Thursday, February 11, 2016

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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8 Responses to “Is ESPN Alienating Current Female Fans to Gain New Ones?”

  1. BigBen0724

    Perhaps espnW isn’t their attempt to give women their own sports site for their sake. Perhaps it’s more the attempt to not have their male audience be burdened with women’s sports. Espn’s core male audience may find coverage of women’s sports on “their” sports site distasteful and annoying. So their thinking may be to keep off the main page and give women their own page, and in trying not to alienate their male audience, they’ve alienated their female audience instead. Lesser of two evils? I know this sounds extremely sexist. I am not one of those guys who feels that way. I LOVE women’s soccer and ice hockey. I worked as Director of PR for a women’s semi-pro soccer team. However, I’m sure there are many men out there who thinks it’s a nuisance. All you have to do is look at the WNBA. The NBA has been trying for years to boost attendance and ratings for that league. They’ve been trying to show that women’s basketball can be just as entertaining as the men’s version, but they continue to struggle. This just may be a smaller example of why espnW was created.

  2. Kristi Dosh

    If that’s what it was – a site about women’s sports – I probably wouldn’t have written anything. That’s not what it is, however. Although I have seen a few posts about women’s sports, it’s supposed to just be sports content delivered in a way that appeals to women (which so far has looked like it’s only being written by women). Yesterday, when I got on the first time, all of the front page stories were about men’s sports.

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  8. Jen Rainwater

    Wow! I don’t know how I missed this new website! I recently was very upset by MLB Network in a similar way – On Hot Stove at 6 am West Coast time – of course I’m awake and watching – it’s hot stove season! Things are happening in baseball that I want to know about and potentially write about, right? Well they proceeded to do an entire segment on this woman whose website taught women “how to look cute on gameday,” “how to please your man,” and “tailgate recipe tips” – First off not only is all that sexist but what woman or man or anyone watching MLB Network’s Hot Stove is going to be interested in that?! I’m certainly not up that early to watch it to get tailgate recipes or outfit ideas! I was outraged and it sounds A LOT like this website which to be honest, I never knew existed. Sports do NOT need to be “dumbed down” for women. It’s perfectly ok if a women or man doesn’t love sports but keep those types of articles in Cosmo … don’t put it on my MLB Network shows! I can’t believe this level of sexism still exists and is so blatant in our culture!! Thanks for writing this! Nice read!

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