UT softball attracts huge TV viewership

David MoonBlog

In the past 10 years I have attended more University of Tennessee softball games than UT football and basketball games combined. Apparently, my affinity for college softball isn’t uncommon, at least not according to television ratings.

According to Sports Media Watch, on June 3, the SEC champion Lady Vols softball team game against Oklahoma was broadcast on ABC, drawing 1.4 million viewers. That same day, 736,000 people watched the UT vs. Clemson men’s baseball game on ESPN2.

(For context, 21 bowl games last football season drew fewer viewers than the UT-Oklahoma softball game, along with every televised home game in the history of Vanderbilt football.)

Obviously, an ABC telecast is likely to attract more viewers than a game on ESPN2. But the Walt Disney Company – owner of both ABC and ESPN – chose to put the softball game on the broadcast network because it made good business sense.

This was not a Disney Title IX virtue signal or social justice act. It was about attracting the most viewers for Disney advertisers and the most advertising revenue for Disney’s shareholders.

The Men’s College World Series (CWS) isn’t yet complete, but don’t be surprised if ratings for the finals and the overall tournament fall short of those for the Women’s CWS. It’s happened in 4 of the 8 seasons since 2015. Since 2015, 5 Women’s CWS games have drawn more than 1.5 million television viewers, compared to only one Men’s CWS game.

I’m not sure what to make of this data, but it does suggest that some commonly held beliefs may not be true. Yes, the NBA massively outdraws the WNBA, but maybe that’s not about gender. Maybe more people like men’s basketball than women’s basketball. Television ratings for women’s tennis and figure skating regularly crush those for the men’s versions.

Maybe if you offer a product that people enjoy and in which they find value, they will buy it. And if you are trying to sell something that people don’t enjoy, no amount of rationalizing will increase your audience. When Brittney Griner returned to WNBA action after missing last season, her head coach bemoaned that the arena was only half full. But as famed New York Yankees player and manager Yogi Berra noted, “if people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s gonna stop ’em.”

Softball is not a smaller version of baseball. It’s a markedly different game, with different rules and strategies. It’s the only sport where, during the actual contest, the players appear to be having fun. If you’ve never attended a Lady Vols softball game, put it on your schedule for next year. I’ve never met anyone who has only attended one game.

Another television recommendation: WVLT has produced an original documentary on the bribery case of former Tennessee Governor, Ray Blanton. “A Tennessee Waltz” is available to watch on the WVLT website. It is interesting, educational and very well done. I recommend it.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.