Last September, Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays had Holly Sonders, co-host of the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive programme, deliver the ceremonial first pitch against opponents the Texas Rangers, at Tropicana Field, St Petersburg, Florida. Sonders didn’t actually throw a pitch, rather, she teed up a baseball and chipped it toward home plate using a golf club.
Now why would a leading baseball team use a golf presenter to “throw” the season’s ceremonial first pitch?
Two reasons; first, Tropicana Field attendances are the lowest in living memory, and second, Holy Sonders has certain appeal that extends beyond that of her golf knowledge, to wit:
The Golf Channel’s Holly Sonders
Sonders is one of Google Image’s most searched names in golf. It may surprise some, but the reason is not just because she is a prominent part of Golf Channel’s presentation team. No, there are other reasons for her popularity, such as her swing, for example.
Using a female sport star to throw the ceremonial first-pitch raises the age-old chestnut of how television likes to portray women athletes. Are viewing numbers – read ratings – of women’s sport affected by whether the stars on show are glamorous, or (shock horror) sexy?
The current issue of golfdigest.com is running a contest to pick the hottest golfer (their term) from a shortlist of ten, males and females. The two female finalists are Beatriz Recari vs. Blair O’ Neal.
And the two men that made the final? Who cares? They’re probably only there so the story is PC.
Not as concerned about the PC angle is its opposition, golf.com. This publication is currently featuring The 18 Most Beautiful Women in Golf; a series on women golfers whose swings are indeed worthy of some analysis.
Does this suggest I don’t take women’s golf seriously? Rubbish. I believe Recari has one of the most attractive swings in the game. As indeed does Anna Grzebien, Danielle Montgomery, Anna Rawson, Kim Hall, Natalie Gulbis, Sandra Gal and of course, Holly Sonders.
If golfdigest.com was French-owned, it wouldn’t have wasted space by including men in their search for the “hottest golfer.”
Some years back, before the PC brigade had wrestled full control of social benchmarking in the West, a top-ranked female golfer overheard some of her younger and lower-ranked peers talk excitedly about their invitation to the upcoming French Open. Upon learning another top-ranked player of similar vintage had also been ignored, she made enquiries.
Earlier, the French Women’s Golf Association had been shocked to learn that state television would, due to poor ratings, no longer buy broadcast rights to the tournament. Keen to promote women’s golf, the association offered the rights free. The TV channel was unmoved, emphasising the lack of viewer interest.
So they hit on a novel approach; ensure the great majority of players were young and attractive, but they didn’t stop there. They ordained a certain style of dress and then managed the draw such that the leader-board would more than likely reflect French golf at its most glamorous. As a side effect, this meant all but three of those ranked in the top-20 missed out.
Not surprisingly, when this became public knowledge feminine outrage erupted. But not, it appeared, in France. The French, like the Thais, appear to understand such matters, that far more men watch sport – of either gender – than women. They also know and accept what it takes to increase TV ratings. The French Women’s Golf Association, upon presenting their revised plan to the TV producers, sold the rights for a record fee. Ratings went through the roof.
Women’s tennis has known this for years. Many, including me, have argued that women tennis players shouldn’t receive the same purse as men because;
- they don’t have the same level of skill, and
- their games only go half the distance.
At the time I was an avid watcher of both men’s and women’s tennis. Back then, watching Stephie Graff prepare to receive serve was one of the game’s highlights. The natural talent she displayed was, well, awe-inspiring.
And then it dawned; the realisation that TV ratings of the women’s game were not, like the men’s, reliant solely on the quality of tennis. No better example of this was Anna Kournikova. Her best-ever world ranking was 8th. She never won a single WTA title. Yet she topped search engines and unofficial money ranks. Think Anna Kournikova, think ratings.
As Maria Sharapova recently responded, when a male player yet again complained of the lesser skilled women receiving identical prize-money, and for playing matches that went only half the distance, “It’s us who are the pretty ones, they’re not. So it’s us who pull the television audiences. Simple.”
Yes, it is simple. It has something to do with how we’re wired.
The golf swing… a thing of beauty.
Happy New Year.