Tag Archives: ESPN

March Madness! Visible Women Head Coaches

Here is a different twist on March Madness 2015.

It is pure Madness! (in a good way) that:

  1. the ESPN coverage of the NCAA D-I women’s basketball tournament is well produced so that we can actually SEE these amazing female athletes and their coaches
  2. a majority of the head coaches of women’s basketball are women. In the Women in College Coaching Research Series, 62.8% of head coaches of women’s basketball in the 86 “big time” NCAA D-I schools (many of which are in the tournament) are women.

Based on the 2014-15 data in the Women in College Coaching Research Series, I took the remaining 2015 Sweet 16 teams and filled out the bracket based on the percent of women’s teams at that institution which had a female head coach (see Figure 1). With that data, Maryland and Florida State would be Co-National NCAA D-I Champions (coached by Brenda Frese and Sue Semrau respectively), due to the fact 54.5% of all their women’s teams at both institutions are coached by a woman head coach. Madness!

2015 WBB sweet 16 bracket
Figure 1. 2015 Women’s NCAA D-I Winner by Percent of Women Head Coaches of Women’s Teams by Institution

 

Madness! Of note, 13 of the Sweet 16 women’s teams (81.3%) have a female head coach–that is an over-representation of women head coaches for the best teams in the nation, than are found in women’s D-I basketball in general, given the stat I stated before (62.8%). The Sweet 16 stat is a really interesting stat in that 29 of 64 teams (45.3%) in the full bracket are coached by a female head coach. Based on the data, it appears the female head coaches are proportionately outperforming their male coaching colleagues and are represented in a larger percentage in the Sweet 16, than the initial pool of women coaches in the bracket. More Madness!

And there are many other competent women head coaches represented in earlier rounds, such as Princeton coach Courtney Banghart, whose undefeated 31-0 team lost to Maryland in a hard fought game which was written about by USA Today columnist Christine Brennan.

To break the tie and declare a national champion, we (thanks Marnie Kinnaird!) looked at the gender composition of the coaching staffs for the Sweet 16 women’s basketball teams (see Figure 2 below).

We weighted the score by position, if a woman occupied the position a school earned the following points: Head Coach = 3pts, Associate (Head) Coach = 2pts, Assistant Coach = 1pt. Males in any position earned zero points. We counted only 4 coaching positions for each institution (except for UNC who had 5).

Based on the data in Figure 2, Notre Dame and Arizona State tied for the “win” with 8pts each (due to the fact both programs have 2 Associate Coaches, which are weighted more heavily than an Assistant Coach, therefore giving them the lead), and Stanford and Iowa tied for second place with 7pts each. Notwithstanding Notre Dame, Arizona State, Stanford and Iowa share an interesting stat–the coaching staff is comprised of all women.

Meaning 4 of the Sweet 16 teams (25%) are coached by all women–prime examples of women mentoring women. Madness! 

2015 Gender Composition of Coaching Staff for Women's Sweet 16 Women's Basketball  Teams
Figure 2. 2015 Gender Composition of Coaching Staff for Women’s Sweet 16 Women’s Basketball Teams

 

This data did not break the Co-National Champs tie…both Maryland & Florida State had 5pts! (mini madness!)

Seeing powerful, successful female role models, athletes and coaches, on TV matters!

It provides proof that women can be successful at the highest levels in the coaching profession. It provides visibility to young girls and women who aspire to play college athletics and who may aspire to continue following their love and passion in sport by coaching. It provides evidence and gives boys and young men a picture that women can be, and are, leaders. So thanks to ESPN and espnW for providing excellent coverage, content and production value, so that these amazing women athletes and their coaches can be seen for the role models they are. So here’s to more Madness!

p.s.-If you have an idea on how to break the tie between Maryland and Florida State, tweet me @DrSportPsych

 

Access free educational materials for espnW Nine for IX films

I recently had the opportunity to work in collaboration with espnW to develop discussion guides for the Emmy-nominated Nine for IX film series.

Nine for IX premiered June 18, 2013, as part of ESPN’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Inspired by the 40th anniversary of Title IX, ESPN Films and espnW produced nine documentary films about women in sports, told through the lens of female filmmakers. Nine for IX Films are a collection of remarkable stories that offer teachable moments and powerful lessons in the history of sports. .

The Nine for IX Knowledge Center is a free resource available to institutions, organizations, administrators, professors, coaches, and students who want to lead thoughtful and engaging discussions around key themes in the films. The Knowledge Center provides discussion guides for each film, film posters, and a sign-up form to receive the Nine for IX DVD set, all free of charge. The Knowledge Center is a tool that goes beyond the entertainment value of the films and leverages the rich educational content of the embedded lessons and messages within the films.

The discussion guides generate thought-provoking discussion topics around key themes and issues present in the films such as gender equality, intersectionality, identity politics, sport and politics, social class, racism, and sexism, along with issues related to sport psychology, sports media coverage, sports marketing, and sports as a vehicle for developing role models. Each unique guide contains Key Concepts, Discussion Questions, Additional Readings and Additional Activities.

I wrote a specific guide for coaches for The 99ers, a film about the 1999 Women’s World Cup Championship team, that coaches can use as a team building activity and to discuss what it takes to develop performance excellence and a positive team culture.
To access the free materials, including obtaining a free DVD box set of the Nine for IX film series, discussion guides, and posters visit the espnW Nine for IX Knowledge Center.

Bobby Knight’s Validation is not Needed or Wanted for Women’s Sport

This weekend I enjoyed watching many Regional games for the NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS) on ESPN and BTN. I love watching the array of talented female athletes getting prime time TV coverage, as it so rarely happens! Sport media coverage of the WCWS seems to be expanding and improving in production quality. One step forward!

However, why does ESPN air interviews of Bobby Knight discussing his appreciation of women’s sport during women’s sport broadcasts? One step back ↓  I saw his softball segment aired at least twice over the weekend, and he also appeared in ESPN segments during the 2013 Women’s NCAA Basketball March Madness and Final Four programming discussing Brittney Griner.

I thought it offensive during the basketball tournament, but when he appeared again during the WCWS it really made me pause…and then it made me outraged. Bobby Knight is no fan or advocate of women’s sport or women in general.  Why do I find this offensive?

1-forward-2-back1. in 1988 in an interview with Connie Chung, Knight stated, “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it”  (NOTE: He was not sanctioned nor fired from his post as head men’s basketball coach at Indiana for his comment)

2. Despite his coaching record and reverence by some, he has a history of abusive behaviors toward athletes that are well documented. While he did not coach women, his abuse of male athletes should not be overlooked or forgotten. There are PLENTY of coaches, male or female, to interview that are real advocates of women’s sport and treat their athletes with care and respect. Why give a controversial coach a voice? Why give Knight any airtime during the two most important and premiere college women’s sport events that are broadcast on ESPN? (I’ll come back to this momentarily)

3. In early 1989 shortly after Knight’s rape comment, my college tennis coach at Gustavus Adolphus College ‘arranged’ (i.e., we stalked Knight in 2 hotel lobbies until midnight waiting for him to return post game, and then our coach pounced on him and convinced him to talk to his team) for our team to ‘meet’ Knight after Indiana played Minnesota here in Minneapolis. None of us wanted to meet Knight as we were well aware of his comment and one of our teammates had been raped the year prior. The thought of facing Knight was traumatic for her and angering to the rest of us. Knight reluctantly agreed and we were treated to a short ‘pep talk’ that included offensive comments like, “Girls shouldn’t play sports like basketball because they don’t look feminine – just sports like tennis where they run around in skirts and look cute” and “female athletes should look like females when they play and wear some make-up, like lipstick and nail polish.” If you knew my teammates, all amazing and strong women, it is unfathomable how Knight escaped that night unscathed. It remains to date one of our most memorable moments as a team. I know his offensive comments and dismissive behavior in part shaped who I am today, and what I do…trying to make a difference in the lives of girls and women through sport.

I am offended due to my personal experience with Knight in addition to his historical record of disregard for women. Here is what is bothering me today: Why would ESPN give Knight airtime during the two most important and premiere college women’s sport events shown on TV? Why does his voice matter in the landscape of women’s sport? What does it say that a major sport network continues to give Knight airtime and treat him with respect when he has a history of abusive behavior as a coach? (especially in light of the Mike Rice/Rutgers coach abuse scandal, where you could argue Rice’s behavior is an emulation of Knight) What does it say about ESPN and their value of and commitment to respectful coverage of women’s sport? Who decided Knight should be interviewed and what criteria did he use? ( I say ‘he” because a large majority of positions of power in sport media are held by men)

In short, giving Knight airtime during premiere college women’s sport events marginalizes female athletes and is offensive to those who are true fans. It sends the message that women’s sport needs a powerful and (arguably) successful male figure to validate its existence. Women’s sport and female athletes do not need, and I would argue by and large do not WANT, Bobby Knight’s validation or appreciation. The whole thing feels patriarchal and patronizing.

Sport and media are inextricably linked–what is communicated (and not) to audiences is important, and this is no exception. Knight appearing on ESPN when he did is about preserving and perpetuating male power and privilege in the world of sport. What better way to undermine amazingly talented female athletes who are the best in their respective sport, playing on ESPN in prime time, than to interview someone with a history of disrespect for female athletes and women in general.

Two steps back… ↓↓

 

 

3 Simple Ways to Support Women’s Sport

With many exciting developments recently in women’s sport such as the start of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), an extended and expanded WNBA & ESPN TV deal, the WNBA draft airing for the first time in prime time, an announcement from espnW about the Nine for IX series about women’s sport to run this summer, and exciting Women’s Final Four during March Madness, it feels as if there is a perceptible shift that women’s sport is being taken, marketed, and promoted seriously. I am optimistic, but action is still needed.

Trifecta Winner Icon - 300dpiIf you want sustainable women’s sport, and even better yet, GROWTH…there are 3 simple things you can do. These aren’t new ideas, but they are worth saying again.

1. WATCH. When women’s sport is on the TV, tune in. If you aren’t going to be home and have a DVR or DVD (not sure those exist anymore!) tape it! Don’t forget to watch the Nine for IX series!

2. BUY TICKETS. If you have a college or professional team in your area, buy season tickets. Last week Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve spoke at a TeamWomenMN event I was attending and she had a great idea. She said she is supporting the NWSL by finding the nearest team to Minneapolis (we don’t have NWSL team here…yet) and is buying a season ticket. Even through she probably won’t get to many games, she will donate her ticket to an undeserved girl, so she can attend. If you can’t go to all the games, buy a full package and split it with someone or share your tickets with friends, colleagues, neighbors or family. To read a great piece on espnW about how the NWSL will succeed by Julie Foudy, click here.

3. CLICK & SHARE. Set your Google Alerts or sign up for an RSS feed, to scan stories about women’s sport, your favorite team or athletes, or sports journalist. Once you get your list, make sure to click on the stories! Clicks = interest = increased ability to attract sponsorships = good for women’s sport. Click, read, and then share a good story via Twitter or Facebook.

If you watch, buy and click…or complete the trifecta, women’s sport will more likely be a winner.

Skylar Diggins’ Headband: A Sport Psychology Perspective

I love March Madness. Normally I write a blog to critique sport media in terms of TV coverage amount and quality of between the men and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. This year I am happy to report the ESPN coverage of the women’s games includes all rounds, full game coverage of all Sweet 16 games, great production quality, highly talented color and in studio commentators, all games in HD, cross brand promotion of espnW, and coverage that looks and feels nearly the same as coverage for the men. YAY.

Diggins sans headband
Diggins' with headband

In the absence of critiquing sport media, I want to discuss “the headband” of University of Notre Dame junior hoop star Skylar Diggins (@SkyDigg4) from a sport psychology perspective.

I’ve watched Notre Dame play on TV 6-8 times this season and have heard “the headband” discussed in every game by commentators. It is also the source of many fan tweets. At the start of the game, Diggins wears a wide white Adidas headband. If she is happy with her play, it stays on. If she is unhappy with her play, she takes it off. Usually it comes off at halftime, but recently she has taken it off as early as the 5th minute. As a fan of Notre Dame, when I see her take off the headband I groan. As someone trained in sport psychology I find it an interesting case study. Here is my analysis of “the headband” ritual using sport psychology research.(note: I have not talked directly to Diggins, about how and why she uses this ritual, nor have a talked to her coaches or teammates about how they perceive her ritual).

Having a competitive ritual helps increase the likelihood of optimal performance in many ways: Athlete’s who have developed and practice detailed. consistent, and controllable competitive rituals are more likely to optimally perform on command regardless of the situation.

THE GOOD: Doing the same thing in the same way helps reduce uncertainty which can lead to less anxiety, provides control for the athlete, focuses attention, focuses emotion, and focuses energy. Diggins has discussed her headband ritual with the public, therefore her opponents likely know of the practice, so it signals to the opponent that she is refocused and coming at them. It also tells her teammates and the public that she isn’t happy with her play, and she can do better.  It might help her teammates feel confident (“We know when Diggins takes off the headband, she means business). From reading tweets, it seems that a majority of fans believe she gets more focused, serious and competitive when the head band comes off.

THE NOT SO GOOD: The problem with this competitive ritual is she is not consistent about WHEN the head band comes off.  Her subjective assessment and mood state dictate when/if it comes off. A good competitive ritual is done the same way at the same time. (For example a free throw ritual, wearing the same socks, tapping your racket on the ground before returning a serve, addressing a golf ball). The downside of this ritual is that she is telegraphing to her opponent and teammates that she isn’t feeling confident and isn’t happy with her play. Taking off the headband may undermine her teammates’ confidence (“Diggins took off the headband, she isn’t feeling it. Here we go again. I better play well now”).

The second downside is she is spending energy with the headband that she could be using to focus on what she needs to do to play better. If starting the game WITH the headband gives her confidence, but it quickly dissipates and results in whipping it off whenever she can during play or at a whistle, I might advise her to rethink “the headband”. If it is her signature but she can’t keep it on the whole game, then maybe she should start the game without it. Just leave it off. Then if she is playing poorly, her teammates and opponents don’t have the benefit of knowing she is vulnerable. She would look the same regardless of how she is playing, and that gives her and her team the advantage. If I were a coach, I’d tell my team when they see Diggins take off the headband to go right at her and to feel confident that we have her rattled. She shouldn’t be giving her opponent so much information that can be used against she and her team.

Mentally tough athletes and those that perform consistently at the upper range of their competitive talent, use positive emotion, feel challenged by equally matched opponents/teams, and see competition as a fun and enjoyable opportunity. “The Headband” appears to be linked to negative emotion such as anger at herself and her play, and this is not a facilitative competitive ritual. Again, I don’t know what is going through her head, but I can see her body language at the times she takes it off and she appears irritated, angry, flustered, frustrated, and not confident. Often it shows in her play. If an athlete is mad at herself, then she is mad at the one person she NEEDS to compete well and is wasting energy. VERY FEW athletes can use anger effectively as a competitive ritual and tool.

Lastly, in all sports, some days competing and playing seems effortless and easy. All your shots drop, your legs feel lively, the hoop seems very large, you see plays unfold, and time seems to slow down. Other days it doesn’t. This cannot be controlled, it just is. What can be controlled is how an athlete reacts to this phenomenon. Athletes that start a game feeling they HAVE to or SHOULD play perfectly all the time, or at a certain level, are setting themselves up for frustration. Instead athletes should focus on what they can control-effort, mental focus (i.e., sticking with the game plan, taking the right shots), sportsmanship, emotion and behaviors.

When Diggins has her swagger going, she looks confident, her body language and facial expressions are very different, she takes control of the floor and leads her team. The Irish are much stronger as a team when she is in this mental frame. The team is good enough to compensate for Diggins when she isn’t, but to win a national championship the Irish need Diggins to play with confidence for the entire game, and I feel that is more possible if she leaves the headband in the locker room. When she takes the headband off, for her it signals she is playing poorly…which could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy and focus her attention on the fact she is playing poorly, rather than focusing on what she can do to play well.

However, at this point in the season it is probably unwise for her to start a new ritual but for her senior year, it may be worth reconsidering “the headband”.

Regardless of this analysis, Diggins is an amazing athlete. I have used “the headband” as an interesting case study to help illustrate how competitive rituals can be facilitative or not of optimal performance.

2011 is off and running: Sexism, Comparisons & Nudity

We’re off and running in 2011 and it doesn’t take long for some interesting items to pop up related to sports and gender.

1. A great example that sexism is alive and well lies in the firing of ESPN announcer Ron Franklin after he made a derogatory remark (i.e., “sweet baby”) to sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards in a meeting before the Fiesta Bowl. YEAH ESPN for doing the right thing.

2. The “apples to oranges” comparison between male and females athletes is also alive and well and is being perpetuated by both men and women. This was recently evident in the non-stop comparisons between the UConn vs. UCLA basketball streaks (note: many of my predictions about the coverage of UConn streak were fulfilled), and was taken to a new level by this sports blogger who is also misinformed about the target audience and purpose of espnW (note to said sports blogger: espnW does not just cover women’s sports, it is targeted toward the female sport fan). The problem with comparisons is that women’s sport and female athletes will always come out as “lesser than.” Can’t female athletes be appreciated and not constantly compared to their male colleagues?

Screen shot of New Balance homepage Jan 10, 2011

3. It appears that the trend of featuring naked/nude female athletes in the sport media or to sell a product is all the rage. Examples of this trend can be found in ESPN The Magazine: Body Issue, Sports Illustrated, and the most recent example a colleague sent me (see picture). This is a screen shot of the New Balance homepage. How is this picture related to selling shoes? Does New Balance want to be lumped into the “sex sells” and exploiting females athletes to sell products category? Nude female athletes is a new twist on an old pattern of female athletes being portrayed “out of uniform”...literally. And for those who are going to call me a prude and outdated feminist, go right ahead. It won’t stop me from continuing to point out that portraying female athletes in this manner does NOT honor their athleticism or promote women’s sport, but marginalizes female athletes and possibly perpetuates sexism and the constant comparison I mentioned above. Can you really take a female athlete seriously as an ATHLETE when she is portrayed naked? I would argue this NB ad sells sex, not sport shoes. Disagree as you will, but I challenge you to prove me wrong that proportionately female athletes are not portrayed “out of their uniforms” more often than male athletes.

Happy 2011!

Oh ESPN The Magazine…You Never Cease to Amaze Me.

I’ve written previously about portrayals of female athletes  in sport media (here & here) and particularly on the pattern of female athletes on the covers of ESPN The Magazine. and Sports Illustrated.

Yesterday a colleague forwarded me the new cover of ESPN The Magazine “the movie issue” as she thought I’d like to see it. On the cover appeared to be a Sharon Stone look alike from the famous interview scene in Basic Instinct. I thought it strange ESPN would have a movie issue, and didn’t really realize it was Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn until today! At the risk of asking for more criticism and being hung out to dry by those who will disagree when I write about Lindsey Vonn, I have to address (again) why this cover is just plain problematic. To see video of Vonn’s shoot and why she decided to do the piece, click here.

Reason 1: Females athletes are under represented in the media. Less than 5% of all sport media is dedicated to female athletes. A new report states that number is generous as coverage of females athletes on major networks has declined to an all time low of 1.6%!!!

Reason 2: When female athletes are given media coverage it is usually in ways that highlight their sexuality, rather than athletic competence. (latest ESPN cover as Exhibit A, B, C, D,…..). ESPN The Magazine is the worst culprit of this pattern. In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.

I joke in class with my students that whenever female athletes are on the cover of ESPN they are in white (except for Danica Patrick because she is usually always in black for some reason as part of the media’s construction of her as a badass, sexy vixen…even when she’s “refueling” and promoting Got Milk?). White in U.S. culture connotes purity, chastity, cleanliness, and innocence but when coupled with sexy images of female athletes it has a much different meaning I’m still trying to figure out. This pattern is not coincidental and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Reason 3: When female athletes are consistently portrayed like sexy vixens it become increasingly difficult for most everyone to take them seriously AS ATHLETES. This does little to promote women’s sports.

Reason 4: It sends the wrong message to girls and young women, and heck any female!, that it is more important what your body looks like and how it can be used and gazed upon as a sexual object, than what your body can do athletically. An entire body of literature provides many reasons why the continual sexualization of females is harmful to girls.

This ESPN cover and the countless other images are not proof of female enlightenment, it is as Susan J. Douglas argues in her book it is unfortunately an example of how far we have to go until females are free of sexist practices packaged as post feminist empowerment that undermines female achievement and serves to keep women a sexualized objects, rather than promote them as equal members of society.

One Yeah! Three Nays for Girls & Women in Sport

In the Yeah! column, a video featuring two girls who play on boys’ football teams.

In the Nay column, Mechelle Voepel’s column on the first-ever FIBA conference and the five “key topics” discussed by attendees (including lowering the rim, and regulating uniforms), to which I say quoting Voepel, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The second Nay has to do with a basketball coach who wants to “fight the lesbian lifestyle” by creating a team with all heterosexual players. Huh?  Unfortunately, gender stereotypes still haunt women’s sport as this ESPN column outlines.

The third Nay, is the 2010 ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue cover of Diana Taurasi. This blogger on SheWired summed up my thoughts, “This is not the Diana Taurasi I remember!” I will keep contending that seeing female athletes posed like this (given females only receive 6-8% of all sport media coverage), does nothing positive to promote women’s sports or female athletes. If it does, WNBA season ticket sales should be dramatically increasing as I type.

Thanks to the people that have sent me tidbits, some of which are included here.

espnW: Thoughts Part II

Some additional thoughts to add to my previous blog on espnW.

I want to clarify a few points. I stated that I wanted mostly females journalists, bloggers, videographers and those who do content to be female on the espnW website. I did not say only females, I said a majority. Here is why: We lack females in positions of power in all roles in sport. What better way to provide visible role models for girls and other females who aspire to a similar career pathway in sport (whether it be athlete, journalist, coach, subject matter expert, editor, photographer) that to feature them on espnW!  Research indicates girls are desperate for female role models and identify with same-sex role models more effectively (click here for some good information on how girls construct leadership). If you want to see the research on the lack of females in positions of power in sport click here , here, or here.

For those who respond to the birth of espnW by commenting “Zzzzzzzzzzzz”—don’t worry, espnW isn’t for you!! You are not the target market. Fans of men’s sport have a place to go for high quality, up to date sport news…it is called ESPN.com, all the ESPN TV channels and ESPN The Magazine. Fans (both male and female fans alike) of women’s sport and female athletes have not had a similar outlet to consume their sports and athletes they love and desperately want to follow, and now I hope we will.  For fans of men’s sport and male athletes: How would you feel is all the products associated with ESPN, which have largely covered men’s sports, disappeared tomorrow? What would you do? Well imagine that scenario and you will have an approximation of how fans of women’s sport have historically felt.

Stay tuned, the battle and debate over the contested terrain of sport media and females getting a decent share is just beginning.

For those who think espnW will be a bore, you don’t have to visit espnW…but you might want to when you have a daughter.

Post espnW Retreat Thoughts

Having returned from the espnW retreat at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, CA I have been thinking about many things. If you don’t know, ESPN is expanding its brand to include espnW  “to serve, inform and inspire the female athlete and fan.” The digital launch will occur March 2011 and the target audience of espnW is women 18+. The retreat brought together key stakeholders in women’s sport, and it was quite a group! I felt very fortunate to be a part of the event, as it was a first-class endeavor from start to finish. You can see pictures on the espnW Facebook page. Laura Gentile, Vice President of espnW, has put together a dedicated team. Her opening night remarks can be found here, that will tell you a bit more about espnW since there is quite a bit of misinformation swirling out in cyberspace.

Billie Jean King at opening keynote @ espnW Retreat

Legend Billie Jean King spoke both at the opening ceremonies and during a breakfast conversation with Julie Foudy and Sage Steele. She was clearly fired-up about the endless potential of espnW. During her remarks she said,  “its OK to want something…don’t settle for the crumbs, want the whole cake!”  Well, I want the whole cake when it comes to espnW! At one of the sessions we were asked, “What would espnW.com look like to you?” I’ve been thinking about this ever since.

I think the answers would vary because not all women are the same, but for me here is what the whole cake looks like. I want to see only information, opinions, stats, blogs, videos, commentary, and expertise about women’s sport and female athletes–Period. I also want most of the information and content on the site to be developed, written and delivered by females. There should be at least (well really I want more!) as many females and females in positions of power on espnW, as I see males and male athletes on ESPN.

I’m also clear about what I don’t want to see on espnW: dumbed-down sport, a version of Self Magazine + Sport, male sports, or male athletes. If I want information about men’s sport I already know where I can go to get that information. If I want information about nutrition, motherhood, fitness, and well-being, I already know where I can go to get that information. Give me aggregated, high quality, legitimate, serious information ABOUT WOMEN’S SPORT AND FEMALE ATHLETES, I don’t know where to find this information (unless I visit 20 different websites).

espnW is uniquely positioned to give female fans and athletes, and post Title IX females in general, what we’ve been so desperate for–a legitimate place to read about women’s sports and female athletes. According to researchers, female athletes only get 1.6% of all sports coverage on major networks, a figure that has declined from 6.3% since 2004. Data over the last 25 years shows female athletes only get 6-8% of coverage for sport print media. Research on the coverage of female athletes and social media lags behind, but based on the data it runs the gamut from unfiltered sexism to empowerment.

espnW has done consumer insight and market analysis research and their blue chip take home is  that females are a different breed of sport fans. Women are busy, multidimensional, and primarily are still responsible for domestic and childcare duties. Many women have less time for sport consumption than their male counterparts, and when they do, the consumption probably looks different.  I don’t disagree with this assessment but the few studies which have sampled female fans find their motive to attend sporting events is nearly identical to male sport fans—they like sports! espnW kept stressing females and female sport fans specifically want to be (inter)connected, and experience a community more than do male fans. A colleague of mine once said, “Male sport fans attend to be seen, while female sport fans go to see others.” This wisdom may translate to social media, but the challenge of how that looks digitally is now in the hands of espnW, because only the ESPN brand is big enough and has sufficient resources to actually do this right. That is a BIG responsibility because it will meet resistance, from both males and females (as Megan Hueter of Women Talk Sports pointed out in her blog).

Given the record numbers of females participating in sport, it hasn’t translated into record numbers of females as sport fans (although the data show that trend is on the rise).  I disagree with the espnW promo literature that states “once an athlete, always a fan” because if that were the case we would have a lot more female sport fans of both men’s and women’s sports.

I would love to see research on the pathway(s) for females to become sport fans. How do we get female sport fans to consume the sports they once played? That pathway and socialization process is clearly in place for males. I ask a similar question when I ask, “How do we get former female athletes to coach the sports they once played?”  The answer is complicated and one I’m still trying to figure out, but I think some of the strategies to increase the number of female coaches translate–ask and invite female to be fans, promote early involvement/hook ’em early, reduce the time commitment it takes to consume sport, and make it easy. I heard echoes of these themes in how the espnW digital presence will be constructed. I also think there would many MORE female fans if we could see legitimate coverage of women’s sport and female athletes….(enter espnW).

However, I fear than until we change the current structure of gender roles in the family and workplace, it will continue to be difficult for some (perhaps the majority of) women to be the kind of sport fans, consumers, coaches, and administrators they desire to be.

I am wishing espnW and their brand team the best, a lot is riding on its success.

photo from espnW Facebook page.