The Covid19 Pandemic Has Left Stadiums Empty. It’s An Opportunity to Boost Women’s Sports.
The Covid19 pandemic has rendered the future of spectator sports uncertain. The infectious nature of the disease has led countries to impose social distancing guidelines on crowd-focused activities, leaving sports stadiums empty everywhere. Now, as lockdowns begin to ease around the world, sports teams are slowly returning to their stadiums — Germany’s domestic pro-football league Bundesliga resumed matches this month in empty stadiums; Taiwan’s pro-baseball league even had robots dressed in team jerseys clang drums from the otherwise empty bleachers. The new normal for sports as we know it might just be devoid of the physical presence of screaming, chanting fans.
This, however, is not stopping companies from trying to recreate the energy and atmosphere of sports fandom in empty arenas. The Japanese company Yamaha, for example, just tested a remote cheering system in Japan’s ECOPA Stadium. The technology allows fans who are watching sports games at home to yell, chant, and scream into a microphone on a smartphone app, which then sends these sounds in real time to speakers situated around the stadium. It also gives fans the option to choose which side of the stadium blares their specific applause or boos.
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Such technology might become the new normal for sports fans globally, providing a window into a new, perhaps improved manner of spectating sports, one that’s inclusive of women fans and women’s sports. One of the main reasons people tout for keeping women’s sports at a secondary level is the lack of fans, mostly women, who attend matches in person, contributing to ticket and merchandise sales.
Critics falsely attribute the lack of the physical presence of fans to the nature of women’s sports itself, which they claim is not as fast-paced as the men’s and therefore not as entertaining. This critique overlooks several societal obstacles to women’s fandom. In most countries of the world, women’s mobility and financial freedom are severely restricted, which prevents them from exercising their fandom in tangible, public ways. The hostility of these fandom spaces — the sheer number of men, their aggressive presence, and tendency to keep women out — also deters women from participating in fandom culture.
Sponsors and TV distributors use the lack of fans as an excuse to not give women’s teams exposure. And without exposure, women’s leagues fail to draw in the fans that sporting institutions deem key for success. As a result, women’s teams remain sponsor-less, with its players earning a mere fraction of what their male counterparts earn from their pro careers. The Covid19 pandemic might have unwittingly given us a way to break this vicious cycle.
If the new normal is spectating sports from the comfort — and, more importantly, safety — of people’s homes, then women can have easier access to sporting culture. This could pave the way for more people to watching women’s sports online, which have been predominantly played in obscure, poorly publicized locations.
This is not to say that moving the spectatorship from in-person to digital will automatically solve all problems associated with women’s inclusion in the world of sports. A lot of the current issues stem from people’s prejudice against women athletes and the quality of their play, which will take many more years to break through. The removal of this one obstacle, however, can help us chip away at this prejudice, if institutions choose to view this as an opportunity to flood people’s homes with women athletes, doing what they do best.