Two Final Fours in one city? Tennis and Olympics show how it could help women’s tournament


On back-to-back days of the US Open tennis tournament in early September, you might see 18-year-old Emma Raducanu become the first player to advance from the title qualifying rounds; and powerhouse Novak Djokovic failed, in tears, to complete a Grand Slam.

Few who watched these games thought that a women’s and men’s championship was being played in the same place in New York. And no one would think of disrupting the format, a long-standing tradition in tennis slams.

“You would be laughed at in the hall if you proposed to make a major event a gender-specific event,” said Joel Drucker, a tennis historian based in Oakland, Calif.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association plans to follow the example of tennis and host its women’s and men’s basketball finals in the same city. The men’s and women’s basketball committees have voted to explore the concept, but agree it could happen no earlier than 2027, according to an NCAA press release Thursday morning.

The Men’s and Women’s Final Fours each contracted the host cities until 2026.

Fans watched Emma Raducanu and Leylah Annie Fernandez in the US Open women’s final.


Matthieu Stockman / Getty Images

The idea of ​​a combined Final Four is gaining momentum, spurred in part by a viral video last spring of contrasting bodybuilding facilities from men’s and women’s tournaments and a scathing report from a law firm, commissioned by the NCAA, on Inequality and Wasted Income. potential in the women’s event.

Most women’s sports launched in a commercial form long after men’s sports, in a landscape crowded with spectators and broadcasters, and struggled to get the brightest stages. Except when these steps are shared.

In addition to combining the Final Fours, the law firm also recommended extending the use of the popular “March Madness” brand of the men’s tournament to women, which the NCAA announced on Wednesday it will do for the. event 2022. The association unveiled a female logo identical to that of the men except for an orange accent color.

Examples from tennis and the Olympics show that when organizers offer the same seat, platform and promotion to women as to men, many women’s competitions become as popular as men’s. Often the money follows: tennis majors now pay female and male winners equally.

Sunisa Lee won all-around gold at the Tokyo Olympics.


pawel kopczynski / Reuters

Women’s Olympic gymnastics and figure skating have been more popular than men for decades and offer a path to better economic opportunities. In recent weeks, Sunisa Lee has become the last all-around gymnastics champion to leverage her Olympic title to become a place in “Dancing With the Stars”.

The Men’s and Women’s Final Fours attract crowded stadiums and the highest TV odds of any NCAA produced championship. But the NCAA has always planned and presented them separately, even though they typically take place on overlapping days on the same weekend in early April. In other words, the NCAA essentially pits its second most popular event against the most popular.

Other events, meanwhile, are planned well in advance to integrate men and women, allowing the most exciting competitions to rise to the top.

The US Open women’s final this year attracted a larger TV audience than men’s, as it did in 2019. For this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, NBC devoted 57% of its prime-time coverage to female athletes, said Molly Solomon, executive producer and president. , NBC Olympics production. It made sense: the women won 58% of the US team’s medals.

“We base our programming decisions on the best stories, the most popular sports,” Solomon said.

NBC has also spent more prime-time hours covering women than men in the previous three Olympics, according to independent review of emissions led by a professor of sports communication at the University of Alabama.

Still, the idea of ​​a combined Final Four has been controversial. In a recent survey of Division I head coaches by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, a majority of 55.7% supported it, but many disagreed on everything from higher hotel costs to fear that the already successful women’s event is overshadowed by the men’s tournament.

“We will become the ugly stepson of the ‘real show’,” a coach wrote in the poll.

The Male and Female Final Fours have separate broadcast partners – CBS / Turner for men and ESPN for women – which could make coordination difficult.

But a combined event could give the women’s tournament a boost in sponsor support, which is late in the current setup in part because of the way the NCAA has designed its corporate sponsorship program. Although the program is theoretically intended for 90 sports championships, it is controlled by the broadcasters of the men’s basketball tournament.

The result is that resources are invested in promoting the men’s tournament and few are directed to the women’s event.

The 2021 Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis, for example, featured an after-day Miley Cyrus concert presented by NCAA, CBS / Turner and major NCAA sponsors AT&T.,

Coca Cola,

and Capital One – with a price tag of nearly $ 5 million, according to the law firm’s review.

The 2021 Men’s Final Four took place in Indianapolis.


Jamie Squire / Getty Images

“The concert made the Men’s Final Four feel like a professional sporting event, whereas there was nothing quite like the Women’s Final Four,” the review said.

A combined Final Four could even attract new eyes to the still popular but stagnant men’s event television broadcast. The audience for the 2021 men’s championship match of 16.9 million is down 40% from six years ago, while the female audience of 4.1 million is up 32%.

The idea of ​​joining the two Final Fours is not new. Current Big East Conference commissioner Val Ackerman defended it in a 2013 white paper on women’s basketball prepared for the NCAA. In a 2014 email to the NCAA and conference leaders, viewed by the Wall Street Journal, Ackerman argued that a combined event could also help bolster college basketball against the growing power of college football. .

The NCAA lost control of the broadcast rights of the most popular college sport, collectively worth well over $ 1 billion a year and growing rapidly, to athletic conferences in a 1984 Supreme Court decision College football playoff leaders plan to increase it to 12 out of four teams. This could suck more oxygen out of college basketball’s regular season, a milestone for tournaments.

Although tennis champion Billie Jean King made her legend in part by starting a derivative women’s league in the 1970s over wage disparities, she told NCAA gender review lawyers that his first choice was to include all players.

“Men and women together create a lot more value,” King said, “and that’s what we want the world to be like. “

Write to Rachel Bachman at [email protected]

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