A League of Her Own

Why I'm Still Not On Board With espnW

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 Back in October, I wrote this piece expressing my indignation and disappointment at the creation of espnW. Clearly, the topic was a controversial one, and my thoughts on the issue were quoted in the New York Times, Jezebel.com. Ms. Magazine, and New York Magazine, among others.

Today, espnW writer Sarah Spain tweeted the following: "No disrespect to @juliedicaro meant there, but she's earned a lot of pub 4 a post on something she knew nothing about & hadn't launched yet."

Of course, Sarah is 100% right. Back when I was interviewed by the NYT about espnW, it was nothing but an idea on the horizon. The website hadn't launched, but espnW President Laura Gentile wasn't doing the concept any favors with statements describing an espnW planning retreat as a place  "where we talk about women finding self-esteem in sports and about getting a pedicure." 

 I didn't weigh in on espnW.com when it first came out, because I really hoped they would prove me wrong and we could all go about our business. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case.

Back in October, I had this to say about espnW:

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. 


Over in today's NYT Magazine story, one commentor said it more eloquently than I could:

I'm confused why, as a woman, I need to go to espnW to get my sports news and not espn? Are the words too big at espn? Do I need talk about Cliff Lee leaving the Rangers to also include his favorite salad dressing and baked good? I understand the pink hats and bedazzled jerseys more than I understand sports news geared towards women. (Unless it's all going to be about Gymnastics and then sign me up...::headdesk::)
I stand by my statement that segregating women into their own separate-but-equal website is insulting to my intellect as well as my estrogen-level. That said, I understand that I'm not exactly the target demographic espnW is shooting for. Despite my penchant for the color pink, lip gloss, and Hello, Kitty paraphenalia, I watch more sports than most guys I know, play fantasy football, baseball, and soccer, and I'm equally happy curled up with the latest Sports Illustrated as I am with the most recent copy of Glamour.
 
So I get it. espnW was never meant for me.
 
But now that the site has launched, I'm unclear who it actually IS for.
 
The articles on espnW.com range from "Give It Up For Girls Who Train Hard and Are Proud Of It," a look at women who went through a 3-day Navy Seal boot camp at an espnW retreat, to a preview of the Texas-Penn State Volleyball "Showdown." There's even an inexplicable entry entitled "Some Perspective on What's Sporting," which reads as follows:
 

There's a distinction between the way fans care and the way players care. Sal Alosi's bizarre, sociopathic behavior was far more consistent with an irrational fan's behavior than a uniformed member of the team, writes ESPN.com's Tim Keown.

 

That's the whole post.

Unlike ESPN.com, which has separate pages for NFL, MLB, NCAA, NBA, etc., espnW just seems to be throwing a bunch of blog posts on their homepage to see what sticks. There's no coherent theme, scheme or organization. As it now stands, espnW reads more like TMZ.com than anything resembling serious sports journalism, and certainly doesn't live up to the brand quality ESPN readers are used to.  Want to read about major league baseball? Well get comfrotable and start scrolling through all the posts on the site. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get to the mlb section, without success. Instead, the sidebar offers sections entitled "What We're Reading," "Games We're Following," and "This Week in Women's Sports."

Not to say that there isn't good writing on espnW.com, because there is. Most notably, the fabulous Amanda Rykoff, who covers baseball and football better than half the male writers out there, is a great edition to the writing staff. So far, Amanda has covered everything from baseball's Winter Meetings to the Knicks/Celtics matchup at Madison Square Garden.

But don't women who care enough about baseball to follow the Winter Meetings read ESPN.com instead? And how many women out there are on pins and needles, waiting for the big Texas-Penn State volleyball game? And I may be wrong, but I think that if women care enough about the NFL to want to follow NFL coaches on Twiitter, they probably don't need espnW's help to find them. As a result, espnW.com has ended up as a confusing mish-mash of sports-related topics. The only common thread running through the various posts is that they were all written by women.

In short, it seems espnW has no idea what it wants to be.  Take a little ESPN.com. a little TLC, a little TMZ, mix well and see what the response is. And this is the inherent problem with espnW. There's no way to take a group as broad as "women" and create a sports blog just for us, any more than it would be advisable to create espnB(lack) or espnO(ver40). Wome are simply too diverse to lump into a single theme.

At a party last night, one very knowlegeable female sports fan said to me, "After the first week, I never went back (to espnW.com). I'm not sure what it's supposed to be."

I'm not sure espnW kmows what it's supposed to be, either.

As a final note, I find it amusing that Laura Gentile, in response to concerns that espnW was going to end up pink and bedazzled, said this:

Gentile noted that pink would not be found in the espnW color scheme.

"We're not going to do anything to condescend to fellow women because we are women, and we are sports fans at our core," she said. "So as much as we will be talking about the W.N.B.A. a bit more and talking about women's college basketball a bit more, we'll also be talking about the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. and everything that sports fans care about."

She's right. espnW is not pink. The color scheme runs from orange, to salmon, to watermleon, to a peach color that looks a lot like pink. But it's not, technically speaking, pink.

Despite what some of you may think, my intention is not to submarine espnW. If there's truly a demand out there for a sports blog devoted entirely to women, then there should absolutely be one. But if espnW can't indentify who those women are and what they want, then the entire idea is inherently condescending to female sports fans.

 

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22 Comments

sloan peterson said:

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I just took a look at espnW- and I'm a little confused for a different reason. What I could see were posts on the NBA,NFL,NHL,women's volleyball,college women's basketball. Maybe it's me, but when I think of "womens sports" I also think of figure skating, swimming, track and field, even gymnastics. The way the page is laid out, if any of those sports are mentioned, they are not readily visible.Unless my computers filters are totally blocking out large areas of content,the website seems to be tagging along to espn.com...

ELRaythar said:

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So it's basically espn.com, but written by women.

ELRaythar said:

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Julie basically hit the nail on the head. While the articles are well written, there is little coherence between them. The organization reads off exactly like a blog roll, with no cohesion between one article and the next. I would think ESPN and Nike (a founding partner, per the front page) would have web masters that could put together a website that is easy to follow and surf through.

There just doesn't seem to be any ground breaking advance being made here. So far, it's coming across as just another blog about random sporting events.

Aisle424 said:

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"But if espnW can't indentify who those women are and what they want, then the entire idea is inherently condescending to female sports fans."

I think that is the key. When ESPN started, it was a mishmash of rodeos, monster truck rallies, and guys in loud blazers sitting behind a desk showing a few highlights. In the course of operating, they found what people liked (Sportscenter) and grew that, added to it, gained credibility, and now dominate the sports media world.

At this point, Julie has a point that they don't seem to know what they are - but that isn't inherently bad. Hopefully, they learn what their audience likes and expand upon it, while eliminating the aspects that are poorly received.

JulieDiCaro said:

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But to be fair, ESPN was the first of its kind. It's not like there aren't other sports blogs out there. Or female sports blogs. Or really good sports blogs run by women. This isn't virgin territory, it's just a mess.

Aisle424 said:

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True, but it is also difficult to come up with something cohesive with so many collaborators in the process. Most female-run blogs or podcasts are run by one or two women. It's easier to get cohesiveness.

I'm sure this started as pure marketing by the ESPN suits (were there hoards of women somewhere demanding their own portion of the ESPN empire dedicated to them?) and the writers and editors are trying to make something good out of it. What they eventually make it into will speak louder to how well they can resonate with women than what they have come up with on this first pass.

I'm willing to give it time to settle in, but then, I'm not who they are supposedly trying to target.

gravedigger said:

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No disrespect meant to Sarah Spain, but she's earned a lot of pub 4 whoring herself out on E-Bay.

ELRaythar said:

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Man this coffee is hot. Take it. Check the time. BURN!!!!!
GD strikes again.

Doc said:

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My issue with Sarah Spain is that she continues to defend her credentials as a journalist by saying she went to such a great college and blah blah blah. The thing is, I have yet to have seen or read a single thing she's done that would be even remotely impress me and that would ever push me to believe that she could be anything more than a pretty face that can only repeat what other people have already said and ask questions that a 10 year old would think up.

The fact that she continues to have to throw her education as justification for her current role is often times the sign of someone who is, in fact, compensating for not being very good at ones job.

Doc said:

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Damn...that was pretty damn harsh.

gravedigger said:

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I applauded.

Doc said:

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For me, ESPNw fails because there isn't enough women's tennis coverage. Completely pointless.

gravedigger said:

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Two pieces of news. That Jackwagon Kaplan says the Cubs are close to bringing Wood back: http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/david-kaplan-chicago-sports/2010/12/cubs-moving-towards-to-signing-kerry-wood.html

The other is that I'm really running away with my deadpool now. Bob Feller died today.

JulieDiCaro said:

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Carl, Pat and I are hard at work in the LOHO bunker, preparing tomorrow's "Welcome Back Kerry Wood!" post!

gravedigger said:

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And I am hard at work in mhy living room, finishing off another limon+coke!

Edelweiss said:

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I checked out ESPNW, and was not too impressed, but I think it has found a niche. Women who really like sports will watch the sporting events and regular sports blogs, but maybe those who grew up with pink sparkly versions of everything from bikes to dumbed-down versions of athletic gear might get themselves introduced to sports. I am lucky to have participated in a sport where women are as respected as men, and to have raised only sons in this country. I think it is ridiculous that little girls have to have a pink version of everything. It is not this way in Italy, nor in Austria. Being a princess is not much of an ambition.

Steve said:

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I think ESPNW is not meant for those hardcore sports fans like yourself. it is meant for the wives and girlfriends who truly want to learn more about the world of sports and dont want to be humored along the way. EspnW does provide women with actual real sports articles. I think it was also invented to be less intimidating.

I think a lot of women look at espn and see it as a gritty man show that dives into these deep topics and statistics that women dont understand right of the bat. I think espnW is trying to say "We are women too. We love sports and we understand it just as much as men" and it creates a less intimidating. Clearly any guy who comes in here and says it isnt for them is 100% correct, its not for them. its not for women that are super hardcore wither. i think it is for those that truly want to learn the world of sports but currently are not on the same level of understanding as everyone else...

JulieDiCaro said:

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I agree with that, but espnW is poorly done. It's a mishmash of a bunch of different stories with no rhyme or reason. They've got college volleyball, surfing, fitness retreats on the same page with mlb, nfl, and nba stuff. there's no way to navigate. there's no coherence.

if they wanted to get the pink sparkly hat crowd, they should focus more on the celebrity aspect of sports, or go more "glamour" and focus on health and fitrness. but the way it is now, i have no idea who their target audience is or what they're trying to do.

they have some good writers, but the presentation is a mess.

BKibbs said:

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It seems more to me that espnW is a blog disguised as a website.

Doc said:

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That's quite and excellent and accurate description. I didn't think of it that way, but you're right.

Dmband said:

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The best part about Spain's tweet is, as far as I can tell Julie you were 100% right about ESPNW, so Im not quite sure what other information you would've needed to formulate an opinion.

I also love the phrase "no disrespect..but...." because it pretty much means "Im going to disprespect you in 3...2...1."

Dmband said:

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Julie how dare you attack the mighty four letter networks new idea. Dont you know we are all supposed to blindly follow anything they do with bouquets and applause. They can do no wrong. It is right to give thanks and praise to the leader.

"Ray, Ray your chanting Ray. Im going to kill every one, Satan is good, Satan is our pal."

LOVE that movie.

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