Last weekend, television personality Jenny McCarthy was spotted cheering on her sister from the bleachers of a basketball game – only it wasn’t an ordinary basketball game. It was the debut of the Lingerie Basketball League, an offshoot of the wildly popular Lingerie Football League (LFL) which caused jaws to drop when it premiered with body-baring participants a few years ago.
And with barely-there uniforms and overtly sexual catch-phrases and play names like “Red Light Special,” it’s no surprise that it’s attracting some serious attention.
But while lingerie leagues may be revving interest in female sports, some experts argue that the over-sexualization of female athletes is hardly a new concept.
“It does seem as though the popularity of a particular women's sport is often unfortunately tied to how attractive its stars are,” Larry Tobin, former Vice President of Product for FOX Sports Interactive and co-creator of MindSports told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “ Mostly though, women's sports suffer from the same problems that most of the non-big four men's sports do. They are fighting for mind-share against long established leagues where a fan's team ties run deep, and it is very difficult to convert someone's time from one sport to another without an incredibly compelling story.”
Indeed, the examples of female sports organizations sexing up their images are many.
With the 2012 Olympics in London fast approaching, the Badminton World Federation decided earlier this year that the way to revive declining interest in the sport was to insist female competitors play in skirts or dresses, as opposed to shorts and sweatpants.
And several years ago, Sepp Blatter, soccer’s most senior administrator and president of the world governing body FIFA came under fire for suggesting female players wear “tighter shorts” and promote “a more female aesthetic” in an effort to increase the amount of eyeballs on the game.
Then there’s beach volleyball where the ladies show off their taut and tanned figures in bikinis while their male counterparts dink and dive in loose-fitting tank tops and thigh-covering shorts. In gymnastics the young ladies take to the beam and bar in a Lycra leotard, while male competitors don baggy shorts and/or snug floor-length pants..
So is showing some leg the only way the female leg of sports is ever going to garner mainstream attention?
“It’s not fair (for women to have to wear so little) but we all know sex sells,” said Jessica Hopkins, a dedicated Lingerie Football League player for Seattle Storm. “I'd much prefer to have my skin covered when playing tackle football on hard astro turf, but the lingerie/sexy aspect of our game is what gets people interested and once they come see us play.”
Angie Meyer, sports publicist and founder of the Glam Girls Guide to Sports, also defended the lingerie league as something more than hot chicks bopping about in nothing but their cotton coverings.
“On paper, it looks and sounds derogatory towards women,” she said. “However, when you sit down and watch the intense athleticism of these women, you learn the league is much more than a pretty powder-puff team.”