Wednesday, December 08, 2010

That's W for Women

It appears ESPN is making serious efforts to reach out to female audience members with the introduction of espnW. The network is taking baby steps online, but hopes to eventually expand to television, which could mean a channel dedicated to women's sports. “They’ve made the commitment," said women's sports advocate and former tennis great Billie Jean King. “I don’t think there’s ever been this much planning, research and commitment before.”

Two points about the ESPN effort--1) it seems to confirm recent research by myself and Dr. Mary Lou Sheffer that found that for people who consume a lot of sports (more than three hours per day), women actually consume more than men. In other words, the perceived difference between men and women--the difference upon which televised sports is based--is at the low end of the consumption scale. Of people who say they consume a lot of sports, women are not that much different than men. Dr. Sheffer and I recommended reexamining this traditionally ignored segment of the sports audience, which espnW seems trying to do.

2) But not everyone is on board with the execution, including women. According to the New York Times, some of the harshest critics are female sports bloggers, who said the attempt to market a female-friendly version of ESPN smacked of condescension and segregation. Laura Gentile, the vice president of espnW, was quoted by USA Today this month describing the effort as “where we talk about women finding self-esteem in sports and about getting a pedicure.” “For those of us that have worked really hard to keep up with the boys, that’s kind of tough to hear,” said Julie DiCaro, the author of a Cubs fan blog. She wrote a post this month titled, “Why I Hate the Idea of espnW” and noted, “It seems like this is the broadcasting equivalent of making something pink and putting sparkles on it,” she said.

Almost everyone views the female audience as a huge, untapped resource. The big question remains--what is the best way to reach women? Although no one has a good answer right now, at least give ESPN credit for trying.


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