Yesterday, news broke that ESPN was going to be launching a new landing spot in conjunction with its main site that is focused on women. I first learned of it on Twitter and of course, at that time, all kinds of jokes started flying. Jokes made by both men and women. I even saw one that said they instead of calling it ESPNW, they should call it LESPN. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what was being referred to.
In any event, my initial reaction was why is ESPN suddenly being condescending toward women? Why single us out and potentially “pink” up the network? Were they saying suddenly that the regular ESPN wasn’t really where women should be watching sport? So many questions I had and admittedly, a bit of anger because it seems a lot of times when people do this, there seems to be an implication that women just aren’t smart enough to “get” what is usually something highly male dominated and it needs to be “dumbed down” for women to understand and appreciate it. However, after reading more about what was happening and the reasons behind it, I will hold off final judgment until I see things.
As a female sports fan of sports other than what is considered as appealing to women, such as figure skating, I think this could potentially be good to broaden sports appeal to women. After all, anytime attention is brought to “the powers that be” that women ARE interested in sports, it is a good thing. ESPN, to its credit did do some research to find out who was watching their shows and found that some of their lowest viewing by women was where they did studio shows. The attempt with the ESPN Women blog and the hopefully eventually tv channel is to cater to the female demographic with the focus on hosts being female and having women give their perspectives on shows.
I can see how an ESPN Women could be beneficial though. When they talk about that many women are not as passive in their engagement of watching sports as men are, I could see where trying to make it more interactive could help to get more women interested in sports. And if well done, this could also be a learning tool to help women who know nothing about sports learn something so they can better enjoy it with boyfriends, husbands and friends who are sports fiends, but they don’t get it. (will do a post later on how to “learn” about sports if you are late to the game). However, personally I think that ESPN could do all of this without needing to resort to a separation.
The concept is all well and good, but what concerns me is whether there will be some sort of push to get female sports in a separate venue, rather than just part of the larger discussion of sports. Additionally, it seems that the main network seems to have given up on making what the currently do more engaging for women to want to actually watch the network. In all honestly, I rarely watch ESPN currently and it is NOT because I perceive some sort of slighting of women or the other things they found which prompted the network to try something to cater to women in general. I don’t watch ESPN because I don’t live on the East Coast and I find it to be extremely East Coast biased in its coverage of sports or its favorite athlete of the moment (i.e., love fest over Brett Favre or LeBron James). I know a lot of people, both men and women who feel this way. I have nothing against the East Coast. In fact, one of my favorite cities ever is Boston and NY is right up there in favorite places to visit. I just feel as someone who lives in Chicago, I’d like to hear about my town’s teams from the national perspective as well when I watch shows that are supposed to be national in scope. Ever since MLB Network debuted in 2009, I spend my sports tv coverage time watching that instead of the baseball shows on ESPN because I feel they do a far better job of covering the sport I love. These networks, in my opinion cover ALL of the teams and not just the ones located in Boston or NY. I do the same with NFL Network and NHL Network.
Currently, there are plenty of women who work for ESPN who are on air as hosts and reporters. A few things I could think of to get women more engaged in the studio shows would be to have a WOMAN sitting in the “big chair” i.e. the host chair. Currently on many of these shows, the woman is relegated to what appears as a token role where she is there to “look pretty” and only add snippets to the conversation had by the boys. Sometimes the women are just used as a reporter to talk about a story and then it goes back to the boys talking and leading the conversations about sports. Female sports fans have a lot to say and are more than capable of hosting a studio show and leading the discussion as the men typically do. That kind of typical set up almost screams to me that the men don’t value the opinion that women have and therefore women can speak, but not really because they are not fully included in the discussions. I and probably a lot of other women (maybe men? i can hope) would like to see women leading the discussions. I think just that small little change would make it more of the interactivity that the research showed that women engage in more. It has been difficult for women to break in to sports coverage (just look up some of the stuff that was said and written about Inez Sainz when she was in the Jets locker room), but I am hopeful that things will start to change where the guys who are doing the sports talking will see women as just another “guy” in the conversation rather than as a pretty woman or someone the men need to school in the fine art of sports discussions. Just because we may not play them in the same manner that men do, doesn’t mean we can’t understand and appreciate them in the same manner and with the same passion that men do.