A League of Her Own

Why I Hate The Idea of espnW

 

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photoshop by @plamorte

This week, ESPN announced the creation of a new sports blog (that could eventually become a new channel) for women, to be known as epsnW:

Selling ESPN specifically to women might not seem sensible.

But ESPN, always on the prowl for spinoffs, wants to target women with espnW.

As ESPN vice president Laura Gentile notes, ESPN's own research finds "women see us as an admirable brand that has authority. But they see us as their father's brand, or husband's brand, or boyfriend's brand. They recognize it's not theirs"

No wonder. Men account for 76% of ESPN's overall viewership. And just two types of programming it produces draws majority-female audiences: The National Spelling Bee on ABC (63% female) and cheerleading shows on ESPN2 (52%) -- with ESPN2's Wimbledon coverage in third place with 48%.

The network plans to make espnW a new sub-brand that will soon begin as a blog and could end up being its own TV channel. Says Gentile: "I think espnW-branded programming is in the cards, but I can't say whether we'll make it into a network."

Gentile is overseeing a retreat this week at a Southern California resort -- which includes athletes such as Shannon Miller, Jennie Finch, Laila Ali, Julie Foudy and Marion Jones, as well as lots of sports marketers -- to toss around ideas for espnW.

And squeeze in activities such as sunrise yoga and learning to ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Studio show yak probably isn't the answer. Seven of the eight types of ESPN shows with the lowest percentages of women viewers are studio shows. (The programming with the absolute low is NCAA men's lacrosse, where females comprise just 12% of viewers.)

ESPN's research, says Gentile, suggests women don't see following sports as a "passive activity" as much as men do, so espnW "should take a more active approach, showing sports but also talking about working out and being healthy and connecting to other women."

Gentile says "the retreat, where we talk about women finding self-esteem in sports and about getting a pedicure, is a reflection of what we want to do with the espnW brand -- find a more holistic way of looking at sports."

Oh, where to begin?

To the surprise of many of my male friends, I HATE the idea of an ESPN channel aimed specifically at women. And I'm not alone. Nearly every female blogger and sports fan on my twitter feed was annoyed by the announcement of espnW. And not only because we appear to be getting closer and closer to making ESPN8, The Ocho, a reality.

Women already HAVE an ESPN. It's called ESPN.

The idea that women need a "girlier" version of sportis programming insulting. This is the same idea that has caused sports marketing geniuses to try to sell baseball to women, who already comprise more than 40% of the fan base, by creating sparkly pink hats and bedazzled t-shirts.

The idea that sports need to somehow be feminized to attract women is completely off-base. Like the Jennie Finches, Julie Foudys, and Lindsay Vonns of the world, women today are the daughters of Title IX. We grew up playing sports, just like the guys, and we still love sports, just like the guys. We don't need pink jerseys to buy sports merchandise and we don't need espnW to cajole us into watching sports programming.

The idea that we want our own ESPN for sunrise yoga and "learning how to ride a Harley-Davidson motorcyle" is, in a word, stupid. And by the way, I already get Lifetime.

In additoin to insulting 50% of the American opulation with this stupid idea, espnW gives ESPN the perfect excuse to relegate women's sports to a sub-channel. It's not like there was a lot of women's sports being shown on ESPN in the first place, but is there any doubt ESPN would put it anywhere OTHER than espnW if it has the option?

If ESPN really wants to attract more women stop hiring bimbos just because they look good and get some smart, sports-savvy women on your network. Or, in the altnerative, hire some beefcake guys for us to look at, because John Kruk and Chris Berman aren't really doing it for me. Get women in the broadcast booth as well as in the studio. Hire more women to write for espn.com. Stop relegating women to the sidelines and personal interest stories. It would probably also help if your employees stopped sexually harassing women at the current rate.

 In short, treat women as equals, and more women will start watching your network. 

The bottom line is that women who want a sportier version of HGTV will probably love espnW, and those of us who want real sports programming wil keep watching ESPN (or, more accurately, MLBN and NFLN).

At the very least, show women that you respect them as sports fans by not calling the new channel "espnW," thereby implying that the anticipated programming, which at this point appears to be less-than-interesting, is somehow sanctioned by women. Call your new channel something else, and you can show all the spelling bees and cheerleading competitions you want.

Might I suggest espnL, for" lame?"

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39 Comments

gravedigger said:

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May I re-suggest LESPN? I was disappointed you didn't comment on it before.

JulieDiCaro said:

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because linking anything from ESPN to my lesbian friends is insulting to them.

gravedigger said:

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the only women who watch ESPN are lesbians, that's been scientifically proven.

JulieDiCaro said:

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I watch ESPN, you idiot.

gravedigger said:

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And, you're a ... ohhh wait a minute. I see.

dwag29 said:

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the last thing we need this idiotic "dreamed up" idea to do is reinforce more stereotyping and gay jokes. even of the sarcastic variety. come on.

JulieDiCaro said:

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gravedigger thinks he can make fun of his own kind without fear of retribution.

dwag29 said:

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that's so straight

gravedigger said:

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you mean i cant?

plamorte said:

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that was fun to make! full size here: http://bit.ly/espnW1

ELRaythar said:

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I like that your story on being voted best beard among LOHO commenters is the last one in the news bar haha

berselius said:

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Yes, big kudos on the beard joke

HackWilson09 said:

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The Tampax ad is brilliant.

ELRaythar said:

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Knew this was coming the second I heard about espnW on twitter. You pretty much covered all the bases, especially the part about relegating women's sports to this channel, should it materialize. I just think it's silly that ESPN thinks it has to appeal to both genders. They could have just as easily done espnH (health) instead, as a way of motivating both men and women to lead healthier lives. I don't think this is a good idea at all, and could very well end up flopping badly.

Dmband said:

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Cj-

I'd have to say, and maybe im off base, but yourself and your fellow bloggers are still the overwhelming minority in terms of females liking sports. You are already "customers" of ESPN, it appears they are trying to target woman who dont know or like sports already. Our generation has made leaps and bounds in terms of woman's involvement or inclusion in what would be previously viewed as "mens sports" but its still a niche market within that 50% of the population. One needs to look no further than the viewership and ticket sales of the WNba for proof.

ELRaythar said:

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The problem is that it doesn't seem like this espnW will be marketing major sports to its audience. I don't see how programs about sunrise yoga and the like will help expand the amount of women sports fans; rather this (potential) channel would just be giving women another channel that provides more of the same.

JulieDiCaro said:

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I get that, but I think the numbers of women out there who want traditional sports programming would shock people. I know I was surprised when I saw all the women with their own sports blogs out there.

dwag29 said:

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ESPN is not looking to attract women who don't know or like sports already. They are looking to attract women who like sports but are intimidated by the macho, misogynistic opinions of male sportscasters and so-called analysts and therefore don't feel that ESPN's coverage appeals to them. We bloggers and female sports fanatics put up with it because we love sports and are not afraid to chew these dudes out. But we don't need a separate space to talk about our feelings about sports, and that's what I see this as. Actually,from what I've heard, espnW is not a sub-network (yet) but just a new brand with twitter feed and maybe a blog to highlight the female perspective on sports and help women feel more connected when talking about sports and sharing ideas.

However, as we know and Julie pointed out, we don't need a separate brand or place that's labeled specifically for women to make us feel included. ESPN needs to integrate a strong, smart female presence into their online and television properties in order to make the brand more all-inclusive. Otherwise, THEY just reinforce stereotypes that their network is primarily for men and their opinions, and the perspectives of women can be heard among each other, not mass audiences.

It reeks of "separate but equal" to me.

More forthcoming on my blog.

JulieDiCaro said:

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completely agree. it 'empowers' women the same way black schools 'empowered' black children.

Dmband said:

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"It would probably also help if your employees stopped sexually harassing women at the current rate"


I thought the same exact thing when I saw your headline.

Doc said:

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Women's tennis.

That's it. That's all I'd watch on that channel.

And judging by ratings/attendance figures...I'm not alone.

So ESPN is creating a channel where they can put all the crap that I never want to watch on...except women's tennis. That's ok. That just means there is more time to see Tony Kornheiser screaming at Michael Wilbon. Throw all those WNBA games that no one watches off on another channel. Sounds like a brilliant idea for me. Now they can add a couple more hours to Baseball Tonight!

:)

CubsMagicNumber said:

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"...those of us who want real sports programming wil keep watching ESPN (or, more accurately, MLBN and NFLN)."

Yes. This.

Other than actual ballgames, I haven't watched more than ten minutes of ESPN since MLBN went on the air It's not that ESPN isn't appealing to women, it's that ESPN isn't appealing. Period.

And bravo, Pat! That is exactly what I would picture the site to look like!

Dmband said:

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I watch woman's softball all the time. ElRay, you make a very good point. I honestly thought CJ was joking when she said they were going to be showing sunrise yoga.

ELRaythar said:

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One would hope, but knowing ESPN...
I can already see hour long specials about Alyssa Milano and how she is such a huge female sports fan happening. Oy. And ditto to all those who have made the point that MLBN and NFLN provide real sports coverage. Growing tired of ESPN by the minute; Baseball Tonight and SportsNation are the only reason I tune into that station, aside from the occasional game.

Aisle424 said:

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I would probably watch the Alyssa Milano show (with the sound turned all the way down).

JulieDiCaro said:

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Alyssa Milano I would actually watch. Great baseball fan and knows her stuff.

HackWilson09 said:

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I don't see how they can do this without also launching ESPNM -- ESPN for Morons.

This blog would feature a new and interesting story about Josh Hamilton every single day. It will also provide up-to-the-minute updates on the texture and quality of Steven Strasburg's bowel movements during rehab. Rob Neyer would move his own bowels to ESPNM, and a special media team would be assigned to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

Regular ESPN could just have real stories and genuine insights.

Recalling an old John Lennon song here, ESPNW is sort of like sports media creating its own Negro League.

Bottom line, though? ESPN is a corporation, doing a lot of stupid stuff. Don't like it? Don't visit, don't watch.

berselius said:

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My 2 cents:

I think it's a dumb idea and ESPN is further alienating female sports fans like yourself Julie, but maybe they're just trying to tap into the pink cap and bedazzled tshirt market. How well does that stuff sell anyway? My guess is that they know most female sports fans are just going to keep watching ESPN anyway. It just looks like they're chasing those dollars with a truckful of FAIL.

JulieDiCaro said:

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like I said, i think they shoudl call it somethign else. ESPN Health is a good idea. It's just insulting to have spelling bees and cheerleading on a channel dedicated to women.

secdelahc said:

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I very rarely watch ESPN anymore, because their programming is all a bunch of crap. Show me more games, give me an analyst who can tell me something that isn't common sense and I'll be more inclined to watch ESPN. But I would never be interested in a channel just because it's marketed for women. Especially if they're showing yoga. Unless I was drunk and wanted a good laugh.

dwag29 said:

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Some have pointed out that ESPN is a business and knows its market so it can't just start plastering espn.com and the ESPN networks with 'female-oriented' content. So fine. If we're going to truly get into the business aspects, let's call it what it is: an opportunity for ESPN to create more web properties that increase the availability and diversity of advertising that they can collect revenue from. They just have to spin it as a warm fuzzy place for women to feel supported in to drive the traffic and thus the ad impressions. It's all about money, and ESPN's dollars come from advertisers. Period. End of story.

JulieDiCaro said:

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dana = smart chickadee

that's why i love her.

sloan peterson said:

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The only way I would watch lady ESPN is if they play replays of "RuPaul's Drag Race" & "Drag U".

gravedigger said:

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haha, we need a like button around here

Edelweiss said:

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When womens sports draw bigger audiences, they will be televised on major channels. People watch ESPN when a game or event they want to see is televised on that channel. Trouble is, lately they show things that hardly qualify as sports, such as poker.

Megan Hueter said:

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I don't think espnW is targeting you. Here's a response, with a little bit more context, which I look forward to discussing: http://blogswithballs.com/2010/10/espnw-a-brand-for-female-athletes/

Stylin19 said:

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You mean Erin Andrews isn't a real sportscaster.... *GASP*

Narya said:

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I am so with you on this. I sent a letter to the Sportswriters on TV some years ago when SI was doing a SI-for-Women thing; my letter said basically the same things you've said here.

Here's another thing: Every so often--okay, all the damn time--I see some guy reporting on sports and I think, no woman who is that conventionally unattractive would get that job, no matter how much she knew about sports.

JulieDiCaro said:

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Completely agree.

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