Creating an ESPN of their own

There have been plenty of headlines about this week’s retreat of top women’s sports leaders by ESPN, which has designs on creating a separate espnW brand to appeal to a very different demographic than what tunes into the Family of Networks.

This was an all-invitation shindig near San Diego, so those of us not part of the In Crowd will be eager to hear the details in forthcoming days.

But there’s been plenty of squawking in the women’s sports blogosphere from those who think it’s patronizing to women who like to watch sports. A pink ghetto, if you will.

I can understand this point of view, since I’m in that small, but passionate, minority. This passionate:

“Men and women are not different species, but as a female sports fan, you sometimes can’t help but wonder if marketers think they are. Sports marketing tells men it’s ok to be loud, obnoxious, proud fans of their sport. Marketing tells women… not a whole lot. Marketing can often miss the boat, too – assuming that simply because they design something that is pink or sparkly, that women will want to buy it, or buy into it.”

Except that when it comes to sports, men and women are different viewing species. This is about creating a business model — and an audience — at a scale that a major corporate entity can make work.

I’ve never been part of that target audience, but I think it’s worth another shot at reaching the non-traditional female sports fan. Previous women’s sports magazines had similar aims — to appeal to fitness-oriented women by using prominent female athletes as models of inspiration. The heavy costs of print, among other factors, doomed most of those efforts.

With corporations already¬†actively chasing the disposable incomes of young female athletes, this market is too hard to ignore. And let’s be clear about espnW’s objective: It’s about creating an identifiable corporate brand with enough potential consumers to make it last, and to make it grow.

It’s not unlike Deportes, ESPN’s Spanish-language outlet. Its programming goes heavy on sports that are popular in the Latin world — soccer, baseball and boxing. There’s little attention paid to college sports, which is an American anomaly. And there’s virtually no coverage of women’s sports, except for a tennis Grand Slam event.

I understand the criticisms about some of the activities at the espnW retreat — the pedicures, the sunrise yoga, the girly-girly things, etc. There was a Navy Seal boot camp too, which would have rendered me straight to the sidelines.

Before waxing indignant about “stereotypes,” keep in mind that companies and marketers aim directly at what a large swath of desired demographic groups like to do in order to attract their business. Whether you like it or not, ESPN and every other successful corporate entity knows it has to cater to market-researched general interests and buying habits.

They may not be what I like to do, but I also believe there’s an untapped market for women who are serious spectator fans of sports played by both men and women. It’s a much smaller niche, and it may not be one a major media company will approach in the near future, if at all. It may be up to innovative women media entrepreneurs similar to those behind the WomenTalkSports blog network to which I’ve belonged (and who were in attendance at the retreat) to experiment with a variety of startup ideas.

I’m not a business person, and I’m just rambling off the top of my head here. But I’m thinking that if the initial ideas behind espnW can take off, then perhaps that audience can be expanded to the likes of, well, me.

Who don’t do sunrise anything, much less yoga.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 4, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Wendy, this is a well thought-out post. I totally understand where you’re coming from, and appreciate that you remain positive about the idea, even before it’s come to fruition. You’ll find my reaction to it interesting, I think:
    http://www.womentalksports.com/items/read/4/699871