In a new effort to attract female fans, this year’s expanded “Ladies Night” at Nationals Park boasts a range of entertainment and giveaways that involve just about everything they could think of to lure women to the game — except, you know, actually watching baseball.
Attendees of the June 18 game against the Tampa Bay Rays will be treated to “a dance contest, live music, player appearances, some delicious food samples, special Nationals ladies’ fashions,” and with the purchase of a special ticket, “two complimentary glasses of wine and a special Washington Nationals acrylic wine glass with neck lanyard.”
“There’s no crying in baseball,” the team’s promotional site helpfully reminds us, “but there’s plenty of wine.”
Even a quick read of the event description begs several questions: Who wrote this? What exactly are special Nationals ladies’ fashions? And seriously, who goes to a baseball game for the wine?
Foremost, however, is the serious question of whether reverting to sexist, offensive stereotypes was really the best they could do to appeal to female fans.
The Nationals are currently one of the hottest teams in baseball, winning eight of their last 10 games and sitting atop the National League East. Bryce Harper can’t stop hitting home runs. The starting pitching is so deep that even when Doug Fister heads to the disabled list, Tanner Roark is ready to ably take his spot. And with the Rays currently near the top of their division as well there’s plenty of actual baseball to entice men and women both to fill the stands.
This baseball season, the Nationals aren’t the only team touting an extra special evening just for the gals. The lucky ladies of Atlanta were treated to a pink feather boa and a charm bracelet at “Girls Night Out” on May 1. Several teams clearly received the same memo as the Nationals regarding a woman’s beverage of choice, with the Twins advertising a “Wine, Women & Baseball” night and both the White Sox and the Diamondbacks giving away wine glasses on their respective ladies nights. Remember, ladies like wine.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) April 21, 2015
In 2013, the Houston Astros faced backlash for their ladies night, which featured “a ‘Baseball 101’ talk, followed by a happy hour event themed ‘Diamond, Bling and Glittery Things’ with music, specialty drinks, exclusive Ladies Night gift courtesy of State Farm, group photos with Astros players, and complimentary beauty treatments.”
There is a long and enduring history of sexism in sports marketing. Through all of the brainstorming and promotions and slogans, it’s mind-boggling that one simple fact never seems to sink in: women like sports. They’re baseball fans. In fact, according to various estimates in recent years, women comprise around 45 to 47 percent of MLB fans — more than any of the other big four sports. Women are beat reporters, following teams from city to city and analyzing all 162 regular season games. They earn college scholarships to play baseball with guys and, at just 13 years old, throw 70 mile-per-hour fastballs.
Despite those successes, the reality is that the world of sports remains overwhelmingly exclusionary to women. The roles of coach, commentator, reporter, analyst, manager, referee — all dominated by men. If baseball really wants to make inroads with women then it should invest in girls baseball (not softball, baseball). Remove the obstacles that have prevented a woman from becoming a major league umpire, as female umpire Perry Barber articulated in a recent interview. Try mixing in some gear for women that isn’t pink or bedazzled or low-cut.
On its face, the effort to draw more women to sporting events is a good one, and there are undoubtedly many female fans who aren’t bothered by the marketing tactics embraced by some clubs. “Ladies Night somehow sounds funny though, connoting a time past when women would be wearing hats like men did back in the day,” historian and lifelong baseball fan Doris Kearns Goodwin told CBS MoneyWatch. “But the idea is a good one in general because it’s nice for women to go to places like a ballpark together and enjoy the same camaraderie as men do going to sporting events.”
Thousands of women will attend ladies night at Nationals Park and the other stadiums this season and thousands of them will have a good time. But if the intent of these events is truly to get more women to come to baseball games, to appreciate the sport and to get excited about their home team, then the shallow attempts to lure us there with things that are sparkly are an insult to our desire and ability to sit outside, beer in hand, and simply enjoy the game.