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Archive for December 2010

espnW: A Marketing Message Gone Wrong

December 13th, 2010 | 2 comments »

Last week, I told you about the initial reactions from consumers when espnW was unveiled.  In short, it was a sea of negativity. 

Females who were already frequenters of and viewers of ESPN television were outraged.  They wondered why they needed a site of their own when they were perfectly happy with ESPN.  Then they fumed when they read quotes from a USA Today article they felt portrayed women as unable to understand or appreciate sports in the same way as men. 

Rest assured, ladies, I have found the problem, and I think I can change your mind about 

The biggest issue with isn’t the colors, or the format, or the all-female writing staff.  It’s the message.  So, let me try and present you with the message I wish I’d seen last week.

Let’s start with why espnW was created.  Half the women I’ve talked to who are angry are upset because they feel as though they’re being told ESPN is not for them.  The other half thought espnW was only going to cover female sports and are disappointed to find men’s sports being covered.  The truth is that neither of these were espnW’s intent. 

Straight from their press release announcing espnW last Monday, here is a quote from Laura Gentile, VP of espnW and ESPN RISE digital and publishing, about the mission of espnW: represents our commitment to serving female fans and athletes on a dedicated platform. After more than two years of research and preparation, we are excited to create a specific community for women to talk sports and be inspired both as a fan and as a participant.

espnW is not about segregating women, either in terms of readership or coverage, it’s about creating a platform that caters to women.  In a call I had on Friday with Ms. Gentile she said espnW, “is meant to be additive to ESPN,” and to serve needs that ESPN does not currently serve for female consumers.

It may seem like semantics, but I think there is a big difference between a separate website and a “dedicated platform.”  And I’m not the only one. 

Quite unexpectedly on Friday, I received a phone call from a woman within the sports industry who is a supporter of espnW, who spoke with me on condition of anonymity.  She hopes that once the misconceptions are cleared, women will celebrate espnW.  She pointed out that ESPN chose to dedicate funds to creating a place just for female consumers.  They’re dedicating manpower, resources and cold hard cash to reaching women in ways they haven’t before, from discussing more women’s sports to covering fitness and wellness topics not normally tackled by ESPN.

If you’re like me and you’re a female who goes to ESPN for the latest hot stove report or this week’s power rankings, you probably wondering why ESPN needs to cover these other topics.  What they’ve found through their research is that this is how many women currently engage with sports. They are the road warriors, the triathletes, the skiers and cyclists who may have come to sports later in life. I hadn’t considered before that there is an entire generation of women out there who grew up pre-Title IX who may not have had the same opportunities to participate as I had, but they are athletes and sports fans (albeit of a different sort), too. 

Through my conversations with both Ms. Gentile and the woman who called me in support of espnW, I have come to realize that espnW is not meant to be the go-to source for sports news for women.  Sports savvy females, like myself, who frequent ESPN will continue to do so.  espnW is not meant to supplant the news I would go to ESPN to receive.  Instead, it is meant to cover topics that interest women, much in the same way targets fans of New York teams with additional coverage of topics pertinent to their area and teams. 

When I spoke with Laura Gentile today, I asked about the quote in the USA Today article that many of us took offense with:

…women see us as an admirable brand that has authority. But they see us as their father’s brand, or husband’s brand, or boyfriend’s brand. They recognize it’s not theirs.

The confusion and hurt feelings seem to be all a matter of taking that quote out of context.  When asked to explain, Ms. Gentile said that when speaking with a representative group of 2,000 women in their target audience the message they received was that, “women recognize ESPN is credible, and is fantastic at covering the entire sports landscape.”  However, she went on to repeat parts of the above quote about women not feeling ESPN targeted their interests.  Further discussion with her revealed the meaning behind saying “it’s not theirs,” wasn’t meant to imply that women somehow don’t belong on or that women can’t understand the content presented by ESPN, but that ESPN is not making a concerted effort to cover the topics women are telling them they’d like to hear.  Thus espnW was born.

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.   

Add to that the efforts to educate women over on ESPN RISE, a site targeted at high school athletes, and the picture is becoming clearer.*  In my interview of Ms. Gentile, she emphasized the connection between espnW and ESPN RISE.  The latter features invaluable resources for female athletes (and their male counterparts) to learn about training and recruiting; things I know I was never taught as a young female athlete. 

espnW is not about creating a separate ESPN targeted only at females.  It’s about serving the needs of female consumers not currently served by ESPN.  Although it is accessible through its own URL, it is also a part of the ESPN site under the More Sports heading.  Do I think they could do a better job of promoting it through ESPN’s site?  Yes.  I would have never found it there if I hadn’t been told where to look.  Perhaps in the future they could feature a post from espnW on the main site from time to time. 

Another change I’d like to see, which I discussed with Ms. Gentile, is the absence of male writers on espnW.  She assured me that there would be male writers in the future, saying, “We’re not under any misconception that females only want to hear from females.” 

After my conversation with the person who called me anonymously, I understand that there are some women who need a “safe place” of sorts to learn and discuss sports.  I wonder if they would be intimidated by the presence of male writers on the site.  With that in mind, I think it might be nice to have perhaps a regularly scheduled column to be written exclusively by male writers.  Something like “From Inside the Male Mind: [name of piece].”  Instead of having a littany of male writers, there could be one column, easily identified as male written, where the males could come discuss the topics that aren’t covered on ESPN and might be of interest to the female community on espnW.  Just a thought. 

The bottom line is that there is certainly work to be done over at espnW.  I think the majority of that work needs to be in how the site is marketed.  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. 

That message has been skewed for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the USA Today article I quoted in my first piece about espnW.  After my conversation with Ms. Gentile, it appears that her quotes were used out of context.  I’ve already addressed the first one above, but the other one was the pedicure quote.  Ms. Gentile explained to me that the reporter was given a copy of the agenda for the espnW retreat and spa time was one of the activites.  What she said was merely to describe the range of activities being engaged in at the retreat.  You can see a full schedule and list of participants here.  Interesting that one of the other activities was Navy Seal Boot Camp.  Wonder why the reporter didn’t mention that one.

Because of the vast amount of both misinformation and criticism out there, I would love to see Ms. Gentile write a guest post on espnW (which they could leave a link to right on the front page for new visitors) introducing the site and explaining it the way she explained it to me.  Not everyone will have the access to her that I had, but I would love for them to get the same message I received. 

I now have a much better appreciation for espnW and the spirit in which it was conceived.  If everything I heard from Ms. Gentile about the goals and the plans for espnW come to fruition, then I applaud ESPN for dedicating the time, money and resources to develop this unique site and only hope that the marketing begins to do it justice. 

*As a side note, if you have a high school athlete, I encourage them to visit ESPN RISE. I think it’s unfortunate that I had not heard of it before now, and I hope it’s only because I’m not a high school athlete and do not have children that age, because it seems like a good resource.

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More on espnW

December 8th, 2010 | Comment »

If nothing else, espnW is getting a lot of attention.  Good and bad and somewhat undecided.  Here are a variety of blogs and articles on the new site:


Brand Mismanagement: ESPN Lights Itself on Fire 

So it is with no surprise at all, that we come to bury ESPNw, not to praise it. 

Why I Hate the Idea of espnW

If ESPN really wants to attract more women stop hiring bimbos just because they look good and get some smart, sports-savvy women on your network.

Get women in the broadcast booth as well as in the studio. Hire more women to write for Stop relegating women to the sidelines and personal interest stories.
She said it, not me.  I’m just sitting here nodding my head.  Really great piece by Julie DiCaro, which you should definitely check out.


espnW: The Lifetime Network of Sports Sites

espnW: it’s vagitastic!

Like a booster shot of estrogen into the masculine arm of conventional sports coverage, espnW burst onto the scene today…

But then:

…espnW is little more than a weak, ill-conceived attempt at pandering which I imagine some women will find kind of silly and a waste of time, much like the ab0ve-mentioned Lifetime.

They also take some shots at Sarah Spain, but you can go there if you want those.

Separate but Equal

If ESPN is trying to cater more to women with its content, it’s about damn time. Title IX will have its 40th birthday in 2012. Women now account for 46 percent of NFL fans…

But, then she says:

It’s refreshing to read sports commentary written by women, but what’s puzzling to me is why ESPN felt the need to put it on its own site rather than simply promote women within


Cue the crickets chirping…I can’t find anything genuinely applauding espnW.  I’d be happy to post if anyone else can point me towards something, however.  Seriously.  I just spent over an hour searching and couldn’t find anything better than the “undecideds” above and some generic “Here’s the new website. Wish it the best of luck.”  Send me some praise and I’ll gladly post it.

I did want to share this article in the New York Times, however, which includes some much better quotes from espnW VP Laura Gentile than the ones in the USA Today article. 

I also happen to be at the Winter Meetings currently with a writer from espnW.  Hopefully we can chat later today and she can shed some more light on the situation.  I’d love to be able to present their side of the story as well.

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Is ESPN Alienating Current Female Fans to Gain New Ones?

December 7th, 2010 | 8 comments »

I started out my day on Twitter today by saying I was going to take time to check out the new, a site ESPN recently unvieled that is geared towards women.  It took less than a minute for my reply feed to fill with women eager to tell me about their distaste, and sometimes intense hate, of the new website.

At first glance, looks nothing like, save the photos of athletes.  The format of the site is completely different, with an array of colors, a design that seems focused on boxes, and a script “W” in the “espnW” logo. 

At first, I was pleased to find all of the articles on the front page written by women.  I’m always excited when I see female sportswriters.  However, that excitement soon faded.  This tweet from one of my followers (a male follower, for what it’s worth) sums it up best:

Cordoning off the female writers? It’s odd, I will give you that. 

It’s not odd, it’s terrifying.  Is ESPN saying women can only write about sports for a female audience?  I’m sure that’s not their intention, but they need to make their message clearer.

So far they’re not doing the best job of marketing the new site.  At this point, all of the comments coming out of ESPN are trending towards making a statement that ESPN thinks women can’t relate to sports in the same way as men. 

Consider these quotes from a USA Today article on the new site’s rollout:

…women see us as an admirable brand that has authority. But they see us as their father’s brand, or husband’s brand, or boyfriend’s brand. They recognize it’s not theirs.

That quote, from ESPN Vice President Laura Gentile, was the first of several that upset me.  I am female.  I’ve been watching ESPN most of my life.  In fact, I probably watch it more than my dad, and he’s a huge sports fan.  In particular, “They recognize it’s not theirs,” really bothers me as a female who watches ESPN.  I didn’t know ESPN wasn’t meant for me.  Other women agree; here’s a comment from @MissReingold:

That quote is ridiculous. Not my brand?

Then there’s this one, referring to a retreat this week where ESPN will meet with female athletes and discuss ideas for espnW:

…the retreat, where we talk about women finding self-esteem in sports and about getting a pedicure, is a reflection of what we want to do with the espnW brand…

This enraged several of my female followers on Twitter.  One of my Twitter followers, @jdunderwoodjr, replied in a way that I think summarizes why the last quote was offensive:

I think that ESPNW is actually a slap in the face to women. Its like they are trying to “dumb” it down.

The perception (right or not) is that espnW is necessary because women can’t understand sports the same way as men, or that we get something completely different out of sports.  I’m just not sure that’s true.

Recently I wrote a post about what I’ve learned from playing sports.  I received responses from males and females who linked to the post or tweeted about it, and I noticed nothing different about the responses from the different genders.  The quote above about self-esteem gives the perception that only women get confidence from sports, which simply isn’t true.  Have you ever heard a male professional athlete talk?  There’s not many of them who have issues with self-image. 

Last weekend, I watched the SEC Championship Game with a group of male and female friends.  I noticed no difference in how we watched the game.  One of the females in attendance was probably the loudest and most passionate, and she knew plenty about her team. 

Sure, there are tons of women who don’t understand or care about sports.  The same can be said for men though.  I meet men all the time who don’t know what a balk is or can’t tell you what the center does in football. 

One of my followers, @racheldulitz, had this to say about the pedicure quote:

…once u say the word pedicure – i mean come on!. That in and of itself is sexist and ridiculous…

…to say that women just sit around gabbing over pedicures…

Women reading the USA Today article are getting this message from ESPN: women understand sports in a different way than men and have to be catered to separately.

What about the women who do watch ESPN and log onto  What message is ESPN sending to them?  Well, here’s what one of them had to say via Twitter (@agrot):

I’m just as sports competent as men and I’d like access to all of the sports in the manner has it.

And another (@sportsbroad):

the problem isn’t that we don’t have a network for “female sports fans” it’s that they think we need to be separated from men

Words I saw over and over in my Twitter feed on this topic (which was extremely active): patronizing and sexist. 

There are two questions here: 1) Is a separate website necessary, and, if so, 2) Are they marketing it the right way.

Several of my followers on Twitter disagreed on the need altogether.  In addition to @agrot’s comment above, there was this one from @MissReingold:

ESPNw is horrible. Why do I need separate coverage?

And this one from @racheldulitz, which comes with a suggestion:

But why can’t they draw new women in on ESPN?? More female writers, more pieces on female athletes. I like those ideas…

That brings up another question: does ESPN’s male audience not like hearing from female anchors/writers?  I don’t have much else to say on that, but it is an interesting question.  One that takes us back to the issue of having only female writers on’s front page today.  Do they think women only want to hear about sports from women?  Yes, I love finding a new female writer that really knows her stuff, but I want to read pieces from the men too.  I’m at the MLB Winter Meetings right now, and the first thing I did was find my favorite two male writers when I arrived Sunday. 

Yes, women want to see more women working in sports-related capacities.  However, we want to see them being treated just like their male counterparts.  Having a website geared towards women full of female writers is not the way to do that. 

What would have been a better way?  One of my followers (@cowsarecool220) had a great suggestion:

The best result would be for the content to be folded into the main site, increasing the almost nonexistent presence of women.

If you want to have some alternate content, why not make it a tab at the top of the ESPN page?  Talk about more “holistic” topics for women there.  Don’t imply that we need our own separate website to go to for sports.  That’s insulting and offensive to those of us who have always thought ESPN was meant for all sports fans. 

On to the second question: if a separate website is needed (let’s just pretend for a second) is ESPN marketing this new website in a productive way?

It was suggested by one person on Twitter that perhaps ESPN was attempting to appeal to younger women who are not yet sports fans.  Consider this response from @racheldulitz:

Disagree! I think this sends the message to those potential young women – you’re separate but equal. NOT OK

Again, women want to see more women working in sports.  As equals.  Right next to men.  On the same website or show. 

One follower (@obsgiantscompul) compared the rollout to the campaign for New Coke.  Great analogy, and we all know how that turned out!

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Why is Cam Newton Not Guilty of SEC Bylaws Violation?

December 3rd, 2010 | 14 comments »

I don’t normally post anything here that isn’t related to baseball, but I had a need to get this published ASAP.  So, for those who don’t care about college football (what’s wrong with you?), thanks for being tolerant!

After hearing multiple talk radio personalities declare that Cam Newton clearly violated an SEC bylaw, I thought I’d put my lawyer hat on and try to make some sense of this situation.  First, let’s take a look at the bylaw everyone is pointing to in this situation:

If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those persons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student- athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career.

Those highlighted words – “receives or agrees to receive” – are the key here, and I see why it’s confusing to some.  This is one of those times that my three years and mountain of law school debt actually pays off.

When I first heard that the SEC had declared there was no violation, but first thought was that they must be interpreting this provision in terms of contract law.  It’s logical to read “agrees to receive” and think, “Hey, Cam’s father told Mississippi State he would take x amount of money for Cam to go to school there; that’s agreeing to receive.”  Not in the world of contract law, however.

In contract law, Cecil Newton’s statements were merely an offer, or perhaps a solicitation for bids.  An offer is a manifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain.  Basically, you’re saying to the other person, “If you’re willing to do x, then y will happen.” 

In order to have a completed contract, one party has to make an offer, the other has to accept (on the same terms proposed by the offer) and there must be consideration (the money actually changing hands would have been consideration). 

Cecil Newton made an offer, which Mississippi State was free to accept (and create a contract), but did not.  Alternatively, you could say Cecil Newton was merely soliciting bids, which doesn’t even constitute an offer.  In that case, Mississippi State would have had to make the offer and then Cecil could have accepted. 

I found this quote from SEC spokesman, Charles Bloom, in The Clarion-Ledger that confirms my suspicions about why there was no violation here:

SEC Bylaw does not apply in this situation. It only applies when there is an actual payment of an improper benefit, or an agreement (such as a handshake agreement) to pay and receive an improper benefit. The facts in this case, as we understand them, are that the student-athlete’s father, without the knowledge of the student-athlete, solicited improper payments (which were rejected) from an institution the young man did not attend, and that the institution where the young man is enrolled was not involved.

Notice I highlighted “agreement” – they’re looking for a completed contract.  Could they have worded the bylaw better and made it a violation for a student-athlete or his parent to solicit an offer?  Of course, and I would imagine that’s what they’re planning to do now that they’re saying they’re going to revisit the provision.  This is absolutely a loophole they need to close.

Could they have interpreted this bylaw differently and declared Cam Newton in violation because of his father’s actions?  Sure, but they would have opened themselves to a lawsuit by Cam and possibly Auburn.  The decision may defy logic for some, but it was absolutely the decision the SEC  had to make in order to protect itself.

*For more of Kristi’s sports business articles, visit!

This article offers the personal observations of Kristi Dosh, and does not represent the views of her law firm or its clients. Any information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. Consult your own attorney for legal advice on these matters

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