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.