ESPN Announces the Launch of ESPNW, But Will It Help Women in Sports?

photo of new espnw logo women's sports network pictures

ESPN is getting in the game – the women’s game, specifically. The past few weeks have been ripe with controversy over their latest endeavor, espnW, which will begin digitally in the spring (through a blog), and perhaps eventually expand to a television show or channel. The announcement of this news has caused several female bloggers to protest in outrage that they already have a channel for them to watch sports on, and “It’s called ESPN.”

But do they really? I won’t lie, I’m not what you would call a sports fan, at least not when it comes to organized athletics. The only sport I follow at all religiously is tennis, and of course, when the Olympics come on, I’m on the couch for two weeks watching. And these patterns of activity are apparently the the point of espnW, according to the company’s Vice President Laura Gentile, who pointed out that more women …

… than men watch the Olympics because storytelling is so important to them. She indicates that ESPN is aiming to take this type of viewership and apply it to all sports:

“There’s this thirst to go a bit deeper with these superstars that they see every four years at the Olympics.”

ESPN has done extensive research about the creation of this site, and Gentile noted that women see the brand as “…their father’s brand, or husband’s brand, or boyfriend’s brand. They recognize it’s not theirs.” Perhaps we don’t see it as our brand because it’s really not. The numbers on the representation of women’s sports are astounding — for 2010, only 8 percent of ESPN’s sports programming is expected to cover women’s sports. “SportsCenter” featured only women’s sports in only 1.4 percent of airtime in 2009, according to a study from the University of Southern California. This research also found that coverage on “SportsCenter” had decreased in the past ten years, where 2.2 percent of airtime was on women’s sports. While I’d rather see a less sexist and more integrated channel for everyone, starting with a specific place in which to actually give focus to women’s sports and interests might not be the worst place to begin.

At the end of the day, this is ESPN’s way of attempting to make money in a market that is largely being ignored. If women don’t like it, it will be financially unsuccessful, and ESPN will be forced to try something new. But if it is successful, it seems likely that it will turn into some sort of television presence, as research done about patterns of people watching cable indicates that live sports keep people from turning entirely to online content. Considering sexist treatment of women involved in sports, most notably, the nude video released of ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews, giving women a chance to redefine what sport’s journalism could mean to them seems like a pretty decent place to start.

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9 thoughts on “ESPN Announces the Launch of ESPNW, But Will It Help Women in Sports?

  1. Many thanks for the blog linkage! I think the content on ESPNW will be great, and much needed, but worry about the ghettoization of women’s opinions and discussions. I worry that instead of considering to feature topics of interest to women within the core brand’s properties, it will be pushed to espnw. What I hope for is that it gives more of a forum for women’s opinions and perspectives which are then introduced into the core brand more and more so that eventually we don’t need a separate space — all opinions are welcome. Then we won’t get this crap about “hey, women like baseball too!” ( and have swimsuit models act as the spokeswomen for the NFL.

  2. So is this going to show sports played by women, or sports played by men but with more ‘touching moments’ and ‘inspiring history’ interviews to attract men?

    I don’t think this will get much viewing. The Olympics are not a good representation of the state of sport in general. For one, many people watch *because* they only come around once every four years (or even just two years). Many people seem to be completely sport-ed out by the end of it.

    Building it does not mean they will come.

  3. Women will have more opportunities for professional sport when the viewing public enjoys watching women’s sports. There is nothing more to it.
    And I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  4. Kai you hit the nail on the head. Womens sports don’t get much air time because there is rarely anything worth watching. I am a huge sportsfan but the list of soprts i don’t follow far out weight the list of sports I do. I watch what i find exciting regardless of whether or not it features female athletes. I grew up in KC watching the royals but because they continue to roll out a bad product every year I have stopped tuning in. If the product on the feild/court/pitch/ice is worth watching (mia hamm, brandi chastain womens world cup) then the sports viewing public will be by the channel.

  5. Yeah, I agree Kai. I love hockey, and I watch the hell out of the Olympics. I friggin’ watched curling! But women’s hockey during the Olympics didn’t stay on my tv for longer than three minutes. In fact, I think I changed the channel to watch curling…

  6. Hehe. It occurs to me that the curling I watched during the Olympics was mostly women’s curling. I think it’s because curling isn’t exactly a fast paced sport, so I didn’t miss the action that men bring to the table in other sports.
    I also watched a lot of women’s skiing and other sports like that.

    Maybe that’s the key to success in women’s sports. Because as much as I love hockey, you couldn’t pay me to watch women play it. The reduced speed, hitting and general level of competitiveness takes a toll on it’s watchability.

  7. ESPNW is not about showing more women’s sports. It’s not a separate channel (yet). From what we’ve heard so far it will be a digital presence (blog and other forms of digital media) that highlight women’s opinions on sports (both men’s and women’s sports). It is not intended to draw a wider audience for women’s sports; rather, it aims to appeal to female casual sports fans who feel that ESPN does not appeal to them. As Kate pointed out in her post, “more women … than men watch the Olympics because storytelling is so important to them… ESPN is aiming to take this type of viewership and apply it to all sports”

    They believe that the female casual sports fan does not connect with ESPN’s sporting events and shows (likely due to the way the sports shows, analysis and advertising is catered to men) and want an arena to have a more “balanced” take. Of course, it probably will highlight media related to women’s sports more than the core EPSN properties do, but women’s sports is not the emphasis for the new brand.

  8. I love espn as it is and dont really understand all this espnw stuff. I love watching sports, yet because i am a woman i do get put down and no respect for the love i have. I can walk into a sports bar and ask for football on one tv and baseball on the other and i get laughed at…so wrong, yet i will get my way but why do i have to sit there and argue to get my way just because im a woman!!!!

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