s average attendance made up only 39 percent of the men’s average attendance, and two years before that the women’s attendance averages made up just under 37 percent of the men’s.
Although men’s teams tend to have higher attendance numbers in general due to the prominence of the game, having a women’s team garner more attendance isn’t impossible. At the University of South Carolina, the women’s leader in average attendance every year since 2015, the women have had a higher average regular season attendance number than the men in six of the last eight seasons.
The women at South Carolina have been a dominant force in womens basketball for the past decade whereas the men have won less than 60 percent of their regular season games in 10 of the last 13 seasons. And while the argument can be made that they receive attendance because of the success of their team, a team’s win rate does not necessarily correlate with attendance.
In the past 10 years, the Maryland women’s team has had a higher regular season win percentage than the men in every season but have only managed to get over half of the men’s attendance numbers once in that time, in 2023.
The last time the Maryland men won more regular season games than the women was in 2010, when Greivis Vásquez headlined the team and was drafted to the Memphis Grizzlies shortly after.
The women at Maryland have been consistent in wins and flooded with talent for the last decade at least, and it shows on a national level. Since 1997, 22 players from the women’s basketball team at the University of Maryland have been drafted to the WNBA, including Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers in this week’s draft, who were selected second and eleventh overall respectively.
Yet Maryland women lag behind in pulling crowds to home games. Some believe this is due to different advertising techniques for the teams or just a lack of focus on women’s athletics in general.
“Well I think that, just in general when I hear about the sports here, the women aren’t even talked about,” said Junior Maxima Pacheco. “So just because of that, I’m just more prone to going to the men’s games in general.”
The Instagram account for the Maryland Terrapins athletics (@marylandterrapins) uploaded a total of 136 posts about basketball from November 7th to March 3rd, the duration of the 2023 regular season. Over this time period, there were 85 posts about the men’s basketball team, and just 38 posts about the women’s. The remaining 13 were posts that were about the men and women combined.
And while the women received more shine in March, with 59% of posts featuring women’s sports, 36% men’s sports with 5% representing both men’s and women’s sports, according to UMD women’s basketball marketing and social media staff, they also ventured two rounds deeper into the tournament than the men, meaning their postseason lasted longer.
Individually, the men’s Instagram account (@terrapinhoops) has 81.7k followers as of April 2023. The women’s account, (@terpswbb), has just 30.8k.
The discrepancies in attendance and popularity is not for a lack of trying, according to Rose DiPaula, Director of Strategic Communications for WBB at the University of Maryland. The women’s basketball team’s marketing and social media departments have made an avid effort to increase attendance and popularity.
Throughout the 2023 season, the team had seven games scheduled where students could redeem a giveaway item. The team participated in seven on-campus promotions, such as Stamp Takeovers and Dining Hall Promotions, aimed to reach students and campus staff. On top of that, the marketing staff traveled to four road games and met with other teams’ marketing staff to help gather ideas.
“Could we always do more marketing or advertising? Of course. That’s a never ending thing,” said DiPaula. “I think we’re always looking for new ideas. We feel like we’re doing a lot but we’re always looking for more and we’re open to new ideas.”
South Carolina has seen success in illustrating a similar interaction from the women’s team to their fanbase, otherwise known as FAMs, according to Monique Brown, Assistant Director of Marketing at the University of South Carolina.
“On social media we have done videos to get to know players and staff/their personalities,” said Brown in an email. “After games, the team and Coach walk around and interact with FAMS as well as on social media which allows them to build relationships as well. Everyone does a great job of being interactive and understanding the value of public support for the program by being appreciative of everything offered to them.”
One factor that could’ve led to the spike in the attendance for the Maryland women this year was their tough non-conference schedule, one that unlike the conference schedule, the team gets to hand select.
“I think we certainly hoped that we’d have great attendance this year. I think one factor is we knew we had a great home opponent slate,” said DiPaula. “We knew with bringing in South Carolina, Uconn, obviously in the non-conference, which is something we have control over, that certainly helps when you’re bringing in good opponents, fans certainly enjoy that.”
Timing of games also may play a role in attendance. The men’s games tend to occur at night and frequently are flooded with Maryland students whereas women’s games are often during the day and are made up of many families and non-students.
“I think having a great fanbase is always good for us,” said sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers. “I think we play a lot better when we have a lot of fans behind us and it just makes it tough for our opponents to play well so it’s just always a good experience for us.”
Despite the gap in attendance between the mens and womens teams, the awareness for women’s basketball is definitely on the rise. This March, the NCAA Women’s National Championship received 9.9 million viewers. That’s more than any Women’s college basketball game ever, any Stanley Cup game since 1973, the 2021 NBA Finals, the 2020 World Series, and all the most recent MLB, NBA and NFL All-Star games, according to Front Office Sports.
As women’s programs continue their efforts to minimize the gap in attendance and viewership, the harsh reality is that equaling the men may never be a possibility. However, continually minimizing the gap and growing the popularity of the sport is something programs can strive for.
“There will be some gap just because of what it is,” said Mel Greenberg, former women’s basketball writer and member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. “Maybe it gets closer. I don’t want to say never.”
This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org and is published with permission.