Sports viewers, by and large, tend to be male. Statistical support or no, that is the conventional wisdom.
Male television viewers, by and large, tend to like certain things. These things are also part of conventional wisdom, statistical support or no: violence, beer, boobs. (This is not an exhaustive list, by the way.)
So how do marketers get more people (i.e. guys) to watch the Olympics?
Violence: there’s only so much you can do to make Olympic sports more violent, and the potential cost in international relations probably outweighs any benefit to ratings.
Beer: even the most hardcore boozehound would probably agree that the middle of a mountain biking run or a swim meet is not the best time to down a few.
Boobs: Hmmmmm…tell me more……
(h/t to Ragen) Let’s face it, there is no athletic advantage to wearing skimpy outfits, unless the knowledge that lots of people are staring at your bum improves your game. As Aussie blogger Lauredhel said in preparation for the 2008 Olympics:
No. It’s not about faster, higher, stronger. Women in sports are promoted as sexualised bodies for ogling; men are promoted as performers.
She offered a side-by-side comparison of male and female athletic outfits for the Australian teams, such as:
In case you can’t see the image, on the left is a male beach volleyball player in a comfortably-baggy jersey and shorts that reach at least halfway down his thighs. On the right are two female players with remarkable abs. We know this because we can see all of them, and can offer a clinic description of the muscle tone in their thighs.
Not quite a year ago, the Badminton World Federation, trying to combat the problem of no one ever watching badminton, tried to mandate that female players wear skirts. They quickly ditched that rule in the face of massive criticism. They need to either find a different way to drum up interest in the sport, or just admit that few people enjoy watching a sport with a game piece called a shuttlecock.
Now, it would not add anything to my experience of watching the Olympics to put male athletes into similarly-revealing uniforms, nor would it add anything to the actual performance of the Games themselves.
But neither would it take away from my experience of watching the Olympics (or their performance) to put female athletes into uniforms that make a bit more athletic sense. Plus, it’s not about me. There is some evidence that all this sexifying is turning girls away from getting involved in sports at all, and that’s bad in and of itself.
If I want to see beautiful ripped women in skimpy clothes in various states of sweatiness, Rule 34 dictates that it is available to me at any time on the internet. If I want to see world-class displays of athletic prowess, that only happens a few times a decade.
Consider this an example of my point and/or eye candy. Here’s Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlašić in Greece in 2009. She probably could have performed just as well with a bit more clothes on and still done a sexy dance:
All of this said, I am sure I will still watch beach volleyball this summer.