Guest Post – She Got Game Too: Is the NBA Dance Bracket’s Time Up?

Sarah Tolcser is a co-author of HornetsHype and well known NBA Twitter known as ticktock6. After lobbying her for about six months, she has finally relented and agreed to a guest post here at HP. I’m incredibly excited to present to you this piece on the role of women in the NBA’s marketing plans and how the dance bracket needs to bite it. Enjoy. -MM

This week we saw the annual launch of one of my least favorite things about the NBA season, the official Dance Bracket 2010. Seriously. This is an official thing. It pops up on the front page of NBA.com around the time of March Madness, right above the Haier Play of the Day and sharing a featured space with things I actually care about, like the Power Rankings and the Rookie Rankings and Chris Paul Might Play Tonight. “Today’s Matchup: Lovabulls (barf) vs. Automotion.” Oh, what am I even doing explaining it? You know it’s a real thing. You probably already voted in it. I don’t blame you– my own boyfriend did.

Let’s toss out some stats. Did you know that recent numbers state that 40% of NBA fans are female? That’s impressively close to being half. How come I see these female fans every time I go to an NBA arena, and yet when I come on the internet I sometimes feel like it’s just me out here? Could it be that there are factors stopping female fans from participating in online discourse? Do we not feel comfortable or engaged or involved? And is it time for the NBA to let the Dance Bracket go, to be picked up by an independent blog or media outlet maybe? I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it, that people shouldn’t get a chance to ogle and appreciate members of the opposite sex. (I myself appreciate Rudy Gay when I watch Memphis Grizzlies games.) What I am saying is that we may be rapidly approaching a time when this place is not the front page of the league’s official website. Or it shouldn’t be.

As a gamer, I see a lot of crossover with my experiences as a consumer of that industry. The numbers are even similar, with about 38% of the video game demographic being female (and the numbers rise as high as 50% for PC gamers). And yet gaming companies don’t market to women, and I find myself sighing as I hit the internet to download yet another mod to alter the ridiculousness of my character wielding a broadsword while wearing high heels and bikini armor. Part of it is the assumption that women are only “casual” gamers. And I do wonder if that isn’t partially the same for the NBA and its female audience. The stereotype is of a woman who may attend games with her husband or family, but whose fandom interest does not necessarily extend to the websites, blogs, chats, or forums. It’s a man’s league, and a couple of us just happen to be along for the ride, right?

The NBA has been way ahead of the other major sports leagues in pioneering some things, such as social media. It’s time they show they can get with the program when it comes to their female fans. As a Hornets season ticketholder, I’ve taken surveys as a member of many different demographic classes– including ticketholder, event attender, arena food and drink buyer, merchandise purchaser, web content consumer, and New Orleans resident. You know what I realize they’ve never once asked me? What more they could be doing for me as a female fan.

And you know, NBA, I would really like to be asked that question. Because I have some things to say that might surprise you, things like, “The answer is not more pink jerseys.” Things like, as a member of a growing class of unmarried women ages 25-44,”family friendly” promotions and cute distractions on court during the game entice me no more than they entice male fans. Things like, some of the advertising spots from your own sponsors have sexist overtones that make me uncomfortable. Things like, when I go to your official website and see scantily-clad girls on the front page, I can’t help feeling that the NBA is not meant to be “for me.”

You might be interested in knowing, NBA, that I would love to buy an authentic jersey instead of a replica, but I can’t justify spending the money on something that has no hope of fitting me. Do you know what it would mean to me to, just once, see a female NBA executive spotlighted, or even any female employee who’s not a dancer? I’m not interested in fashion, but I know many women are. So are many NBA players. That seems like a no-brainer right there– there’s nothing you can do with that? There are columns on your website for all sorts of specific interests– fantasy sports, for instance. Why isn’t there one for us? Do you know that you’re wasting your time bedazzling things and making them pink, when my team wears teal? Do you know I’ve never been able to actually wear a single clothing item from an NBA free giveaway? And that it’s not enough to say “Oh, well, we have the WNBA for you” when I’m already buying your product? Do you know these things? And, if not, do you employ a team of people whose job it is to research these things? Is it a full time team, or do you just hire the occasional consultant? How many members of that team are female? How many of them are getting involved and reaching out on social media sites such as Twitter? What are the gender demographics of your employees and your teams’ employees? If you won’t hire me for positions other than the “cute” jobs, I’m pretty sure you ain’t marketing to me.

But you should be. Studies show that women purchase or influence the purchase of 80% of consumer product sales in the United States. This means we’re buying the tickets. And we’re deciding whether the tickets are part of the household budget. And we’re deciding whether to buy the tickets for our kids, ensuring that a whole new generation of NBA fans gets hooked. We’re buying a product we aren’t even sure you want us to be buying. Because we love basketball. And sometimes I feel like we’re putting up with a lot, just to love basketball. (There are days when being female and hanging out in the NBA blogosphere, especially in certain comment threads, is like Tom Cruise said in Jerry Maguire, “an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about.”) This year when I saw the Dance Bracket, my reaction was no longer rage– it was more like resigned indifference. I’m not in marketing, but I’m pretty sure “indifference” is not a keyword you should be going for, as a reaction to your product. What it comes down to is that, in an era of declining attendance and financial hardship all over the league, maybe it’s time for the NBA to look at what it’s currently doing and what it can be doing for that other 40% of its fans.

I challenge you to ask me, NBA. I promise that if you do, I can instantly round up at least twenty other female NBA fans out of my Twitter feed alone who would also be happy to provide you with input. I can’t tell you what all women want; I can just tell you what this woman wants. But you have to ask me.

The time may be coming when you can’t afford not to.

Sarah Tolcser lives in New Orleans and enjoys the stylings of Marcus Thornton very much.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.