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Friday, June 14, 2024
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The rise of women's sports

Women’s sports are finally getting the attention they deserve. The Daily Cardinal hit State Street to ask students what they think.

ESPN and other sports channels dominate the TV screens of so many households, influencing the opinions of fans. These channels provide constant updates on the sports world, from players being drafted in the NBA to the countdown for the Indianapolis 500.

There has been a common theme, however, with these updates and live footage: women’s sports are often downplayed and underrepresented. 

But the narrative is starting to shift.

In August, the Nebraska and Omaha volleyball game broke the world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event with 92,003 fans. More recently, Iowa star Caitlin Clark played a major role in the fan turnout that set the seventh all-time attendance record at the Kohl Center in December.

Many Wisconsin Badgers women’s teams have recently found immense success. Wisconsin’s volleyball squad made it to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament this year and had three players make the All-American teams. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team recently won the WCHA Tournament and is the No. 2 seed going into the NCAA tournament. Both the women’s volleyball and hockey teams won a national championship in the past three seasons.

With this recent upswing, there is no doubt the Madison community has taken notice. To gauge the sentiment of the state of women’s sports in Badgers territory, The Daily Cardinal went to State Street to chat with University of Wisconsin-Madison students.

Their love of women’s sports teams is undeniable.

Freshman Monica Caffrey was particularly excited about Madison’s rising women stars. In her view, women’s sports “have taken a backseat for a long time.” 

Now, they’re “finally getting the recognition they deserve” from Wisconsin fans and a media ecosystem who recognize the work ethic and grit of women in sports, Caffrey said.

“I believe that women work not only harder when it comes to sports because they love the sport, but...because they have to,” she added. “Men have dominated the sports industry for far too long. It is time for women to be finally recognized and appreciated for not only their love for the sport but for their dedication to the sport and all women.”

Caffrey mentioned Caitlin Clark, but said she is “only one of so many examples” of current leaders in women’s sports. She also cited Simone Biles and Serena Williams as women making a difference in the culture of sports.

Gus Yalden, a freshman and member of the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, offered a personal connection to women’s sports, citing his mom’s background as a professional basketball player. 

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“I think it’s awesome that [female athletes] are getting more recognition because they deserve it as much as we do,” he said. “It’s cool to see.”

The Cardinal also talked to freshman John Blackwell, another men’s basketball player. Blackwell says he went to the Wisconsin-Iowa women’s basketball game at the Kohl Center this season, where he was able to see the record-breaking Caitlin Clark. 

“It was super fun, and I enjoyed my time, so I’m definitely excited that [women athletes are] getting recognition,” Blackwell added. 

Blackwell and Yalden are right that there’s been a measurable uptick in attention for women's sports, given both the success of our Wisconsin women’s teams and that of other women athletes. Just in the past couple of weeks, the first women’s sports bar in the Midwest opened in Minnesota. The bar is named What If because the owners wanted to finally create a place where women’s sports fans could enjoy their favorite teams and food rather than just hope a bartender would turn a game on. 

“What if fans of women’s sports had a place to come together and cheer loudly for their favorite team on the biggest screen in the bar…with the sound on?” reads What If’s website. “What if they had a bar of their own?”

“For 2024, women’s sports are predicted to bring in $1.28 billion in revenue according to the Deloitte Sports Business Group, 300 percent higher than the last three years,” MPR News reports. This surge in viewership is a motivating factor for owner Jillian Hiscock, who told MPR, “I jokingly say that every sports bar you walk into in the Twin Cities area is probably a men’s sports bar. We just don’t call it that.”

UW-Madison junior Jessica Male also emphasized the positive impacts that this recent surge in attention for women’s sports has received. 

Like others, she believes the dedication of women in sports deserves praise and respect. But while this rise in attention is good, she still sees a gap to close and believes there should never have been an imbalance in the first place. 

After all, sports are a place where players work hard and show their talents, and everyone deserves respect and appreciation.

“It should have been like this the entire time,” Male said.

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