The bleachers are full. The men’s team runs back and forth on the court, sometimes missing, sometimes scoring, always receiving cheers. The audience is loud and full of excitement. They scream even louder when, in the last few minutes, their Scots gain the lead. As the clock ticks down to the final second, the cheers crescendo. The game ends with yelling and clapping from the dedicated fans, regardless of who won. And now it’s the women’s turn. They are in the locker room, getting ready to run out onto the court and start warming up for their game. They watch the crowd file out with the men’s team.
Rachel Thomas (‘21), who plays for the women’s varsity basketball team at Covenant, had a resigned look on her face as she described this all-too-familiar scene.
“We can be in our locker rooms and just watch everyone leave,” said Thomas.
The issue that Thomas was addressing here—that of low attendance at women’s sports, and specifically at women’s basketball—is not an issue unique to Covenant. In fact, it’s a national problem that schools across the country are going to seemingly bizarre lengths to try to correct.
According to Sports Illustrated, Kansas State University enticed fans to attend the opening game of the 2013 women’s basketball season by advertising free bacon to all who came. In 2015, as reported by The Atlantic, Georgetown University held an event called “Hail to Kale,” a kale-themed women’s basketball game where prizes like kale Caesar salad and gift cards to kale-serving restaurants were awarded.
Covenant hosted a similar event on January 11. The basketball game was highly advertised across campus and on social media, and prizes such as gift cards and T-shirts were offered as incentives to watch the Scots play. The difference? It was a men’s game.
The advertising campaign for this event started on January 1, when the @scotsbluecrew Instagram account posted a 30-second video that featured dramatic music, action shots of the men’s basketball team, and Neal Young, their coach.
The caption to this video reads, “HAPPY NEW YEAR! BIG NEWS. On January 11th, we make history. We MAX OUT BARNES. We’re giving away 50 gift cards plus a bunch of other prizes. And this video is just the beginning. Follow us as we count down to January 11th, and stay tuned for the full “MAX OUT BARNES” hype video. #MAXOUTBARNES19”
Members of the women’s JV basketball team said they were frustrated and annoyed when they first saw this post. “The varsity women have a game the very next day,” said one player who requested anonymity, “so why make such a huge deal out of one guys’ game?” The January 12 women’s game that this player referred to was an away game.
John Mitchell (‘19) manages all of the Scots Blue Crew social media pages, which include Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
As the sports marketing arm of Covenant’s Athletics Department, the Blue Crew’s mission, according to Mitchell, is to “promote each team with content that is innovative and exciting for athletes and students and faculty alike.” The Crew films a video to promote each sport season, and they create a poster to advertise for each varsity team.
Beyond this, Mitchell said, “We do our best to promote each team with the same attention and standard of excellence that is expected in the athletic department... We focus on highlighting successes of individual teams and players alike, so we always try to post something on social media when a player or team does something we think our followers would be excited about.”
When Thomas saw the first video advertising Max Out Barnes, she was also frustrated. But she and her teammates decided to make the most out of the post. They joked about making a parody of the hype video with hand-held cameras, panting players, and repeated missed shots.
They returned to Covenant for the new semester and saw more Instagram posts about the event, as well as a video that played before Chapel and posters hung up all around campus: in the lobbies, the stairwells, and even the elevators. These posters were solid black with big, white letters reading “MAX OUT BARNES” and the date and time listed in smaller letters underneath.
Thomas did not attend Max Out Barnes because she was so frustrated. “We don’t really get hype videos,” she said, “and the boys just keep getting more and more.”
And, for the 2018-19 basketball season, this is true. On the @covenantscots account, there were 17 basketball posts uploaded between November 6 and February 4. Five of these featured female athletes exclusively, one featured both male and female athletes, and the remaining 11 featured the men’s team. Note that these and all following numbers do not include Athletes of the Month posts, since those always feature a male and female athlete, and since they do not always feature athletes from the same sport.
The Covenant College Athletics Facebook page made 65 posts about basketball between November 6 and February 4. Eleven of these advertised for both men’s and women’s basketball, 23 were dedicated to the women’s team exclusively, and the remaining 31 featured the men’s team exclusively.
Between November 13 and February 4, the @scotsbluecrew Instagram account made 18 basketball posts, only 3 of which featured women’s basketball. The other 15 all advertised the men’s team.
From November 13 to February 4, the Scots Blue Crew Facebook page made 4 posts featuring Covenant basketball, and they were all dedicated to the men’s team.
Dr. Tim Sceggel, Covenant’s Director of Athletics, said, “When we plan our marketing and promotions schedule for the year, we split it up equally. Last year there were actually more Instagram posts featuring women athletes than men.” He did not specify whether he was referring to the Scots Blue Crew or the Covenant Scots Instagram.
Sceggel continued, “This year, men and women’s basketball each had 4 home games that were themed or had special giveaways. We have posted Instagram stories at an almost identical clip for both sports. Women’s sports in the fall of 2018 actually had more promotional giveaways and theme nights than men’s sports by a ratio of 2:1.”
Sceggel did not reply to an email inquiry asking how many women’s games and special events have been as highly advertised as Max Out Barnes.
Addressing the extra social media attention given to the men’s basketball team this season, Mitchell said, “The men’s team has had one of the best seasons in school history this year. For that reason, there has been a lot to celebrate and promote on social media. Similarly, Lilly Smith (‘19) received a lot of attention in the fall due to her unprecedented success running cross country for the Scots. The more success a team or player has, the more likely you are to see promotional video content about them or their team on our social media accounts.”
In the 2018 cross country season, Lilly Smith set a program record and competed in the NCAA Championships. The @scotsbluecrew Instagram account featured the women’s cross country team 4 times throughout the season and the men’s team once. The @covenantscots page featured the women’s team 7 times, the men’s team twice, and 7 posts featured both teams.
Rachel Cotta (‘21) runs track and cross country at Covenant. She said that she never attends any women’s sporting events, even though she has multiple friends who play women’s basketball.
“I feel like no one goes to women’s games,” said Cotta, “so why would I go and be in the stands alone?”
Heather Andrews (‘21), a women’s JV basketball player, said, “People—even other women—just assume that men’s games are more fun to watch. That could tie into our society’s idea that men are better at sports and that they’re just more athletic… There’s also a cultural assumption that guy’s games are more fast-paced and interesting to watch.”
She insisted that not everyone thinks this way and that she did not want to blame the complex issue on only one group of people. But these are trends that she has noticed: “The women practice and work just as hard as the men’s team, and they don’t get the same results for their effort.”
When asked how he would respond to female basketball players who feel unequally represented on social media, Sceggel declined to comment, noting that he would prefer to talk with the players individually.
Thomas, reflecting on her experience playing women’s basketball at Covenant, said, “No one even knows when our games are… It’s usually just parents who come. When people do show up, it’s a great atmosphere, but that just hardly ever happens.”