I began hearing not long ago that espnW was coming online in December, and on the first Monday of the month the site indeed did go live.
I haven’t looked thoroughly at all of the launch material, but a few thoughts did cross my mind as I perused:
• There’s more men’s sports here than I imagined, and the site was promoted as appealing to women sports fans as well as those interested in women’s sports. Still, at the end of the first day, the Jets-Patriots game is getting top billing? I realize it’s a big game and there’s great interest in that matchup, but that’s a story that can be found anywhere else. It crowds out what I thought was supposed to be the emphasis here.
Which got me thinking about a couple of other possibilities that bear watching as the site develops:
• Can espnW sell a site devoted entirely to women’s sports? Or is it partially using this vehicle to push its men’s pro and college sports content onto a primarily female audience? Do we really need BCS, LeBron James and baseball winter meetings stories here? Women who are diehard sports fans know where to get this.
• The smartest, most relevant piece I’ve seen comes from former WNBA president Val Ackerman, who pens an intelligent, passionate treatise on the future of women’s sports that dearly needs to be amplified. A few snippets:
“In our post-Title IX world, the old stereotypes and barriers which historically distanced women and girls from sports are largely gone, but differences persist in the way American males and females participate in, consume and think about sports, which in turn affects health and fitness trends, media imagery and coverage, and strategies for companies trying to turn sports into profitable business ventures. The future of women’s sports will be shaped by the way these differences are addressed and by the effectiveness with which women’s sports proponents can meld the gains of the past 40 years with the needs, sensibilities and realities of today’s world.”
“But although the battles for acceptance which marked the 1970s and ’80s have been largely won, they’ve been replaced by another challenge: how to convert the feel-good vibe of ‘with you in spirit’ into cold, hard revenue, so that women’s sports leagues can endure as viable businesses. The protections of Title IX, which helped make the pro outlets possible, do not reach beyond federally-funded educational institutions, so the future of the leagues will be wholly left to the realities of the marketplace. In the post-Title IX age, progress at the elite level will ride on the adeptness with which women’s sports leaders can marry what’s appealingly feminine with what’s impressively athletic, what’s edgy and controversial with what’s mainstream and wholesome — and in our culture of celebrity, whether women’s sports ‘products’ can be turned into compelling entertainment, the kind that busy fans (women and girls among them) will make time for and pay real money to see.”
Bravo! No whining about sexism or victimology or spouting the usual reflexive talking points on these subjects. Ackerman understands this isn’t an ideological battle, indeed that’s it not really a battle at all any longer. There are complicated, deeply human considerations that are still evolving about females and athletics — and evolving is the key word here — that defy the absolutist pronouncements of the sports-and-gender crowd.
Please don’t overlook Ackerman’s last point, and it’s one that I’ve been making for some time as well. Please listen to someone who’s been a pioneer in the business of women’s sports about what’s really important at the present time, and in the near future. The challenges are no longer cultural as much as they are cementing durable business models and winning fans for women’s sports.
This goes far beyond Title IX, so perhaps it’s understandable why the women’s leaders who take up most of the oxygen — here and here and here — don’t say anything remotely resembling this. Their inability, or unwillingness, to yammer about much else besides Title IX and trifling cultural obsessions reflects a women’s sports movement that needs new blood, and new ideas, to come to the forefront.
The sooner women’s sports stops being peddled primarily as a cause — and the people behind espnW understand this very well — the sooner they can become more viable in the mainstream of the sports world.