Give it time.
WOMEN IN $PORT$ THERE'S BIG MONEY OUT THERE FOR GOLF AND TENNIS STARS, BUT PICKINGS ARE SLIM ELSEWHERE
The Miami Herald
Friday, January 27, 1984
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, Herald Sports Writer
Nancy Lopez, millionaire, remembers when she used to make $500 a day for appearances. That was six years ago. Now she gets $10,000.
JoAnne Carner, millionaire, couldn't leave a golf tournament in the early '70s until she went to the press tent, added up the revenues and expenses, and wrote the players' checks.
Martina Navratilova, millionaire, won $1,456,030 in 1983 alone, more than any other tennis player last year, including Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Her earnings are almost identical to the total prize money on the women's tour just 10 years before.
Chris Evert Lloyd, millionaire, was one of no more than 30-40 women who could make a living playing tennis back in 1974. Today, there are five times that many.
Lopez. Carner. Navratilova. Evert. These are the women who have made it big in professional sports. There aren't a whole lot more. They play tennis and golf, the country-club sports, the individual pro sports in which personality and looks mean almost as much as the score.
Lopez, Carner, Navratilova and Evert don't earn their paychecks playing basketball, or soccer, or volleyball.
Neither do any other women.
The best women's professional athletes are in Florida this week, playing in the LPGA Mazda Classic of Deer Creek and the WTA's Avon Cup at Marco Island.
They are more than the best.
The only women's professional athletes are in Florida this week.
In order to say the same thing about the men, the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, the NBA finals, a PGA tour stop, a PBA tour stop and a men's tennis tournament would have to be going on in the same city the same week.
So much for equality.
It has been 12 years since Title IX, the government regulation requiring high schools and colleges to remove
financial, staff and educational discrepancies between men's and women's sports. It hasn't been a failure. More girls and women are playing sports than ever before. There are college scholarships for divers, gymnasts, softball pitchers. The United States' Olympic women's basketball and volleyball teams could very well win gold medals this summer in Los Angeles. There is a women's pro bowling league. Former amateur stars such as Ann Meyers and Donna De Varona are welcomed into the TV booth.
But there is a bottom line. Professionally, women's tennis and golf sell. Nothing else does, at least not yet.
"It's individual," Evert said. "People are interested in looking at the person. We've had Billie Jean, Evonne Goolagong, Margaret Court, Martina, myself. We're all unique, all different. It's just easier for a pro sport to be associated with personalities. If you watch the final of the U.S. Open, you watch McEnroe. You get to know him, you see him talk, watch him act.
"The publicity matters so much," she continued. "We've had players on the cover of People and some of us have been on the cover of Time. It's personal, it's not just ability. If you break world records and don't have something else going for you, it won't matter. You need the appeal."
Need to relate
You also need to relate. Tennis and golf have never been sports of the masses, but there is more interest in both than ever before. In fact, their professional success may be directly related to the weekend activities of corporate executives.
"They are upper-class sports," said Rosie Casals, one of the pioneers of women's pro tennis. "That's the image the corporate executives like, and that's why they pay for advertising. These are the sports they play."
These are the sports consumers and fans play, too.
Two years ago at Deer Creek, Nancy Lopez was hitting balls off the practice tee. "I shanked one, then another, then another," she said. "I was shanking every one. Then I heard someone in the gallery say, 'Oh, I can do that."'
Her husband, Houston Astros' third baseman Ray Knight, was standing by her side this week outside the press tent at Deer Creek.
"A lot of people have hit a golf shot and can relate to what goes on out here," he said. "You miss a ground ball, nobody understands."
Lopez: "Very few people have stood up at the plate trying to hit a pitch going 95 miles per hour."
Baseball's allure is different. The sport has 115 years of tradition. The Women's Basketball League had four years of chaos, bouncing checks and musical franchises before it folded in 1981. There is an effort to form a new league, called the Women's NBA, this summer. TV executives doubt it will get off the ground; so does Meyers, the WBL's No. 1 draft choice out of UCLA and star of the 1976 Olympic team that won a silver medal.
The reason sounds simple enough. No money. No leadership. "A women's basketball league needs a George Steinbrenner or a Jerry Buss or a Ted Turner," Meyers said. "We need someone with bucks who is willing to lose lots of money the first couple years."
The prospective league also hopes the women's Olympic team wins the gold medal, expecting a shot in the arm similar to the one amateur hockey received when the U.S. hockey team won the gold medal in Lake Placid in 1980.
Can three make it?
But some wonder if there ever will be a third successful women's pro sport. Tony Andrea, president of People & Properties, Inc., a marketing firm that handles the LPGA, has been asked twice to televise women's pro basketball. He said no both times.
"With the plethora of men's pro and college basketball, I don't think people will turn out to see women's basketball," Andrea said. "Now, if they want to make it like the Harlem Globetrotters, a spectacle with a tour and comedy and some entertainment, it might work.
"Basketball is a strength and action game, and that's why people watch men's basketball," continued Andrea, who also markets swimming, boxing and auto racing. "Don't get me wrong. Some of the women are the best in the world, but they don't have that."
Women basketball players don't play the same kind of game fans have grown accustomed to watching. They play below the hoop. There is finesse and speed and great shooting, but there is no Dr. J.
"One problem with other women's sports is that they get compared to men's," said Chip Campbell, a former LPGA publicist who now handles communications and broadcasting for the PGA. "The women who played in the old women's pro basketball league play great basketball and would make most of the rest of us look like paraplegics, but they're compared to the NBA. They just don't grow big enough or jump high enough."
But that doesn't mean a women's team sport can't be successful. In Iowa, the week-long girls' high school basketball tournament consistently outdraws the boys. As many as 80,000 fans show up for the games, which are broadcast on local TV.
Here's the kicker: the girls still play six-person basketball (three from each team on each side of the court). They are playing a different game. It has become traditional. And no one can make any comparisons.
The comeback trail
Some believe it's just a matter of time before women's pro basketball makes a successful comeback. Girls raised in the Title IX era are just getting out of high school. The nation has become more health-conscious. "It's OK for a woman to be an athlete now," Meyers said. And nothing, not even the old AFL or the new USFL, makes it overnight. "I'm not going to miss a Super Bowl to watch a women's basketball game," said Meyers, a big sports fan whose brother Dave played for UCLA and in the NBA.
"This was a man's world, and it still is," she continued. "Women were not accepted into the sports world. They were raised to cook and care for a family. Obviously, things have changed, but it happens slowly."
It happened slowly for the LPGA and WTA, too. In 1975, on the verge of bankruptcy, the LPGA hired Ray Volpe as its new commissioner. Volpe, a native of the Bronx and a hockey marketing man, seemed an illogical choice. He had never been to a country club.
But he knew how to sell, and increased the LPGA's total purse from $1 million in 1975 to $6 million by 1982, when he left the tour. John Laupheimer took over and the purse now stands at $8 million for 1984. The PGA, with many more TV appearances and bigger sponsors, will offer $19 million this year.
But, while Volpe enticed network television to cover several tournaments and coaxed corporate sponsors to shell out the dough, the tour still needed a star. The personality part of the game was missing -- until the summer of 1978.
Lopez, a 21-year-old rookie with a Pepsodent smile and a Palmer personality, turned beer-drinking sports fans on to the LPGA for the first time when she won five tournaments in a row, a tour record.
"We rooted like hell for Nancy," said Campbell, who was with the LPGA at the time. "Volpe wouldn't admit it, but he was rooting too. The tour was being sued by Jane Blalock and it was in debt, and here comes Nancy. She's an excellent athlete, and she's a lady. She was a Godsend."
Two or three TV camera crews arrived every day during the last two tournaments in Lopez's streak. Writers from around the country converged on the tour. Camera towers were set up on the final two holes just for local coverage. "We had never been that media oriented before," said Ed Gowan, LPGA tournament director.
Lopez fit her new role well. She relished the interviews and endorsements, but, if she hadn't, the LPGA would have put on the muscle. Just as in women's tennis, there had been stories about the private lives of the golfers, including stories about homosexuality. The fact that Lopez continued to win, and then, after a divorce, married a baseball hero, is not lost on the LPGA.
"It's almost too good to believe," said Ted Haracz, director of communications for the tour. "It's not like Nancy married the third-string catcher, and it's the same from Ray's standpoint. He didn't marry a golfer who makes 20-grand."
Laupheimer says the LPGA's television audiences are 60 per cent men, 40 per cent women -- about the same as the PGA's. The tour realizes a little sex appeal never hurt ratings, especially with that 60 per cent.
But then there are athletes like Ann Meyers. She decided not to go to the shaky WBL at first because she wanted to get her degree. After a tryout with the NBA's Indiana Pacers, she made almost $50,000 during her first year with the New Jersey Gems of the WBL, but lost the remaining $85,000 of her three-year contract when the team hit hard times.
Now 28, Meyers travels to basketball clinics, Olympics-related promotions and occasional broadcasting assignments. She makes about $20,000 a year, although her salary will increase this year because of the Olympics promotions.
This week, she was in Detroit signing autographs at a Buick auto show. A mother, with her son and daughter in tow, came up to her. "Why don't you get her autograph?" she said to her kids. Meyers signed for the girl, then looked at the boy, who seemed reluctant.
"Go ahead, get her autograph," his mother said.
"She hasn't played basketball," he replied. "Girls can't play basketball."
Meyers smiled and signed anyway. There still is a long way to go.