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Report: Lower Ticket Prices for Women’s Basketball is Due to Institutional Sexism

2009 October 21
by Phil Miller

From the Chronicle of Higher Ed.:

“Colleges charge a premium for admission to see males play, even when women’s basketball teams are ranked as among the very best performers in the nation,” write the authors, Laura Pappano and Allison J. Tracy, both of the Wellesley Centers for Women. By charging less for admission to highly ranked women’s games, the authors say, athletics departments engage in “institutional discrimination that is camouflaged as sensible economic practice.”

The report analyzed ticket prices at every level, from single-game to season tickets, at 292 Division I colleges. The results showed that ticket prices for women’s games lagged far behind those for men’s games at the same institution at all of the top 25 women’s basketball programs in the country—even at colleges where the men’s team ranked lower than the women’s team.

Here is the abstract to the report.

Tickets to college sports—and men’s and women’s Division I college basketball in particular—may appear on the surface no different than tickets members of the public may buy to attend professional sporting events. But unlike professional franchises, colleges are non-profit organizations and, in many cases, public institutions. Decisions around ticket prices do not reflect an actual marketplace, but internal calculations and decisions that necessarily reflect a value placed on the event by the institution. This distinction is critical because previous research shows that lower-priced events are perceived as lower quality and less worth watching or attending. Our review of ticket prices for men’s and women’s Division I college basketball for the 2008-2009 season considered entry fees charged by 292 institutions at various seating levels, including season ticket packages and single game tickets. 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.

I do not doubt their findings, but I wonder if they took into consideration something: that basketball fans are more willing to buy men’s tickets than women’s tickets, and not because of sexist attitudes. Perhaps, just perhaps, sports fans find men’s games, on average, more exciting to watch than women’s games.

I wonder if the authors asked themselves this question: why would those in athletic departments be willing to “leave money on the table” to feed their sexist attitudes? They note themselves that top-ranked programs tend to charge less for women’s games than men’s games. If fans are willing and able to pay the premium, why aren’t they charged the premium?

One “solution”, if you want to call it that, would be to force all colleges to charge exactly the same price for men’s and women’s ball (and to not set lower prices for men’s games). Then let’s see what happens to attendance at women’s games.

Here’s Stacey Brook with a similar take that it is the demand side of the market that the authors of the paper are ignoring.

Cross-posted at Market Power

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