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There’s a Double Edge to espnW (but why it could help)

October 19, 2010 – 5:49 PM

By Laura Pappano

The debate is well underway about whether or not espnW is good or bad. Its just the sort of fun that – if Mike & Mike (heck, any sports talk guys) were to notice – might make for one of their classic on-air sets.

The back and forth might be mostly entertaining if it didn’t hit a familiar old scar in women’s sports: Should we run solo – or play with the boys?

The fear of being ghettoized into a splinter non-product is legitimate (especially if we have mix-ins of health and beauty tips). While I generally oppose segregating womens’ sports because – well – it’s like screaming “JUST MAKE US THE JUNIOR SPORTS VERSION!!” – I do see some reasons why espnW – though the concept rankles – may be a good thing. And the reasons have – alas – to do with the failure of most media to see the compelling product that is women’s sports.

—     Coverage of women’s sports on TV is so horrendous right now, that there’s little risk of making matters worse (men’s sports make up 96.3% of airtime; women 1.6% and gender neutral topics 2.1%, according to the USC TV study)

—     In media, staffing matters and if more bodies are being dedicated to covering women’s athletic events, some of that video/reportage will end up on ESPN and elsewhere. Content rules – the more you have, the more places it can go.

—     The vague and shifting descriptions of espnW suggest that the concept is still being shaped. Few sports news outlets know very much about women sports consumers. This enterprise might enlighten them — and others. (Note to Sports Illustrated: Might be smart to offer the SI NFL shirt – free with subscription renewal – in sizes OTHER than L, XL, and XXL. It’s a pretty loud message that I’m not supposed to be reading).

—     ESPN’s recognition that women comprise 24% of its audience should also be a wake-up call to women: We have power to exercise. We can do more than spur sales of pink NFL jerseys. We can tune in to women’s games, follow our favorite teams on the ticker, build fantasy leagues with female players…The possibilities are endless (if only there were someplace to watch).

The bottom line: We’ve just been told we matter. Let’s find a way to use that.

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