This fall, ESPN is beginning to introduce a brand marketed towards women called espnW. The brand will be available online in the spring. Laura Gentile, Vice President of espnW, told the New York Times that the finished site would have a blog streaming online video and content for mobile phones. This branding initiative is ESPN's first attempt in its 30 years on network television to directly reach out to its female viewers, who comprise 25 percent of its television audience.
Reactions to espnW have been mixed. Female sports fans are among the harshest critics, claiming that espnW would segregate its male and female viewers. Julie DiCaro, the author of a Cubs fan blog, told the New York Times, "for those of us that have worked really hard to keep up with the boys, that's kind of tough to hear...It seems like this is the broadcasting equivalent of making something pink and putting sparkles on it."
Gentile countered these concerns in a telephone interview with The New York Times, where she said, "we will be talking about the WNBA a bit more and talking about women's college basketball a bit more, we'll also be talking about the NFL and the NBA and everything that sports fans care about." Gentile expects the growth of espnW to lead to more coverage of women's sports on ESPN.
Other attempts by mainstream sports outlets like Sports Illustrated have failed to win over female sports fans because they "shifted to a focus on fitness, diet and participatory sports" reports the New York Times. According to Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, "if this becomes Shape magazine with some box scores, it will fail."
Media Resources: New York Times 10/15/10; Edge of Brooklyn 10/5/10; Tucker Center Research on Girls and Women in Sport 10/19/10