Sunday, March 22, 2015


Planning out our Saturday, I ran across Jeff Barker's article in the Baltimore Sun in reference to concerns about attendance at women's college basketball games.  It's pretty dark.  Attendance for first round games was better in 2000 than last year!  Lots of negative framing, like:

Last season's average attendance of 4,887 for the tournament games in College Park may sound meager, but it surpassed the national average of 4,134 for the same sessions.
(I mean, 5,000 people going to watch a live college sporting event doesn't sound meager, but ok...)

My daughters had said they wanted to go to Maryland's tournament opener and Barker's piece clinched it for me -- if support for women's basketball was evaporating, we weren't also going to turn our back.  I forwarded it to friends and family also considering going to the game.

It took us a little while to get in.  Took us a little longer to find open seats for the general admission all-sessions strips we bought.  Which, in retrospect, makes sense since attendance for the game was 7,948 people.

Waiting in line for twenty minutes to get a hot dog led me to think about the premise of the article a little bit.  Interest in women's college basketball has plateaued?  That doesn't seem consistent with what we've seen.  But we've got a limited perspective and the sea of empty seats in Hoffman Estates for the Big Ten Conference tournament was disturbing.

Why was women's college basketball more popular in 2000 than in 2015?  The game is a lot better now, both in terms of quality and in terms of comparative talent between teams.  New Mexico State -- as the 16 seed -- was well-coached and posed a legitimate threat to a very good Maryland team.

Was women's college basketball more popular in 2000 than in 2015?

In 2000, 6.36 million people attended Division I women's college basketball games.  Last season, 8.14 million people attended Division I women's college basketball games.  Which means that in 2014, 1.78 million more people went to a women's college basketball game than in 2000 -- an increase of 28%.  Which is kind of a lot.

The per game attendance average is only slightly higher than it was in 2000, but there were also 28 more Division I teams and 892 more games played in 2014.

The increase has been gradual and fairly consistent year-by-year, although there has not been much of a jump over the last five years.  Still, attendance in 2014 was the second highest its been in history.

Surprisingly, Maryland hasn't been contributing to recent growth in women's basketball attendance.  Attendance has been substantially below 2007-2008 peaks, years when Maryland, on its own, accounted for 2% of all attendance in the sport.  Now, with the decline in attendance at the school and increase in overall attendance, Maryland comprises about 1% of total attendance and hovers between 80 and 100 thousand people:

Has interest in the women's college game declined?  Absolutely not.  Is there a need to be concerned?  Probably not.  The fundamentals of the game are sound.  New schools, like South Carolina, mirror Maryland with explosive growth in interest and attendance.  In fact, South Carolina outdrew Maryland in 2014 (in the chart below, 2007 and 2008 aren't listed because South Carolina's attendance wasn't high enough to be reported in the NCAA data source used):

And traditional powerhouses in attendance, like Notre Dame, have also seen interest increase over the last several years:

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