Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Olympic pricing: Equality? Economics? Gender?

What equality is remains contextual and questionable. I don't know much about economics. And gender continues to present so many interesting issues with which to contend.
Hence all the questions in the title of this post.
But what I really want to talk about (though I am actually still a little hesitant about talking about it) is the recent news that the organizers of the 2012 London Olympics have priced the tickets for men's and women's events differently. In many cases, tickets for men's events are more expensive--sometimes significantly so.
The IOC (though it does not set the ticket prices--the organizers do) is taking most of the flak for this decision. Critics contend that the pricing undervalues women's sports and sends a message that women's sports are just not as good as men's sports.
I agree that that message is being sent and that it is not good. But I do not see the pricing differential as entirely bad.
First, the difference reinforces prevailing beliefs about the status of women's sports. It did not create the difference. Will it turn anyone who did not have any thoughts on the differences between men's and women's sports? Not likely. Again, I do believe it has potential damaging effects. I don't know if the damage is new and/or severe.
Second, fans of women's sports benefit economically from this decision. I'm just guessing here but I wouldn't be surprised if fans of women's sports, as a whole, have less disposable income than those who are--exclusively--fans of men's sports. It's expensive to go to sporting events. It's expensive to go to the Olympics. I went to the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 and saw women's hockey--which was pretty expensive in itself--but not as expensive as going to a men's game.
I go more often to women's intercollegiate hockey games than men's games. I like both, but it's cheaper to see the women play, especially when I consider costs of travel. When I was in college, I saw many families at women's hockey games. It was cheaper to take a whole family (and easier to get tickets--a somewhat related issue).
And this brings me to my final point. You might actually get more people into the events that are cheaper. The families at these hockey games had both male and female children. So these children had the opportunity to see women play hockey. They grow up with access. They see in person what they will not see on television or in the newspapers; they have a greater likelihood of becoming fans of women's sports. This is their exposure to women's sports and a large part of that exposure is because of the fact that ticket prices are lower. It is possible that lower prices will bring people into the venues; people who might not be able to afford to bring a family of four (or more) to the Olympics.
Most men's sports already have an audience. I do not want to see half-empty stadiums because people won't pay the same (high) prices to see women's sports. I would rather make this compromise and see butts in the seats. And I am not trying to undervalue the very devote women's sports fans out there. But I know I wouldn't be able to go to as many women's events if the ticket prices were the same as those of men's events.
I am not completely ignorant of economics, of course. I am well aware of basic capitalist principles; and thus I know that higher prices signal (or are supposed to) higher demand. Do I wish women's sports were in greater demand? Yes! Until they are I am (somewhat) okay with what I am calling the economic incentives offered to women's sports fans.

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