“Does TV Affect Early Recruiting?” Written By Jami Lobpries
I read a quote recently in a Boston Globe article talking about why fans ignore women’s sports. The author said, “it takes a lot of work to be a women’s sports fan.” What the author meant was that it’s hard to be a fan of women’s sports because you have to work so hard to find information—whether it’s live games on tv, player stories and stats, or even to buy merchandise of your favorite female athlete. Information on women’s sports and female athletes is not readily available. Thus, if you want to be a lifetime or consistent fan of women’s sports then it takes a lot of work.
I teach intro to sport management courses at the University of Tampa. What that means is I teach first year sport management students or students with a minor in sport management about what career opportunities exist in the vast sport industry. Being the women’s sport enthusiast that I am, I joke to my friends that I’m spreading awareness of women’s professional sports one sport management undergrad student at a time! With that mindset, I asked my students recently why they don’t watch women’s sports and you know what a common answer amongst my 50 students was? It’s never on! Again, it takes work to find women’s sports.
In my world of sport marketing research, we refer to this phenomenon as framing. In regards to media, framing defines how media coverage can shape mass opinion. For example, the massive amounts of media coverage of men’s sports over women’s sports help frame society’s opinion that women’s sports are inferior to men’s sports.
One thing that has become more common, and will continue to grow with the surge of conference networks, is college softball on television. I played from 2005-2008 when the Women’s College World Series was really blowing up and when the new post season structure had just been implemented. Every year since then, we have seen growing coverage of Super Regionals, Regionals, Conference tournaments, and now even regular season games. What that means is college softball fans don’t have to work as hard to be college softball fans AND hopefully it means we are gaining new fans—those mainstream fans who happen to be watching ESPN when a game comes on or those avid sports bar viewers.
Another interesting thing this means is we are creating framing even within our own sport. We live in a world of early recruiting—14, 15, 16 year olds are verbally committing to schools that they won’t even attend until 4, 3, or 2 years down the road. What schools do most kids want to go to? Easy, the ones they see on TV!
I’ll use my former 12U team as an example. I loved asking them where they wanted to go to school because their brutal honesty was priceless. My centerfielder wants to go to Oregon because “their uniforms, duh.” My pitcher wanted to go to Oklahoma because that’s where Keilani Ricketts played. My first baseman/outfielder wanted to go to Florida because “they’re so pretty and they wear cute bows.” And another utility player wanted to go to Alabama because she loved the way Hailey McCleney played.
Their decisions were heavily influenced by the softball they consumed on television. The coverage of particular softball teams was framing their view on college programs. The more games that were on tv, the more their decisions changed. Now, I will be the first to say this is a great problem because it means we have a lot of softball on TV. It means our young girls can watch role models who look like them. It means our athletes get an opportunity to showcase their talents to large audiences. And it means that hopefully our sport will continue to grow at all levels-youth, college, professional, and hopefully even Olympic.
But the interesting thing that is happening is how framing and the influx of college softball on television is shaping our early recruiting. [Side note—I also hate early recruiting and don’t have a problem sharing that!].
I’m not writing this article to tell college coaches to become better marketers or to tell ESPN and CBS to showcase more schools. Instead, I’m writing this article to bring light to framing and how it influences young girls decisions on the colleges they chose to attend.
If you’re a travel ball coach or a parent, you might want to make sure you ask your daughter or player “why” they really want to go to that school. Yes, cool uniforms, bows, and school colors catch your eye and play a large role in the aesthetics of a softball player with big dreams, but does that softball program offer an academic degree you’re interested in? Does that coach fit your learning style? Does that college town or city fit your personality? Will you mesh with the kinds of players that coach brings in? Deeper questions that a 17, 16, and now 15 and 14 years old have to make.
I think it’s funny though that at the age of 14, us girls were WAYYY more interested in cool uniforms and pretty bows than we are in potential college majors and the academic rating of a university.
Something to think about.
In the meantime, I hope softball coverage at all ages continues to grow. I know I’m biased, but I believe our sport offers one of the best made-for-television sport viewing opportunities there are. But as I continue to my own continuous sport viewing on tv and realize how framing affects some of my own decisions, I wanted to bring light to how sport coverage can shape the decision process of our young athletes.