ESPN has announced plans to launch a new brand aimed at a female demographic -- espnW. Before you get too excited, it looks like it is just going to be a website and a Facebook page. In fact, as far as I can tell so far, it is just a Facebook page, a twitter account and a splash page. It seems as if there is a possibility of it becoming a television network in the future, but it is not currently in the works.
From what I've been seeing around the Internet, there are basically three schools of thought:
1. Hooray! ESPN finally noticed that women care about sports. Did this happen when the study was done revealing that 44% of football fans and 45% of baseball fans are women? It is about time we had our own network! Megan from Women Talk Sports has a great post about the upside of a women's brand of ESPN and there is a really interesting discussion in the comments over there.
2. Pandering -- girls like pink and flowers and figure skating. Let's give them their forum so we can run more pictures of Danica Patrick in a bikini on the main website. You ladies look over there. Awww, women's basketball, isn't that precious? This is how Cubbiejulie sees it.
Women already HAVE an ESPN. It's called ESPN. The idea that women need a "girlier" version of sports 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.
3. Why do we need our own network? If they just showed women's sporting events on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN360, EPSNU, ESPNews, and ESPN Classic or ran features on women's sports there we wouldn't need this. Are you telling us that we are separate but equal? That doesn't really fly here. As Dana Wagner said:
Women purchase 46% of official NFL merchandise Women spent 80% of all sport apparel dollars and controlled 60% of all money spent on men’s clothing Women comprise about one-third (34%) of the adult audience for ESPN sport event programs Bottom line? ESPN doesn’t need to segregate their female audience to increase the percentage of those who connect with the brand. They just need to make the existing brand more inclusive.
Me? I don't know where I stand. Should I be excited? Should I be outraged? Should I apply for a job? I don't know. Laura Gentile, the vice-president of espnW has been quoted as saying "Storytelling is important to women." I think that is true, but I don't think it is especially fair to men. I've read some pretty good books by men too, but I think I am willing to give espnW a fair chance. Let's see what they do with it.
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