What espnW is really all about

Sports business ace Kristi Dosh talks to espnW vice president Laura Gentile on the Forbes SportsMoney blog in response to some of the rather heated reaction to last week’s site launch, and says we’re missing the point entirely.

It was never meant to cater specifically to women who are already hardcore sports fans, or to those who want to see more women’s sports (I’m in both categories) but to those women who are in the vast, untapped majority:

“Although my conversation with Ms. Gentile certainly helped put things in perspective, it was the surprise phone call I received from an anonymous espnW supporter that really had an effect on my view of the situation. This person pointed out that they’d heard from women who watched their child’s little league game from the car because they were afraid they would clap at the wrong time or who wanted to coach their kid’s team but had no idea how to run a practice. As a woman who grew up after Title IX, and who has spent my entire life playing and coaching sports, I was honestly oblivious to such issues. These women—the ones who aren’t part of ESPN’s existing 26% female audience—deserve to be engaged. They want to be fans, but are a little shy about it. They don’t want to look stupid. They are lost in the world of sports and no one is catering to their needs.”

I touched on some of this after a much ballyhooed espnW retreat in October, but Dosh really drives home the point well, while suggesting that espnW could have more clearly explained its aspirations.

That’s why I also was a bit confused by what I saw on espnW launch day and every day since: A lot more men’s sports than I expected, and I was expecting some. Perhaps it was a fangirlish piece about Bill Simmons that ultimately turned me off. The subject of his visceral loathing of the WNBA somehow never comes up.

But then again, I’ve never been in the target audience for anything in my life, so I’ll admit to having yet another blind spot.

Media writer Eric Deggans falls for the pink ghetto meme, then falls into the tired, dreary cultural rabbit hole of gender and sports to express his disappointment with espnW:

“How does a female sports fan respond to all the sexism embedded in some professional sports’ presentations? Does it matter that even the most accomplished female athletes seem encouraged to sell themselves as sex objects to get ahead?

“What about some female athletes who have been accused of emerging as stars mostly for their beauty and sex appeal of male fans? If a name like Kournikova or Patrick floats up in these conversations, are the criticisms fair?”

Again, that’s not really the issue here.

Dosh’s larger point is that espnW’s marketing must be vastly improved:

“There needs to be a unified message coming out about what espnW wants to accomplish and how they plan to do it. I know they’ve done the research behind this, and I’m now convinced they’re serving both an untapped area and underserved consumers. The issue is the message.”

From a corporation that aggressively and relentlessly promotes itself and makes perfectly clear what it is pushing, this is truly surprising.

For those wishing for more news-oriented women’s sports coverage on this platform, it’s not going to happen, not to the degree we might wish. At first I thought it was a missed opportunity by espnW, but that’s not the case.

It still leaves open the door for others to claim that space. It may be a much smaller niche that a gargantuan enterprise like ESPN may not be able to make profitable enough, but the opportunities are there, on a different scale.

Here’s the first part of Dosh’s two-part take on espnW.

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