What does it take to grow women’s sports? Investment

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“In order to make money, you need to spend money,” Olympic hockey gold medalist and recent Chicago Red Stars investor Kendall Coyne Schofield told “On Her Turf at the Olympics” on Monday. 

Coyne Schofield joined NBC Olympics basketball analyst Monica McNutt and “On Her Turf at the Olympics” co-hosts MJ Acosta-Ruiz and Lindsay Czarniak for a discussion on investment in women’s sports, or the lack thereof. (Full video of the roundtable segment is embedded above.)

The show opened with a staggering statistic. It would take 350 WNBA salaries – or 2.4 times the available roster spots – to match the salary of NBA champion Steph Curry alone. 

Yes. The Golden State Warrior guard is paid more than the salary cap for nearly three women’s basketball leagues. That said, the NBA wasn’t always multi-million dollar contracts and premium sponsorships. 

It took investment. 

Not just by way of big or even just livable salaries. It takes investment in what Coyne Schofield called the infrastructure worth of professional sports. That includes training facilities, venues, housing, and yes, salaries. 

 “Everything that it ultimately takes to be professional goes into a proper infrastructure and that ultimately allows the players to put the best product on the ice, court, field, whatever the sport may be,” said Coyne Schofield. 

McNutt added that marketing is a huge part of the investment as well, noting that WNBA viewership is on the rise and that might have to do with the successful marketing campaign of the orange WNBA hoodie. 

The WNBA hoodie has been worn by Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, rapper Drake, and the late Kobe Bryant. The campaign reached new demographics and, McNutt believes, helped the league increase year-or-year viewership. 

“That was a great marketing campaign and it was able to drive eyeballs. This year, now that the WNBA has been put on a bigger platform, not just the league but the individual athletes, we’re seeing people turning their heads with genuine curiosity as sports fans,” McNutt explained. 

Naturally, when viewership numbers for women’s sports are addressed, some people still scoff and claim the numbers still pale in comparison to major (men’s) sports. 

This is true. 

What is also true is even the most mildly viewed men’s sports league has major sponsors and a broadcast deal. That is not the case for women’s sports, not even the most successful women’s national teams. Coyne Schofield has competed for the United States women’s hockey senior team for 10 years and is one of the more recognizable faces on the team. However, not even her celebrity is enough if USA Hockey doesn’t market upcoming events where fans can watch Olympians compete on home ice. 

Instead, professional athletes and Olympians – who also happen to be women – learn to market themselves and their sports tirelessly because the chances are, not many others will.

Coyne Schofield, now a member of the ownership group for the Chicago Red Stars (NWSL), makes it a point to advocate for the resources players and coaches need to be successful, and says she takes marketing her team and players very seriously. 

“The other role that I’m so passionate about is letting our fans in Chicago, all across Illinois know that the Red Stars are our women’s professional soccer team and we need butts in the stands and they need to know about our team!” 

Ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics where the United States won gold, Coyne Schofield and her teammates battled USA Hockey for equitable investment. They wanted access to the same resources – travel, coaching staff, per diem – as the men’s national team. 

For too long, women’s teams have been expected to be more successful with less. Coyne Schofield is adamant that the time is now for those in charge to take charge. 

“We need to market, we need to invest, and we need to let the players, coaches, and everyone do whatever their job is.” 

Follow Erica L. Ayala on Twitter @Elindsay08


To stay updated on the biggest news in women’s sports at the Tokyo Olympics (and beyond), be sure to follow On Her Turf on InstagramTwitter, and bookmark the On Her Turf blog.

During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that streams for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show streams Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET.