On Nov. 17, Cabot Center was shaking. The roar of the crowd drowned out squeaking sneakers as the players pivoted and ran toward the basket, swishing in easy lay-ups. Northeastern University’s student section was packed, leaving standing room near the entrance.
On Nov. 19, the student section at Cabot Center was empty. Shoes squeaked audibly on the glossy floor. There were plenty of seats, and Husky baskets were received with only scattered applause.
Both games were home openers for Northeastern’s NCAA Division I basketball teams held at the Cabot Center. The difference? On Tuesday, the players’ names included David and Zachary, while on Thursday they were Samantha and Jessica. Despite efforts by Northeastern’s marketing department, attendance at women’s sports is still lower than at their male counterparts.
“There’s stigma that women’s sports are less important, which is silly, but you have to acknowledge it because that’s what people think,” said Rebecca Rosenblum, third-year Northeastern University cheerleader.
She said that the women’s team is more appreciative of the cheerleaders’ support, but cheering for the smaller crowds at women’s games is more difficult. “It’s hard to cheer for nobody,” Rosenblum said.
In 1972, Title IX was passed, banning discrimination in education based on sex. The regulation created many athletic programs for women, but attention on them still lags.
Both men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments were covered by ESPN starting in 2003. In 2010, the coverage spent three hours on the men’s tournament, compared to six and a half minutes on the women’s tournament, according to sociologists Cheryl Cooky and Michael Messner.
“The difference between men’s sports and women’s sports: I don’t think it’s any different than at X university. I think you deal with it everywhere,” said Darren Costa, the Assistant Director for Marketing and Promotions in the Athletic Department. “It’s a challenge at every school. It’s a challenge at Northeastern, where we have trouble getting students out to men’s games.”
Costa, himself a Northeastern grad, lists other factors that he’s found impact attendance at games, including who the opponent is, day and time of the game, the weather, and the team’s record.
“If they’re not winning, no one’s gonna care, whether it’s men’s or women’s,” Costa said. Attendance also depends on promotions, like giveaways or themed nights.
But regardless of other factors, women’s sports get less fans overall. According to Athletic Department data, this fall, NU men’s soccer got an average of 430 total fans per game, compared to women’s soccer’s 270 fans per game.
Over the past few years, average student attendance at men’s hockey is between 800-900 students per game, compared to the women’s hockey average of about 40 students. Men’s basketball receives an average of 300-700 students per game, depending on the year, where on average women’s basketball receives 50-70 students per game.
“Women’s [hockey] is lucky to get 15 people up here. If we ever had 15 people up here, I would cry,” said Mike Davis about Matthews Arena. Davis is the leader of the Doghouse, Northeastern’s student fan section for hockey.
He says that women’s hockey is more predicated on overall team speed, precision, and skill. Men’s hockey still has those aspects, but because men can hit, it’s also more physical and more about fighting.
“People who are not as into or attentive to the finer skill-based aspects of women’s hockey get turned off by it because of the lack of physicality,” Davis said. “That’s the stigma; it’s less fun for the casual fan, because there’s nobody getting hit.”
He says that the core members of the Doghouse also attend women’s games. “We may not have the banner, but the people who are invested in the team are hockey fans, not men’s hockey fans or women’s hockey fans,” he said.
At the Dec. 5 men’s game against Boston College, several students who were not part of the Doghouse said that they had never been to a women’s hockey game before. None of them could give a reason why.
Onia Webb, fourth-year women’s basketball player, says that the administration does a good job of putting effort in to support both sports equally, but said she still sees a huge difference in the attendance.
“People are not that into women’s sports,” she said. “Men are able to dunk, and they’re faster, but honestly, it’s the same sport.”
Costa also acknowledged that women’s basketball is a “purer” sport for die-hard basketball fans, because there’s no dunking and more three-point shooting.
Die-hard fans will come to whichever sports, and then it comes down to promotions, said Dr. Charles Bame-Aldred, the announcer for volleyball and both men’s and women’s hockey and basketball. He said that Northeastern marketing does a good job about bringing community members in to games, holding barbeques, and offering free t-shirts, but said that wasn’t always enough.
“It’s not what’s on TV,” he said. “So for the casual fan, they’re not going to go and see it, because it’s not what’s on TV.”